Today’s notion of human rights developed in the aftermath of the Second World War, after nearly six million people had been murdered by the Nazis in Germany.
In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, promising to maintain a level of dignity for all human beings, regardless of race, nationality, sex, or any other factor. These decisions were made at the Geneva Conventions, in which members of the United Nations agreed that all humans were endowed with certain inalienable rights that must be protected. These rights are designed for all humans based simply on the fact that they are human. They are meant to be inalienable and universal, as stated in the title of the declaration.
There is a longer history of the human rights debate, however. Philosophers as far back as ancient Greece were arguing over the merits of human life and the rights that go along with humanity. More recently, intellectuals such as John Locke and Immanual Kant spent a good deal of time creating a discourse about human rights during the Enlightenment period.
Standards of human rights are typically enforced using state, national, and international legislation. The United Nations has a key role in the enforcement and recognition of human rights violations. Some basic human rights include the right to food, cultural and economic rights, and the right to life. Amnesty International is a major proponent of human rights around the globe. This organization keeps track of human rights violations and tries to find ways to prevent crimes against humanity. Amnesty International is known for covering cases of genocide, torture, discrimination, and women’s rights, among other issues.
The Human Rights Council, created by the United Nations in 2005, is another investigative body that seeks to shed light on human rights violations. Often, violence has been perpetrated against a group of people, typically in a case of genocide or mass violence, the Human Rights Council will establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to find out the details of the atrocity. During a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, individuals testify on both sides of the violence as a means of coming to closure on the events. International courts often try individuals in war crimes as a result of human rights violations. Well-known cases include the Holocaust, the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, and the Armenian Genocide.
In recent years, human rights issues have become more expanded as cultures rapidly change. Human rights activists have more recently been fighting for the rights of lesbians, gays, and transsexuals. Other developing human rights issues include environmental rights, rights to natural resources, reproductive rights, and the rights of an unborn fetus. Recent decades have seen heated debates about these issues and others as the concept of human rights expands to include more arenas for debate.