5.4.7 Human Rights as a Legal Safeguard

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at http://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/547.htm)

The moral aspect of human rights, as the basis of an agreed standard of behaviour, was discussed in the previous chapter (4.2.4); a society can embody some of these human rights in its laws, as principles that are deemed important and enduring.  Laws can be changed by later generations of legislators but, if the separation of powers is operating correctly (5.2.8), the changing of a law requires a wider consensus than the support of the government of the day.  Human Rights are often embodied in a Constitution, which can only be changed with a very large majority, as a way of making it less likely that they would be overridden in some future moment of stress (5.2.2).

Human rights which have been embodied in a country’s legal system can provide various forms of safeguard, as follows:

  • They can protect individuals from oppression, by other people or by the government (5.4.7.1).
  • Entitlements can be guaranteed as human rights (5.4.7.2).
  • Human rights can support the exercise of judicial discretion, to validate interpretation of the law (5.4.7.3).
  • Governments can be prevented from legalising oppression (5.4.7.4).
  • National court rulings can be overruled by international courts in some cases, to uphold human rights (5.4.7.5).
  • The Geneva Convention on Refugees assigns rights to people fleeing from war or oppression (5.4.7.6).

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