The Universality of All Human Rights

At the start of this unit, we noted that human rights become most important when they are most threatened. When we think about the rights we or others need the most, it is natural for us to prioritise the rights of those we feel are important to us. People in different circumstances and in different parts of the world are likely to prioritise their rights in other ways that they perceive to be important. A woman casts her vote at a polling station in Nasarawa, Nigeria on 21 April 2007. A Commonwealth Observer Group (COG) was sent to help monitor the elections at the request of the Nigerian Government.But perspectives change and priorities change, and new challenges to human rights are emerging constantly. The only way to deal with that is to insist that all human rights are in principle protected all of the time.

Consequently, rather than concentrating on distinctions and hierarchies among rights, human rights organisations, scholars and governments are increasingly referring to all human rights as ‘universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated'. This was the language adopted by governments at the World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna in 1993, in their final Declaration and Programme of Action. The danger with that is that it is so sweeping that it is easy to submerge real issues under the generality of the philosophy. There’s a danger that ‘human rights’ simply takes the place of ‘justice’ and that discriminates badly against some people unless we are very careful.