Why Are Human Rights Important?

Adopted by the General Assembly on December 10, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is one of the first major achievements of the United Nations. The United States is a charter member of the United Nations and the U.S. Representative to the U.N., Eleanor Roosevelt, was a lead drafter of the UDHR.

The author States of Declaration, from different regions of the world, sought to ensure that the text would incorporate values common to all communities.
The States affirmed the universal respect for inalienable rights and fundamental freedoms of each and every person, including the principles of the prohibition against arbitrary detention, the right to due process and other civil and political rights as well as social, cultural and economic rights.

Significant development in thinking about human rights had already taken place in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Indeed, the American Declaration of Independence of 1776 stated:

    "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."

While itself a non-binding document, the UDHR arguably is part of customary international law, reflecting the almost universal vision of nations about the universal human rights of all the people.

These fundamental human rights should be “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and nations” - UDHR Preamble. They are the basic rights that all human beings should enjoy, respect and protect.

The UDHR, together with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), its two Optional Protocols, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), form what is known as International Bill of Human Rights.

International human rights law lays down obligations which States are bound to respect. By becoming parties to international treaties, States assume obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect and to fulfill human rights.

The obligation to respect means that States must refrain from interfering with or curtailing the enjoyment of human rights.

The obligation to protect requires States to protect individuals and groups against human rights abuses.

The obligation to fulfill means that States must take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of basic human rights.

Through ratification of international human rights treaties, Governments undertake to put into place domestic measures and legislation compatible with their treaty obligations and duties.

Universal human rights should be applied to all persons without distinction of any kind: we are all human beings, so we are all entitled to enjoy these rights.

    “Human rights are what reason requires and conscience demands. They are us and we are them. Human rights are rights that any person has as a human being. We are all human beings; we are all deserving of human rights. One cannot be true without the other.” - Kofi Annan, Secretary-general of the United Nations

Remember that, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, "the destiny of human rights is in the hands of all our citizens in all our communities."