Portal:Human rights

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Welcome to the human rights portal

Human rights are moral principles or norms that describe certain standards of human behaviour and are regularly protected as natural and legal rights in municipal and international law. They are commonly understood as inalienable, fundamental rights "to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being" and which are "inherent in all human beings", regardless of their nation, location, language, religion, ethnic origin or any other status. They are applicable everywhere and at every time in the sense of being universal, and they are egalitarian in the sense of being the same for everyone. They are regarded as requiring empathy and the rule of law and imposing an obligation on persons to respect the human rights of others, and it is generally considered that they should not be taken away except as a result of due process based on specific circumstances; for example, human rights may include freedom from unlawful imprisonment, torture and execution.

The doctrine of human rights has been highly influential within international law, global and regional institutions. Actions by states and non-governmental organisations form a basis of public policy worldwide. The idea of human rights suggests that "if the public discourse of peacetime global society can be said to have a common moral language, it is that of human rights". The strong claims made by the doctrine of human rights continue to provoke considerable scepticism and debates about the content, nature and justifications of human rights to this day. The precise meaning of the term right is controversial and is the subject of continued philosophical debate; while there is consensus that human rights encompasses a wide variety of rights such as the right to a fair trial, protection against enslavement, prohibition of genocide, free speech or a right to education (including the right to comprehensive sexuality education, among others), there is disagreement about which of these particular rights should be included within the general framework of human rights; some thinkers suggest that human rights should be a minimum requirement to avoid the worst-case abuses, while others see it as a higher standard. In the light of emerging neurotechnologies, four new rights were identified: the right to cognitive liberty, the right to mental privacy, the right to mental integrity, and the right to psychological continuity.

Many of the basic ideas that animated the human rights movement developed in the aftermath of the Second World War and the events of the Holocaust, culminating in the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Paris by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. Ancient peoples did not have the same modern-day conception of universal human rights. The true forerunner of human rights discourse was the concept of natural rights which appeared as part of the medieval natural law tradition that became prominent during the European Enlightenment with such philosophers as John Locke, Francis Hutcheson and Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui and which featured prominently in the political discourse of the American Revolution and the French Revolution. From this foundation, the modern human rights arguments emerged over the latter half of the 20th century, possibly as a reaction to slavery, torture, genocide and war crimes, as a realisation of inherent human vulnerability and as being a precondition for the possibility of a just society.

Selected article

The 14th and current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. Dalai Lama said nonviolence is the only way progress can be made with China.

Nonviolence is a philosophy and strategy for social change that rejects the use of violence. As such, nonviolence is an alternative to passive acceptance of oppression and armed struggle against it. Practitioners of nonviolence may use diverse methods in their campaigns for social change, including critical forms of education and persuasion, civil disobedience and nonviolent direct action, and targeted communication via mass media.

Random picture

Woman in the Sudetenland weeping upon the annexation of the territory to Nazi Germany
Credit: US National Archives, originally from Völkischer Beobachter (Nazi newspaper)
Woman in the Sudetenland weeping upon the annexation of the territory to Nazi Germany. The US National Archives provides this cropped photo and this caption: "The tragedy of this Sudeten woman, unable to conceal her misery as she dutifully salutes the triumphant Hitler, is the tragedy of the silent millions who have been `won over' to Hitlerism by the `everlasting use' of ruthless force."


Did you know...

... that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities came into force on May 3, 2008?

... that Tom Kahn organized American unions' $300,000 aid to the Polish labor-union Solidarity in 1979–1981, despite Secretary of State Muskie's warnings that this aid might provoke a new Soviet invasion?

Random quote

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797)

Selected biography

Matthew McDaniel and his Akha wife, Michu Uaiyue, at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (May 2006)

Matthew McDaniel is a U.S. indigenous rights activist, formerly a carpenter, working to improve human rights for the Akha people of Thailand and Laos. He is the founder of the Akha Heritage Foundation. He lived in Thailand from 1991 to 2004. McDaniel is opposed to what he claims are missionary efforts to rewrite Akha history and eradicate their culture. This includes a language and oral history, which he says are critical components to their unique identity. He opposes coercive missionary conversion tactics, and the removal of Akha children from their families and villages.

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