Human Rights Overview

Human rights are those opportunities and freedoms that every person deserves without discrimination. Universal human rights are often expressed and guaranteed by laws obligating governments and their citizens to act in ways that preserve human dignity. These rights include freedom of expression, and religion as well as freedom from want, fear, torture, slavery, attack, or discrimination; and finally, the right of access to societal and natural resources. The citizen’s duty is to honor those rights; the government’s duty is to protect those rights through regulation and oversight.

Disability Rights

People with disabilities face a variety of obstacles in society. Though many national governments follow the UN convention that endorses their rights, people with disabilities remain vulnerable to marginalization, discrimination, and abuse. Lack of accommodations for the disabled translates to a lack of necessities such as health care, insurance, transportation, education, competitive employment, and appropriate housing. Proper accommodation of disability can include design and infrastructure that ease transportation challenges in public settings; programs in education, health and entertainment that provide for disability needs; and policies that address obstacles to economic opportunity for the disabled.

Equal Opportunity

By eliminating discrimination based on age, appearance, race, ethnicity, gender, religion and/or sexual orientation we can ensure a fair society. Though “equal opportunity” is a term often used in the workplace, it’s also essential for public services like schooling, housing and voting.  Today, for example, only 30% of girls are enrolled in secondary school worldwide.  Additionally, though girls and women perform 66% of the work, produce 50% of the world’s food, they earn only 10% of the world’s income. In protecting our most vulnerable, we also have to consider ageism.  Globally, people are younger and older than ever before.  There are 893 million people over the age of 60, and that number is expected to rise to 2.4 billion by the middle of this century.  Likewise, there are roughly 1 billion 12-to-18 year olds, with approximately 9 out of 10 living in the developing world.  Without tackling pre-existing bias and discrimination of any kind, the most vulnerable groups of people will continue to be at high risk.

Ethnic Rights

Racial and ethnic discrimination is a major challenge to human rights around the world. Many regions with a history of slavery and segregation still face persistent legacies of racism. Entrenched prejudice, lack of opportunity and exclusion can pose challenges to minority groups, despite equality of legal status. Likewise, actions of colonial or imperial conquest in centuries past have displaced and disenfranchised indigenous peoples, resulting in political, social and economic marginalization.  An estimated 370 million indigenous people live around the world today, governments have often been slow to commit to addressing the challenges these groups face. Xenophobia and nationalism are also common forms of ethnic prejudice globally. Belief in the superiority or privilege of one’s own nation, tribe or ethnicity can lead to the abuse or even attack of those considered “outsiders.” Despite these pervasive problems, racism can be effectively reduced through campaigns to improve understanding of diversity, social equality and legal rights for all.

Fetal and Maternal Rights

Fetal rights refers to the protection of the unborn. Governmental or popular support of abortion, along with tolerance of other harm to a fetus, is of deep concern for fetal rights advocates. Female infanticide is a pressing problem in cultures that strongly prefer sons over daughters; for example, India has lost 3 million girls to female infanticide, creating a gender imbalance in the nation’s population. Government pressure to abort pregnancies, such as China's one child policy, also result in widespread infanticide. Meanwhile, maternal rights efforts focus on a woman's right to make her own reproductive decisions. Laws that ban abortion and even birth control limit couples’ ability to prevent childbirth. Conversely, governments have also been known to  enforce compulsory sterilization, resulting in women’s involuntary loss of fertility.

Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is a contemporary term for a very old practice: the sale and use of slaves for forced labor.  The victims – often women and children – are sold, kidnapped, or coerced into sex work, manual labor, war, and even the sale of their body parts and organs. There’s an estimated 27 million slaves worldwide -- reportedly more today than at any other point in history!  A variety of organizations, both governmental and nongovernmental, have committed to fighting human trafficking, but it remains a difficult challenge because the industry is lucrative. Further, the sex industry’s hidden nature inhibits detection and limits understanding of the problem.

Labor Rights

There is substantial debate over which human rights can, and should, be protected in business.  Although many companies ensure their day-to-day operations support and respect the protection of human rights, some industry sectors are especially prone to labor issues such as child labor or discriminatory practices.  In particular, businesses with far-reaching supply chains face labor rights challenges, as the sheer poverty of local workers means they’ll work in substandard conditions. For this reason, the protection of labor rights often depends on the intervention of legal regulations, watchdog groups, and ethical consumer choices. Controversy regarding the necessary standard of labor conditions is a challenge to clear progress in universal protection of worker’s rights.

LGBT Rights

The rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are often denied through discrimination, abuse, legal punishment and violence around the world.  Although the United Nations passed a controversial resolution affirming the rights of LGBT people, many regions of the world do not share its supportive attitude. “Pride” festivals, media campaigns and legal activism have attempted to increase tolerance, but people of LGBT orientation are still more likely to suffer social rejection and abuse. LGBT youth attempt suicide at a rate 3 to 6 times higher than their heterosexual peers due to bullying. Beyond this emotional damage, instances of physical attack also pose an unacceptable threat for many people who identify as LGBT.

Religious Freedom

Religious freedom affords individuals the right to make their own spiritual choices without interference. This includes both the freedom to choose any religion and the right to practice a religion (as long as it does not harm others). Globally, 75% of all people live under restriction of religious practice, and religious differences contribute to conflict around the world. While people suffer in violent struggles related to religious intolerance by the government, extremist groups and/or religious leaders, in many cases the lines between ethnic and religious identities are blurred. While cases of religious terrorism and social hostility are clear challenges to religious freedom, laws regarding cultural aspects of a religion often bring public controversy.  While religion is well-recognized as a source of international conflict, its role in promoting peace is often overlooked.

Women's Rights

Gender-based violence is highly prevalent around the world, and females are more often subjected to human rights abuses than men. They may face the inability to vote or participate in public life, own property, earn wages, serve in the military, or enter into legal contracts. Girls worldwide are also less likely than boys to gain access to education. Other forms of repression are social, such as domestic violence and sexual assault, or restrictions on clothingmarriage or other personal matters. The rights afforded to women often depend on the culture and political system in which they live, because gender equality is not universally accepted. Nevertheless, gender empowerment pays off for nations that pursue it, promoting public health, education and economic success.