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Why Rights are Fundamental

Every person has dignity and value and one of the ways that we recognise this fundamental worth is by acknowledging and respecting a person's human rights. Human rights are concerned with equality and fairness. They are an important part of how people interact with others at all levels in society - in the family, the community, schools, in politics and in international relations.  Moreover, they enshrine a person’s freedom to make choices about their own life and to live free from fear, harassment or discrimination.  

Human rights should be the same for all people everywhere – it should be irrelevant whether you are male or female; young or old; rich or poor – they apply regardless of your background, where you live, what you think or what you believe.  Values of tolerance, equality and respect can help reduce friction within society and practicing human rights principles will help us create the kind of society that citizens want. It is vital therefore that everyone strive to understand what human rights are. When people better understand human rights, it is easier to promote justice and the well-being of our society.

Human rights are not a recent invention.  Discussion of these ideas can be traced back to ancient civilizations and are central to modern Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic and Jewish teachings.  In the 18th Century, the American and the French revolutions created new governments based on fundamental human rights and principles such as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and enshrined these in their respective Constitutions.  However, human rights became a priority for the entire world after the atrocities of World War II and as the new world order emerged, human rights were very much at its forefront.  This has subsequently resulted in a large number of international and regional treaties that deal with human rights in general; the rights of particular groups, including women, indigenous people and racial and ethnic groupings; and with specific human rights issues such as the elimination of torture.

Human rights have therefore been identified and defined to cover virtually all areas of human life and activity.  They include civil and political rights, such as freedom of speech and freedom from torture and economic social and cultural rights, such as the rights to health and education.  Sometimes human rights are also classified in terms of whom they apply to.  Civil and political rights usually apply to individuals – hence the general reference to these as individual rights.  On the other hand, some of the economic, social and cultural rights are specific to certain groups, such as women and children, and these particular rights can therefore be described as collective rights.

That said; it is important to reaffirm that human rights are universal.  They apply to everyone regardless of race, gender, nationality or any other distinction.  Human rights are also indivisible, meaning all rights are equally important and necessary to a strong and healthy society.  As such, all human rights, whatever their classification, are considered “fundamental.”