Human rights are rights we have simply because we exist as human beings - they are not granted by any state. These universal rights are inherent to us all, regardless of nationality, sex, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language, or any other status. They range from the most fundamental - the right to life - to those that make life worth living, such as the rights to food, education, work, health, and liberty.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, was the first legal document to set out the fundamental human rights to be universally protected. The UDHR, which turned 70 in 2018, continues to be the foundation of all international human rights law. Its 30 articles provide the principles and building blocks of current and future human rights conventions, treaties, and other legal instruments.
The UDHR, together with the 2 covenants - the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights - make up the International Bill of Rights.
Following are the characteristics of human rights:
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 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 material and moral upliftment of the people.
Human Rights are in connection with human dignity - To Treat another individual with dignity irrespective of the fact that the person is a male or female, rich or poor, etc. is concerned with human dignity. For eg. In 1993, India enacted a law that forbids the practice of carrying human excreta. This law is called Employment of Manual Scavengers and Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act.
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 simply because he is a human being. As such human rights have similarities to moral rights.
Human Rights are Necessary for the fulfilment of the purpose of life: Human life has a purpose. The term “human right” is applied to those conditions which are essential for the fulfilment of this purpose. No government has the power to curtail or take away the rights which are sacrosanct, inviolable, and immutable.
Human Rights are Universal – Human rights are not a monopoly of any privileged class of people. Human rights are universal in nature, without consideration and without exception. The values such as divinity, dignity, and equality which form the basis of these rights are inherent in human nature.
Human Rights are never absolute – Man is a social animal and he lives in a civic society, which always puts 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.
Human Rights are Dynamic - Human rights are not static, they are dynamic. Human rights go on expanding 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. For eg. The right to be cared for in sickness has now been extended to include free medical treatment in public hospitals under the Public Health Scheme, free medical examinations in schools, and the provisions for specially equipped schools for the physically handicapped.
Rights as limits to state power - Human rights imply that every individual has legitimate claims upon his or her society for certain freedom and benefits. So human rights limit the state’s power.
These may be in the form of negative restrictions, on the powers of the State, from violating the inalienable freedoms of the individuals, or in the nature of demands on the State, i.e. positive obligations of the State. For eg. Six freedoms that are enumerated under The right to liberty forbid the State from interfering with the individual.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India was established on 12 October 1993. The statute under which it is established is the Protection of Human Rights Act (PHRA), 1993 as amended by the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Act, 2006.
It is in conformity with the Paris Principles, adopted at the first international workshop on national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights held in Paris in October 1991, and endorsed by the General Assembly of the United Nations by its Regulations 48/134 of 20 December 1993.
The NHRC is an embodiment of India’s concern for the promotion and protection of human rights.
Section 2(1)(d) of the PHRASE defines Human Rights as the rights relating to life, liberty, equality, and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the International Covenants and enforceable by courts in India.