15 Essential Characteristics of Human Rights


15 Essential characteristics of Human Rights

In this article, you shall know meaning and characteristics of Human Rights. Human beings are born equal in dignity and rights. These are moral claims which are inalienable and inherent in all individuals by virtue of their humanity alone, irrespective of caste, colour, creed, and place of birth, sex, cultural difference, or any other consideration. These claims are articulated and formulated in what is today known as human rights. 

Human rights are sometimes referred to as fundamental rights, basic rights, inherent rights, natural rights, and birthrights. A new development has established in the international law that protection of an individual’s human rights can no longer be completely entrusted to the state.

The principle of universality of human rights is the cornerstone of international human rights law. This principle, as first emphasized in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in 1948, has been reiterated in numerous international human rights conventions, declarations, and resolutions. 

The 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights, for example, noted that it is the duty of States to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms, regardless of their political, economic, and cultural systems.


Meaning of Human Rights

Various definitions of human rights abounds, some rather, too narrow and inadequate, others open-ended and imprecise for easy comprehension. 

Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more.

According to professor Osita Eze, “Human right represent demands or claims which individuals or group make on society, some of which are protected by Law, while others remain aspirations to be attained in future.

Simply put, Human Rights are inherent in man; they arise from the very nature of man as social animal. They are those rights which all human beings enjoy by virtue, of their humanity, whether black, white, yellow, malay or red, the deprivation of which would constitute a grave affront to one’s natural sense of justice.

Human rights themselves are not a new phenomenon or a new morality. They have a history dated back to antiquity. The rights of man as expression of political philosophy may be traceable to the writings of early naturalists.

Thomas Paine, Hobbes, John Tocke, Baron de Montesquieu, Jean Jacques Rousseau and Williams Kant to mention a few. There were the times when the writings of publicist had great impact on law and the society within which the law operated.

According to these philosophers, every individual within society possesses certain rights which are inherent and which cannot be wantonly taken away and for which man is beholden to no human authority. That the major reason for individuals coming together to form a government is to enable these rights to be protected and fostered.

Social contract, to which is traceable the origin of society itself is based on the concept of natural law to the effect that certain principles of justice are natural, that is, rational and unalterable and that the rights conferred by natural law are something to which every human being is entitled by virtual of the fact of being human and rational.

Based on this philosophy, man has over the centuries struggled and got human Rights or their understanding of them, enshrined in the constitutions and political traditions of their various societies.

As Frederick Douglas aptly put it, “Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will." Many examples of the outcome of these struggles have undoubtedly influenced later Constitutional and legal development all over the world  - the great Magna Carta of England (1215), the United States Declaration of Independence (1776), the French Declaration of the Rights of man and the citizen (1789), and the American Bills of Rights of 1791 etc.

Apart from individual struggles, the world community as a whole has in recent times drawn attention, in important declarations, to the universality of human rights and adopted a number of durable conventions in which these declarations have been enshrined. The first in the series was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). This is a declaratory statement of those basic inalienable and inviolable rights, though mainly of civil and political nature, to which men are entitled. International Covenant and Civil and Political Right (1966) including its optional protocols; International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights, The European Convention for the Protection of Human rights and Fundamental Freedom (1950); the inter-America Convention on Human Rights (1970) and the African charter on Human Rights (1981).

Human right is defines  as those minimal rights, which every individual must have against the State, or other public authority, by virtue of his being a ‘member of human family’ irrespective of any consideration. This definition brings out the essence of human rights. 

He also observed that human rights include those areas of individual or group freedom that are immune from government interference and these are rights that no one can be deprived of.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 1948, defines human rights as “rights derived from the inherent dignity of the human person.” Human rights when they are guaranteed by a written constitution are known as “Fundamental Rights” because a written constitution is the fundamental law of the state constitution is the fundamental law of the state.

Justice Krishna Iyer observed: “Human rights are writ on a large canvass, as large as the sky. The law-makers, lawyers, and particularly judge, must make the printed text vibrant with human values.”

In Ram Deo Chauhan v. Bani Kant Das, AIR 2011 SC 615 case, the Supreme Court observed: “The term ‘human rights’ is a broad concept and cannot be straight-jacketed in narrow confines. Any attempt to do so would truncate its all-embracing scope and reach, and denude it of its vigour and vitality.”

Also read: Human Rights in Pre-Modern Times

15 Characteristic of human rights

15 Essential Characteristic of human rights

1. Human Rights are Universal

2. Human Rights are Inalienable

3. Human Rights are Indivisible

4. Human rights are inherent

5. Human rights are protected by the court of law

6. Human rights are enforceable

7. Human Rights are Imprescriptible

8. Human Rights are essential and necessary

9. Connection with Human Dignity

10. Human Rights are Interdependent and Interrelated

11. Human Rights are Irrevocable

12. Human Rights are Participative and Inclusive

13. Human Rights are Never Absolute

14. Human Rights are Dynamic

15. Human Rights Limit State Power

13. Human Rights are Never Absolute

Let us explain the above mentioned

1. Human Rights are Universal: Human rights are universal because everyone is born with and possesses the same rights, regardless of where they live, their gender or race, or their religious, cultural, or ethnic background. The universality of human rights is encompassed in the words of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” They are not a monopoly of any privileged class of people. They are universal in nature, without consideration, and without exception. They are inherent in all individuals irrespective of their caste, creed, religion, sex, and nationality. Human rights are enforceable without a national border.

2. Human Rights are Inalienable: Human rights are conferred on an individual due to the very nature of his existence. They are inherent in all individuals irrespective of their caste, creed, religion, sex and nationality. Human rights are conferred to an individual even after his death.

The different rituals in different religions bear testimony to this fact.  

Human Rights are inalienable because, they cannot be rightfully taken away from a free individual and they cannot be given away or be forfeited. They should not be taken away, except in specific situations and according to due process. For example, the right to liberty may be restricted if a person is found guilty of a crime by a court of law.

3. Human Rights are Indivisible: Human Rights are not capable of being divided. They cannot be denied even when other rights have already been enjoyed. Irrespective of their relation with civil, cultural, economic, political, or social issues, human rights are inherent to the dignity of every human person.

Consequently, all human rights have equal status, and cannot be positioned in a hierarchical order. Denial of one right invariably impedes the enjoyment of other rights. Thus, the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living (say right of health or right of education) cannot be compromised at the expense of other rights.

4. Human rights are inherent: This is a very important feature of human right. In fact, almost all the characteristics i have already mentioned before now were drawn from the fact that human rights are inherent. What this means is that, human rights are not given by the government through its legislation or any other person. They are rights that are inherent in a person by virtue of the fact that he is a human being.

5. Human rights are protected by the court of law: Another characteristic of human rights is that, they are protected by the court of law. This is one of the core responsibilities of the court in a state. It is truism that many states have sections in their constitution that enjoins the court, which is the judiciary arm of the government, to protect the fundamental human rights of citizens when they are breached. This is why the right of fair hearing is not joked with by any court.

6. Human rights are enforceable: Unlike the Fundamental objectives and directive principles of state, human rights are enforceable. What this means is that, where there is a breach of any of the fundamental human rights of a citizens by any person or government, action can be brought against the defendant (s) in court.

Human rights are recognized by the law and that is why the constitution of many countries of the world today, protect the fundamental human rights of their citizens.

In the United States, the fundamental human rights of citizens are protected in Bill of Rights and in Nigeria; the fundamental human right of citizens is protected in Section 4 of the 1999 constitution.

7. Human Rights are Imprescriptible: Human Rights do not prescribe and cannot be lost even if a man fails to use or assert them, even by a long passage of time.

8. Human Rights are essential and necessary: In the absence of human rights, the moral, physical, social, and spiritual welfare of an individual is impossible. Human rights are also essential as they provide suitable conditions for the material and moral upliftment of the people. Human rights are necessary for the fulfillment of the purpose of human life. Human Rights are in

9. Connection with Human Dignity: All individuals are equal as human beings and by virtue of the inherent dignity of each human person. There should not be any discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, ethnicity, gender, age, language, sexual orientation, religion, political or other opinion, national, social or geographical origin, disability, property, birth or other status. Human dignity should be maintained. For e.g.

In 1993, India has enacted a law that forbids the practice of carrying human excreta. This law is called the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act.

10. Human Rights are Interdependent and Interrelated: Human Rights are interdependent because the fulfillment or exercise of one cannot be had without the realization of the other. Each one contributes to the realization of a person’s human dignity through the satisfaction of his or her developmental, physical, psychological and spiritual needs. The fulfillment of one right often depends, wholly or in part, upon the fulfillment of others. For instance, the fulfillment of the right to health may depend, in certain circumstances, on fulfillment of the right to development, to education or to information.

11. Human Rights are Irrevocable: Human rights are irrevocable. They cannot be taken away by any power or authority because these rights originate with the social nature of man in the society of human beings and they belong to a person of man in the society of human beings and they belong to a person simply because he is a human being. As such human rights have similarities to moral rights. No government has the power to curtail or take away the rights which are sacrosanct, inviolable and immutable.

12. Human Rights are Participative and Inclusive: All people have the right to participate in and access information relating to the decision-making processes that affect their lives and well-being.

13. Human Rights are Never Absolute: Man is a social animal and he lives in a civic society, which always put certain restrictions on the enjoyment of his rights and freedoms. Human rights as such are those limited powers or claims, which are contributory to the common good and which are recognized and guaranteed by the State, through its laws to the individuals. As such each right has certain limitations.

14. Human Rights are Dynamic: Human rights go on expanding and changing with socio-eco-cultural and political developments within the State. Judges have to interpret laws in such ways as are in tune with the changed social values.

15. Human Rights Limit State Power: States and other duty-bearers are answerable for the observance of human rights. In this regard, they have to comply with the legal norms and standards enshrined in international human rights instruments.

So human rights limit the state’s power. Where they fail to do so, aggrieved rights-holders are entitled to institute proceedings for appropriate redress before a competent court or other adjudicator in accordance with the rules and procedures provided by law in form of writ petitions. 

For e.g. six freedoms that are enumerated under the right write petitions. For e.g. six freedoms that are enumerated under the right to liberty forbid the State from interfering with the individual.

Individuals, the media, civil society and the international community play important roles in holding governments accountable for their obligation to uphold human rights.

Methods through which human rights are protected

Meaning and characteristics of Human Rights

1. The constitution: The entrenchment of fundamental human rights of citizens in the constitution is a way of protecting their rights.

2. Existence of the Principle of Rule of Law: The government under the principle of rule of law has an obligation to ensure the existence of civil liberties and equity of all citizens.

3. Independence of the Judiciary: For citizens to enjoy their rights the judiciary should be free from interference and control of both the executive and legislature.

4. Freedom of the press: The press should be free to serve as a watchdog for the rights of the citizens.

5. Activities are the opposition: The opposition whether in government or outside is a powerful instrument for protecting the rights of the citizens.

6. Provision of legal aid: There should be legal aid for any accused person in court; this will help to pretext the rights of the citizen.

7. Respect for international convention on human rights: Where a state has respect for international convention on human rights, the citizens are protected from the violation of human rights.

8. Proper enforcement of law and order by the security agencies and community.

9. Adherence to the doctrine of Separation of Power with effective checks and balances.

10. Consciousness and Vigilance of citizens over their rights.

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