5.4.7 Human Rights as a Legal Safeguard

The moral aspect of human rights, as the basis of an agreed standard of behaviour, was discussed in the previous chapter (4.2.4).  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Appendix 1) gives an indication of their possible scope.  A society can embody some of these human rights in its laws, as principles that are deemed important and enduring, to allow individuals to flourish and protect them from oppression.  They can guarantee that governance doesn’t harm anyone.

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.  And human rights are often enshrined in a Constitution, which can only be changed with a large majority, as a way of making it less likely that they would be overridden in some future moment of stress (5.2.3).

Human rights which have been established 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 (  They should apply to everyone in a society, so that nobody feels excluded.

●  In some countries, agreed entitlements such as education, healthcare, pensions and welfare benefits, are enforced by law ( – but in most countries such matters are firmly under government control.

●  Human rights can support the exercise of judicial discretion (, to validate decisions made by judges.

●  The law can enables judges to ensure that new legislation doesn’t deviate from important principles, so that governments cannot violate people’s rights ( This protection depends on the courts not being politicised.

●  International organisations, including the European Court of Human Rights and several UN bodies, can protect people from government abuses (

●  The Geneva Convention on Refugees assigns rights to people fleeing from war or oppression (



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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/547.htm.