Human rights are understood to be all those rights that are innate to every human being, regardless of origin or gender, and can neither be granted nor denied. They form the normative and legal foundation of humanity and thus of all states or societies (cf. Menschenrechte, bpb.de). Accordingly, they are also considered superior to the specific legislative structures of a state, which is why the latter can „recognize“ but not establish human rights (Menschenrechte, bpb.de).
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
As a central document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) formulates human rights as the moral pillars of humanity in 30 articles (cf. Deutsche Gesellschaft für die Vereinten Nationen e.V. 2018, 3). Thus, the UDHR particularly emphasizes the central value of dignity, which is secured through rights. Accordingly, the goal stated in the preamble is „the recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the community of mankind“ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für die Vereinten Nationen e.V. 2018, 6). Some such human rights include, but are not limited to, the right to life, integrity, and security; the right to equality; the right to vote; the right to freedom of expression, belief, and conscience; and others (see Human Rights, bpb.de).
Despite the far-reaching global implementation of human rights, in some places they still have to be fought for. Although in some countries human rights already seem self-evident, violations still take place today. This makes continued protection and implementation indispensable (cf. Menschenrechte, bpb.de).
Human rights instruments
International organizations consisting of alliances of various countries, such as the United Nations or the Council of Europe, are dedicated to this task of securing and implementing human rights worldwide (cf. Spohr 2014, 17).
The former consists of a network of bodies that perform administrative work to uphold human rights. For example, the Human Rights Council, consisting of 47 regularly elected member states from almost all continents, holds meetings on current developments and assesses possible human rights violations (cf. Spohr 2014, 52, 54-56, 108). As another body, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights works closely at the national level with the respective judiciaries and legislatures of the United Nations member states. As a „secretariat,“ it thus represents a link between the member states and the Human Rights Council (see Spohr 2014, 116/117). In addition, the United Nations Security Council has a superordinate responsibility to preserve peace and human rights (cf. United Nations (UN), bpb.de).
At the European level, the Council of Europe, also consisting of 47 member states, has already adopted numerous agreements to safeguard human rights, such as the „European Convention of Human Rights,“ which in numerous articles declares values such as the right to education or the right to free elections as secured (European Court of Human Rights 2002, 35).
Emergence of today’s human rights
On December 10, 1948, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted Resolution 217 A (III) (Human Rights). The idea that all people have rights that must not be taken away from them emerged from experiences with the crimes of World War II and the Holocaust (see History of the Document, un.org). During World War II, U.S. President Roosevelt proclaimed the Four Freedoms in 1941, which were intended to provide a peaceful and just world order after the war. The four freedoms provided for freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear (see Haratsch 2010, 69/70). After the end of the Second World War, the United Nations was founded. The goals of the UN Charter are, for example, a negative peace (absence of military force) and efforts for a positive peace (cooperation in the fields of human rights, development, economy and culture, and friendly relations) (cf. The Founding of the United Nations, dgvn.de).
Human rights were already a topic of discussion at the first sessions of the UN in 1946, and the following year the Commission on Human Rights met for the first time to formulate a convention on human rights. The final draft, involving more than 50 member states, was presented in September 1948 and adopted on December 10 that year. In the process, 48 voted in favor and 8 nations abstained (see History of the Document, un.org and Haratsch 2010, 71/72).
Thus, human rights and their protection are no longer just national but international issues. Especially by the Second World War it became clear that the safeguarding of human rights cannot be left to the respective domestic legal system (cf. Haratsch 2010, 70). Human rights are regularly expanded, such as by the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (1966), on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (1979), on the Rights of the Child (1989) and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006) (cf. Haratsch 2010, 73).
Deutsche Gesellschaft für die Vereinten Nationen e.V. (2018): Die Allgemeine Erklärung der Menschenrechte. Berlin: Deutsche Gesellschaft für die Vereinten Nationen e.V. (DGVN).
Deutsche Gesellschaft für die Vereinten Nationen e.V. (o.J.): Die Gründung der Vereinten Nationen. https://dgvn.de/un-im-ueberblick/geschichte-der-un [18.09.2020].
Europäischer Gerichtshof für Menschenrechte (2010): European Convention of Human Rights. as amended by Protocols Nos. 11 and 14. supplemented by Protocols Nos. 1, 4, 6, 7, 12, 13 and 16. Straßburg: Council of Europe.
Haratsch, Andreas (2010): Die Geschichte des Menschenrechts. In: Klein, Eckart und Andreas Zimmermann (Hgg.): Studien zu Grund- und Menschenrechten. Potsdam: Universitätsverlag Potsdam.
Schubert, Klaus/Martina Klein (2018): Menschenrechte. In: Das Politiklexikon. 7., aktual. u. erw. Aufl. https://www.bpb.de/nachschlagen/lexika/politiklexikon/17842/menschenrechte [18.09.2020].
Schubert, Klaus/Martina Klein (2018): Vereinte Nationen (UN). In: Das Politiklexikon. 7., aktuali. u. erw. Aufl. https://www.bpb.de/nachschlagen/lexika/politiklexikon/18398/vereinte-nationen-un [18.09.2020].
Spohr, Maximilian (2014): Der neue Menschenrechtsrat und das Hochkommissariat für Menschenrechte der Vereinten Nationen. Entstehung, Entwicklung und Zusammenarbeit. Berlin: Dunkler & Humblot.
United Nations (o.J.): History of the Document. https://www.un.org/en/sections/universal-declaration/history-document/index.html [18.09.2020].