Human Rights: The Basics

I’m Tessa Schwarz, a sophomore at Mount Holyoke College, and this is first and foremost a blog for my World Politics class. More than that, I hope it will serve as both an outlet for my ever-growing political frustrations, as well as a useful chronicle of  international human rights stories. I will post regular updates containing information on current events relating to human rights and human rights violations, as well as historical context, political commentary, and analysis. I will be using both Western news sources (i.e. the New York Times, MSNBC, BBC News) as well as newspapers original to whatever country I’m discussing whenever possible (a helpful masterpost of international newspapers can be found here).

In order to be a human rights blog, it seems appropriate to define what exactly constitutes a human right. As put by the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights for the UN, “Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.” These rights constitute both freedoms and obligations. States must then act to protect their citizens from human rights abuses, and should also seek to make positive steps towards honoring human rights. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (whose UN drafting committee was chaired by my personal hero, Eleanor Roosevelt) comprises thirty articles which form the basis of international human rights law to this day. It is a truly incredible document, and I would advise anyone to give it a quick read.

Still, many countries flout both this declaration and later determinations by the UN with regard to human rights. There is enormous disagreement among the international community about what counts as a right, and which people deserve to be protected under the law. Whether for the sake of expediency, or because their convictions supersede UN resolutions, countries around the world–West and East, developed and developing–continue to violate the basic human rights of their citizens. In December 2013, Maplecroft (a global risk analytics company) released its seventh annual Human Rights Risk Atlas for the year of 2014. It detailed an “unprecedented” 70% increase in human rights abuses since 2008, and ranked countries by their risk for violations.

Bearing this in mind, and especially after the summer of unrest we’ve experienced, I hope that this blog can be a tool to raise awareness: both mine and others’.

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