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Introduction to Human Rights: What do you know about Human Rights?

Human rights are norms that describe standards of human behavior and are protected as natural and legal rights by law. They are those rights that every human being possesses and is entitled to enjoy simply by virtue of being human.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, shall strive to promote respect for human rights and freedoms and to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance.

Article 1 of the UDHR states that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2 further states that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

This means that human rights are universal legal guarantees against actions and omissions that interfere with fundamental freedoms, entitlements and human dignity. They set the minimum standards on how individuals must be treated.

Human rights law therefore obliges governments to do some things, and prevents them from doing other things.

Article 21. (1) of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 states that it is a fundamental duty of the State and every State organ to observe, respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights and fundamental freedoms in the Bill of Rights.

Human Rights Principles

These are set out as follows:

  • Equality and non-discrimination: This principle emphasizes that one should not be treated differently on the grounds of race, sex, pregnancy, marital status, health status, ethnic or social origin, color, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, dress, language, or birth.
  • Universality: universality of human rights means that human rights must be the same everywhere and for everyone. By virtue of being human, every individual is entitled to inalienable rights and freedoms. These rights ensure the dignity and worth of the human person and guarantee a human’s well-being.This principle affirms the dignity of all human beings and assumes that all human beings, irrespective of their circumstances or environments, have a right to equally enjoy all human rights.
  • Indivisible: This principle emphasizes the equal importance of all human rights. It resists the temptation to classify human rights into categories of important and not important.
  • Interdependent: This principle emphasizes that the fulfillment of one right often depends, wholly or in part, upon the fulfillment of other rights. Different rights need each other and violations of one right most likely lead to violations of other rights For example, fulfillment of the right to health may depend, in certain circumstances, on fulfillment of the right to clean water and food, development, education, or information.
  • Inalienable: This means that human rights cannot be surrendered, sold or transferred to someone else.This means that you cannot lose them, because they are linked to the very fact of human existence, they are inherent to all human beings.

Characteristics of Human Rights

  • Human: Only human beings are entitled to human rights. Other legal entities are not entitled to human rights.
  • Universal: Human rights apply to everyone throughout the world equally
  • Fundamental: Human rights are important basic rights and should be given special protection by law.
  • Treat all as equal: Human rights recognize that all humans are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
  • Protect citizenry from the state: The state cannot take away or deny these rights. It must respect, protect, and fulfil human rights.
  • Inalienable: They cannot be given up, transferred, or lost.
  • Inter-related and interdependent: Human rights are linked and rely on each other..
  • Recognizes the principle of humanity: The rights to life, safety, security, liberty, and freedom from torture must not be violated.

Limitations of Human Rights

Some human rights are absolute (Article 25, Constitution of Kenya) and others can be limited.

A small number of human rights are recognised as absolute rights which cannot be limited for whatever reason:

  • Freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  • Freedom from slavery or servitude.
  • The right to a fair trial
  • The right to life
  • The right to Health
  • Right to recognition as a person before the law

Most rights, however, are subject to permissible limits, expressly or impliedly. Art 24 of the Constitution of Kenya states that for a right to be limited, it must be:

  • Created by law
  • Solely for the purposes of recognising and respecting the rights and freedoms of others
  • Meet the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society

Some rights are expressly subject to limitation on grounds such as public order and the protection of the rights and freedoms of others: for example freedom of movement.

Categories of Human rights:

  • Civil rights and or political rights: are concerned with the freedom to think and behave, and include the right to vote, the right to information, the right to free speech, and the right to be free from discrimination
  • Socio-economic rights: are concerned with access to essential services such as health care, food, housing, water, and social security.

By Millient Bwire

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