In the last 50 years, have human rights progressed, stagnated, or regressed?

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Human rights have evolved from a vague political concept into a clearly defined and endlessly controversial topic over the past 50 years. They remain a popular topic for politicians and journalists and, in some cases, a target for today’s political activists.

Recent articles in newspapers such as the Mail Online have played a role in making human rights such as hot political topic. Just recently, there was an article aimed at the court payments that have been awarded to criminals, sanctioned by the European Court of Human Rights.

While there may be domestic debate regarding the role of human rights within the UK, and, in some cases, within Europe, the focus of human rights internationally is very different. Human rights are embraced by the world, with political leaders at home emphasising the importance of upholding human rights around the world.

During the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, foreign secretary William Hague reinforced the view that human rights are essential for the world, noting that “human rights defenders languishing in the prisons of repressive regimes are not forgotten because of British NGOs.”

Think of the foreign countries governed by regimes that don’t uphold human rights – Afghanistan, North Korea, Central African Republic, and others – and it becomes clear that defending human rights belongs alongside the defence of democracy and human decency.

With wars ongoing in many parts of the world, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that there has been little, if any, progress made in the field of human rights during the past half-century.

Human rights issues, however, have a history far greater than 50 years old. Human rights were explored, albeit not under their current title, in the religious texts of all major religions. Basic human rights were established in the Ten Commandments.

War is one of the greatest examples of what can happen when human rights take a less important position in governance. It’s no coincidence that human rights were established as a fundamental and inalienable concept following the destruction of World War II and the Holocaust.

Three years after the end of the war, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the UN National Assembly. Today, it remains the cornerstone that’s used to measure the presence and achievement of human rights in the world of today.

The 1948 document was signed by 51 member states and included thirty clear and articulated rights. At the time, it was thought of as idealistic and inspirational. It has now been signed by 192 member states and is upheld by the International Court of Justice and Security Council – maintaining peace throughout much of the world.

Despite this, there remain parts of the world where human rights – particularly the rights granted to children, women, and the economically underprivileged – are in a state of uncertainty or abuse. According to the World Bank, an estimated 64 million people still live in extreme poverty – a startling and truly scary figure.

Today, more than 50 years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the fundamental human rights remain the same. The challenge, however, is a question of how to best achieve these human rights through political, economic, and social change.

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December 18, 2013 · Tim Kevan · Comments Closed
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