Defending rights- a practical approach
Human rights are ascribed “naturally,” which means that they are not earned and cannot be denied on the basis of race, creed, ethnicity or gender. These rights are often advanced as legal rights and protected by the rule of law. However, they are distinct from and prior to law, and can be used as standards for formulating or criticizing both local and international law. It is typically thought that the conduct of governments and military forces must comply with these standards.
Various “basic” rights that cannot be violated under any circumstances are set forth in international human rights documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
There are many ways in which you can join actions that aim to exert collective pressure to promote human rights. Some of these include:
Adding your name to a letter or petition, and share that document with your networks and personal and professional contacts; sending a letter (or visit) the embassy of the country in-question located in your own country; sending a letter (or visit) the office of your government that supervises your country’s consular representation in the country in question; sending a letter to the management and/or investors of companies involved in the rights issues in question; holding peaceful demonstrations; coordinating solidarity action that produces photos or video documentation; publishing a letter or article on the issue in the media or speak about it on a radio program; using public art, street theatre or other cultural means to disseminate your message, etc.
More broadly, you can promote education about human rights or lend technical and financial assistance towards increasing knowledge about human rights. You can also form or be a part of dialogue groups that assemble people from various ethnicities or factions, towards overcoming mistrust, fear and grief in society. This is because getting to know the feelings of ordinary people of each side might help to change the negative image of the enemy group and because dialogue also helps parties at the grassroots level to discover the truth about what has happened, and may provide opportunities for apology and reconciliation.
The protection and promotion of human rights is not limited to the United Nations or governments. Every person has an affirmative duty to help create an environment in which human rights are promoted and respected. There are also a number of ways that you can become educated about human rights, human rights abuses, and activism against human rights. Some of these ways are listed below:
Participate in local human rights activism. Not all people are able to advocate for human rights on an international or national scale. Yet there is plenty of work that individuals can do locally to promote and support human rights.
Attend a local event sponsored by human rights organizations. By participating in a local event against a human rights violation, such as protesting the death penalty or capital punishment, your actions are part of a larger collective action against injustice.
Sign or create a petition related to human rights issues.
Report local human rights violations to a trusted organization. After documenting local human rights abuses, you should report these abuses to a trusted organization dedicated to protecting and preserving human rights. Even if the perpetrators are not criminally prosecuted, by reporting violations you enable these organizations to shed light on the abuses and hopefully pressure the perpetrators into changing their behaviour.
You can find links to organizations to report rights abuses at:
Finally, you can report serious human rights violations to the United Nations. If you are witness to serious violations of human rights, particularly atrocities committed by your government and you are not sure where you can turn, you can report these violations directly to the United Nation’s Sub-Commission on Human Rights. In order to do this, you must draft a written complaint, which includes:
Your name or the name of the organization making the complaint and a clear statement as to whether you want to remain anonymous.
The complaint must clearly state and uncover a consistent pattern of significant and documented human rights violations.
You must identify the victims of the human rights violations as well as the perpetrators and provide a detailed description of the violations.
Include evidence such as a statement by the victim, medical reports or any other information that can support your complaint.
Clearly state which rights, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, were violated.
Give the reason you are seeking UN intervention.
Show that you have exhausted any other remedies.
Your complaint can be sent to: Commission/Sub-Commission Team (1503 Procedure), Support Services Branch, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations Office at Geneva, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland. Or easily via mail:
It is also important to note that one lifelong journey towards becoming a champion for human rights is by become a political leader dedicated to the rights struggle. This is because the primary responsibility for protecting and promoting human rights rests on the shoulders of the government. They must pass laws that establish and protect the human rights of all citizens and they must actively refrain from impinging on those rights. If you are interested in politics, you should consider a career as a legislator. In this role, you will have the ability to introduce human rights legislation, advocate your position, and ultimately support laws that protect human rights.
Did the course meet your expectations?
Do you think the government in your country is doing enough to ensure that the rights of citizens are well protected?
Please share your answers in the classroom/course-forum and endeavor to ask questions and provide possible answers to questions from other learners.