What are Human Rights and Why are they Important?

By: SHELDON ONG


posted on: April 4th, 2016

There are many ways to understand what human rights are and there is no one agreement on how we are supposed to identify these rights. Some prefer to see human rights as certain natural rights that were given to us by God and is therefore the state’s duty to protect, while other people see them as natural rights coming from general rational human interest of gain, safety and reputation. Whichever the view, human rights, as the name suggests, are rights that all human beings have regardless of nationality, place of staying, gender, religion, language or anything else.
We are all protected by human rights no matter what and so these rights should not be disturbed either at all or only in extreme situations. Here are some examples of general human rights and how they work; a person’s “right to liberty” (i.e. freedom) may be restricted(e.g. sent to jail), if he or she commits a crime or one person’s “right to peaceful enjoyment of property” can be taken away if he or she does something on their land (e.g. home) that causes “nuisance” (e.g. too much noise) to their neighbour.
Indeed, the above can be seen as punishments when people go over the limits of their human rights, disturbing the rights of others who also equally share these rights. However, as the word “punishment” suggests, nobody can be charged for having done something or have their rights disturbed if the offence was not a crime when it was committed. This means that to be punished by the law, there must be laws already existing that do not allow that offence and these laws must be written very clearly so that people know what actions are criminal in nature. This in itself is a human right, being “no punishment without law” and is found in Article 7 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).
Among the human rights, the “right to education” is one that is very well accepted internationally. This is one of the most important human rights because of its supporting nature. It means education is not only good in itself as it increases knowledge, it also gives people the ability to access and use other core rights. It gives people the confidence to make informed decisions, either to protect themselves from having their rights disturbed or to hold those who abuse power responsible. It helps people to join more actively in their social and economic rights too, such as obtaining land rights and investments. So, these economic trends increase the importance of education because of the modernisation and easier access to information in the economy, particularly in Africa.
It is so important for every person to know that they are entitled to the rights listed above and more, depending on the jurisdiction (“state”) the person is in. This is because human rights affect the relationships between governments and the citizens that these governments have power over. Having human rights in this way is like having a legal “shield” or even a “sword” because these rights limit the government’s power and control. Therefore, countries must understand and accept the fundamental needs of their people and protect their basic freedoms, enforcing the ever-important relevance of human rights internationally.
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