The Scope of Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) has a wide scope and therefore provides a useful starting point to define human rights.  It was drafted as a result of international negotiations between many diverse countries after the Second World War and was ratified by the UN General Assembly, so it has a high degree of political legitimacy although it was not a legally binding document.  It is listed in its entirety in this book (Appendix 1).  It can be broadly categorised into moral, political, legal and socio-economic rights – with many of its Articles having several overlapping aspects.  Some specific examples may help to illustrate these categories:

  • The “right to life” can be examined from a moral perspective and is also enforced in most countries’ legal systems through primary legislation. For example, declaring murder to be illegal is a way of implementing part of Article 3 of the UDHR:

“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”

  • There are some moral recommendations, such as Article 1, which depend wholly upon how people behave and are difficult to embody in law:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.  They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

  • The implementation of socio-economic rights, such as Article 25.1, requires political will as well as sufficient economic means:

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

“The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”

This last example is one reason why the UDHR is no longer accepted by all the countries which voted for it: not all countries hold elections, though they might legally enforce many of the other articles.



This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3a book, © PatternsofPower.org, 2020.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/4241.htm