Human rights are the rights which are possessed by all human beings irrespective of their race, sex, nationality or language. These are universal guarantees protecting individuals and groups against actions and omissions that affect their freedom and human dignity. The history of the human rights is more than twenty centuries old but the oldest written document on human rights is believed to be the Magna Carta of 1215 AD issued in England. The first ever convention on human rights was held in Geneva in 1864 in which the issue of human rights was discussed at length. But the importance of protection and promotion of human rights was much felt after the Second World War when there were large scale violations of the human rights. The United Nations came into existence in 1945 and the issue of human rights became its core issue. In the charter of the UN, the human rights find a significance place. Its preamble reaffirms faith in fundamental human rights and in equal rights in men and women. The article 55 of the charter signifies to promote “Universal respect for the observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinctions as to race, sex, language or religion”. Article 56 binds the member states to observe and respect human rights. To further strengthen the human rights the Commission on Human Rights was established by the U.N in 1946. The function of the commission was to send reports with recommendations on an International Bill on human rights, International conventions on civil liberties, the protection of minorities and the prevention of discrimination on the basis of race, sex, languages and religion. The commission after much discussion was able to prepare a draft on observance and protection of human rights which was known as Universal Declaration of Human Rights and was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948 which was known as the Human Rights Day and its regular observance commenced from 1950. It is also known as the modern Magna Carta of human rights and is regarded as common standard of achievement for all people and all nations.
There are total 30 articles incorporated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These rights are broadly classified as Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Civil and Political Rights include as right to life and liberty, prohibition of slavery and slave trade, Prohibition of Torture and Inhuman Treatment, Right to Equality before Law, Right to Nationality, Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion, Right to freedom of Opinion and Expression and Right to Freedom of peaceful Assembly. The Economic, Social and Cultural rights include the Right to Social Security, Right to Work, Right to Education and Right to Enjoy Arts and share in Scientific Achievements.
For further elaboration and strengthening the human rights two international conventions were held in 1966. These were the ‘ Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’ and the ‘ Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’. Some of the main provisions of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are as under.
Right to life, Prohibition of torture, inhuman treatment or punishment, Prohibition of slavery and forced labor, Right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose residence, Right to be recognized as a person everywhere before the law, Right to marry and finda family, Right of every citizen to take part in public affairs, to vote and to have access to public service in his country and Right to Equality before law. There are further two optional protocols to this covenant. The first optional protocol is about the functioning and powers of the Human Rights Committee while the second optional protocol of 1989 abolishes the death penalty in the jurisdiction of the member state to the protocol. Likewise the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognizes these rights. Some of the main provisions of this covenant are Right to Work freely, Right to form Trade Unions, Right to Social Security, Right to Health, Right to Education and Cultural Rights.
Yet another milestone in the history of human rights was achieved in 1993 when the Conference on the Human Rights was held in Vienna to assess the achievement under the UDHR.
The conference called for the specific measures designed to strengthen international human rights instruments and their monitoring mechanism. It was also decided to establish the office of High Commissioner for Human Rights with its head quarter at Geneva. The office of the High Commissioner has spearheaded the work of the UN to further human rights globally. Through a wide range of mechanisms it advocates for victims and also supports human rights bodies. The Human Rights Council came into existence in2006 after replacing the UN Commission on Human Rights which is considered as new beginning for human rights promotion and protection. In its maiden session held in June 2006, the council adopted a landmark treaty to prevent and punish the crime of enforced disappearances of about 40000 cases from 60 countries. Under the directions and supervision of the United Nations, various conventions have been held to promote human rights concerning various segments of the society e.g The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the crime of Genocide, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Convention for Complete Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Convention on the Rights of the Children, Convention on the Status of Refugees etc. Many committees have been formed to supervise the implementation of the decisions of these conventions. These committees include the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, The Committee on the Rights of Children and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
In our India the human rights are mainly incorporated in the constitution under the Fundamental Rights and under the Directive Principles of State Policy. The Human Rights Act was passed in 1993 and the National Human Rights Commission was set up in 1994. The Act also provided for setting up of the State Human Rights Commissions and District Human Rights Courts.
As many as 24 states of our country have set up their State Human Rights Commissions but in most of the states there are no exclusive District Human Rights Courts and the function is being performed by the district and session courts. The functions of the National Human Rights Commission are to inquire into complaints of violations of human rights, to intervene in any proceeding involving allegation of human rights violations, undertake and promote research in the field of human rights, spread human rights literacy and awareness in the society and to support the institutions working in the field of human rights. Undoubtedly the commission has done praiseworthy work in this direction. The commission has asked the state governments to sensitize the police and jail officials. Cases of violation of Children’s rights like trafficking in children, child marriages and imprisonment to juveniles have been taken up by the commission. Its work in rape and torture cases is also praiseworthy. But the real progress in the field can be achieved by general awakening. There is urgent need for not only sensitizing others for human rights but of practicing it.