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  • A Coherent Approach to Human Rights
  • Rolf Künnemann (bio)

I. Introduction

Human rights call upon States to protect vulnerable individuals and groups against oppression. Oppression involves the extreme misuse of State power and includes the commingling of the State machinery with oppressive interest groups. Oppression today also entails the exclusive use of natural and other common resources by these interest groups without respect for the dignity of the poor and the needs of future generations. Human rights have developed in history as a safeguard against these kinds of oppression. Human rights empower vulnerable individuals and groups and impose certain fundamental standards for State activities.

Individuals and movements in different parts of the world who resist oppression increasingly refer to their struggles as struggles for human rights. The indivisibility and interdependence of the different economic, social, cultural, civil, and political rights has been a daily reality in their work. Due to these struggles the full range of indivisible human rights has been recognized by a large and increasing number of States. This has led to a number of human rights instruments in international law—most importantly the International Covenants—and to the UN principles of indivisibility and interdependence.

Any modern approach to human rights must be coherent. It must start from the full range of human rights and from the axiom of indivisibility. This has become increasingly clear in recent discussions on the conceptual development of economic, social and cultural rights. In my work as Secretary-General of FIAN (Food First Information and Action Network) International I had the opportunity to apply these concepts in many cases of violations of the right to feed oneself. This gave rise to discussions with a number of human rights workers from different backgrounds and to further reflections on a coherent approach to human rights.

The approach presented in this paper does not claim any uniqueness. [End Page 323] What it asserts, however, is that the conceptual development of different sets of human rights must include common terms of reference valid for all of them—any valid approach must be coherent.

After examining the underlying unity of human rights, I will consider a number of fallacies about modern human rights. The paper ends on a word of caution about the opportunities and risks involved in the current development of human rights.

The 16 groups of human rights

(as recognized in the Articles of the International Covenants on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) 1 and on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)) 2

Economic rights

  1. 1. The right to gain and sustain an adequate standard of living

    • — the right to be free from hunger (ICESCR 11.2)

    • — the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and housing (ICESCR 11.1)

    • — the right to work (ICESCR 6)

  2. 2. Labor rights

    • — the right to just and favorable working conditions (ICESCR 7)

    • — the right to form and join trade unions, and the right to strike (ICESCR 8)

Social Rights

  1. 3. The right to social security (ICESCR 9)

  2. 4. The rights of families, mothers, and children (ICESCR 10)

    • — protection of the family, freedom of marriage (ICCPR 23), and rights of the child (ICCPR 24)

  3. 5. The right to physical and mental health (ICESCR 12)

Cultural Rights

  1. 6. The right to education (ICESCR 13)

    • — The right to compulsory primary education (ICESCR 14) [End Page 324]

  2. 7. The right to take part in cultural life and the right to free scientific progress (ICESCR 15)

  3. 8. The rights of minorities (ICCPR 27)

Civil Rights

  1. 9. The right of recognition and equality before the law (ICCPR 16, ICCPR 26)

  2. 10. The rights of prisoners

    • — concerning capital punishment, right to life (ICCPR 6); prohibition of torture (ICCPR 7); prohibition of slavery (ICCPR 8); prohibition of arbitrary arrest (ICCPR 9); and basic principles of the penal system (ICCPR 10)

  3. 11. The right to a fair trial

    • — equality before a court, assumption of innocence (ICCPR 14); prohibition of ex post facto laws (ICCPR 15); and prohibition of imprisonment for debt (ICCPR 11)

  4. 12. The right to liberty of movement (ICCPR 12)

    • — protection of foreigners in case of expulsion (ICCPR 13)

  5. 13. The right to freedom of opinion

    • — protection of the individual’s...

Additional Information

ISSN
1085-794X
Print ISSN
0275-0392
Pages
pp. 323-342
Launched on MUSE
1995-05-01
Open Access
No
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