Human rights

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Human rights refer to the "basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled", including civil and political rights, such as the right to life and liberty, freedom of expression, and equality before the law; and economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to participate in culture, the right to food, the right to work, and the right to education.

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  • I find our modern emphasis on 'rights' somewhat overdone and misleading ... It makes people forget that the other and more important side of rights is duty. And indeed the great historic codes of our human advance emphasised duties and not rights ... The Ten Commandments in the Old Testament and ... the Sermon on the Mount ... all are silent on rights, all lay stress on duties.
  • Within a system which denies the existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure. A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or even wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve man's self-respect and inherent human dignity. It is not easy for a people conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that might is right to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilized man.
    • Aung San Suu Kyi, Freedom from Fear, Acceptance message for the 1990 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought (July 1991).
  • Human rights is the soul of our foreign policy, because human rights is the very soul of our sense of nationhood.
    • Jimmy Carter, Remarks at a White House meeting commemorating the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December of 1978.
  • On September 17, 1914, Erzberger, the well-known German statesman, an eminent member of the Catholic Party, wrote to the Minister of War, General von Falkenhayn, "We must not worry about committing an offence against the rights of nations nor about violating the laws of humanity. Such feelings today are of secondary importance"? A month later, on October 21, 1914, he wrote in Der Tag, "If a way was found of entirely wiping out the whole of London it would be more humane to employ it than to allow the blood of A SINGLE GERMAN SOLDIER to be shed on the battlefield!"
    • Georges Clemanceau, quoting Matthias Erzberger, in Grandeur and Misery of Victory, trans. F. M. Atkinson (1930), p. 279.
  • Wherever there is a human being, I see God-given rights inherent in that being, whatever may be the sex or complexion.
    • William Lloyd Garrison, William Lloyd Garrison, 1805-1879 : The Story of His Life Told by His Children, Vol. iii. Page 390. (1885).
  • To affirm that humans thrive in many different ways is not to deny that there are universal human values. Nor is it to reject the claim that there should be universal human rights. It is to deny that universal values can only be fully realized in a universal regime. Human rights can be respected in a variety of regimes, liberal and otherwise. Universal human rights are not an ideal constitution for a single regime throughout the world, but a set of minimum standards for peaceful coexistence among regimes that will always remain different.
  • Human rights are not just cultural or legal constructions, as fashionable western relativists are fond of claiming. They are universal values. To deny the benefits of the new regime of rights to other cultures is to patronise them in a way that is reminiscent of the colonial era. If the new regime on torture is good enough for the US, who can say that it is not good for everyone?
  • I know nothing of man's rights, or woman's rights; human rights are all that I recognise.
  • The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.
    • Alexander Hamilton, “The Farmer Refuted,” in John C. Hamilton, ed., The Works of Alexander Hamilton (1850), vol. 2, p. 80.
  • The idea of human rights and freedoms must be an integral part of any meaningful world order. Yet, I think it must be anchored in a different place, and in a different way, than has been the case so far. If it is to be more than just a slogan mocked by half the world, it cannot be expressed in the language of a departing era, and it must not be mere froth floating on the subsiding waters of faith in a purely scientific relationship to the world.
    • Václav Havel, Liberty Medal acceptance speech at Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (4 July 1994).
  • Human rights are something you were born with. Human rights are your God-given rights. Human rights are the rights that are recognized by all nations of this earth. And any time any one violates your human rights, you can take them to the world court.
    • Malcolm X, Speech in Cleveland, Ohio (April 3, 1964).
  • We speak here of the challenge of the dichotomies of war and peace, violence and non-violence, racism and human dignity, oppression and repression and liberty and human rights, poverty and freedom from want.
    We stand here today as nothing more than a representative of the millions of our people who dared to rise up against a social system whose very essence is war, violence, racism, oppression, repression and the impoverishment of an entire people.
    I am also here today as a representative of the millions of people across the globe, the anti-apartheid movement, the governments and organisations that joined with us, not to fight against South Africa as a country or any of its peoples, but to oppose an inhuman system and sue for a speedy end to the apartheid crime against humanity.
    These countless human beings, both inside and outside our country, had the nobility of spirit to stand in the path of tyranny and injustice, without seeking selfish gain. They recognised that an injury to one is an injury to all and therefore acted together in defense of justice and a common human decency.
  • We stand today at the threshold of a great event both in the life of the United Nations and in the life of mankind, that is the approval by the General Assembly of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
    • Eleanor Roosevelt, in Paris on December 10, 1948. The United Nations General Assembly was gathered in the recently built Palais Chaillot when the chairwoman of the UN Commission on Human Rights rose to give a speech.
  • Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.
    • Eleanor Roosevelt, remarks at presentation of booklet on human rights, In Your Hands, to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, United Nations, New York, March 27, 1958. This quotation, lacking the final sentence, was used by Adlai E. Stevenson in 1963 on his Christmas card.
  • My position as regards the monied interests can be put in a few words. In every civilized society property rights must be carefully safeguarded; ordinarily and in the great majority of cases, human rights and property rights are fundamentally and in the long run, identical; but when it clearly appears that there is a real conflict between them, human rights must have the upper hand; for property belongs to man and not man to property.
    • Theodore Roosevelt, address at the Sorbonne, Paris, France (April 23, 1910); in "Citizenship in a Republic", The Strenuous Life (vol. 13 of The Works of Theodore Roosevelt, national ed., 1926), chapter 21, p. 515–16.

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