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Religious Tolerance logo

Human rights

An introduction

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A goal for human rights:

Article 1 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948 states that:

"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." 1

Human rights are often held to include an individual's:

bulletFree access to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
bulletEquality before the law.
bulletFreedom of thought and expression -- including religious freedom.
bulletFreedom to present grievances to the government.
bulletRight to elect -- and sometimes impeach -- government leaders

Unfortunately, this high standard has yet to be fully implemented in many areas of the world. 

About religious rights:

Religious rights include the freedom to:
bulletWithout oppression, believe, worship and witness (or practice freedom from belief, worship and witness), as they wish;
bulletChange their beliefs or religious affiliation at any time; and
bulletAssociate with others to express their beliefs, and explain them to others. 5

Restrictions on rights:

Rights are not actually universal. For example:
bulletInfants, children and youths generally have restricted freedoms that they only obtain in adulthood.
bulletPersons convicted of a crime and imprisoned obviously lack fundamental freedoms.
bulletReligious proselytizing cannot be so aggressive that it harasses the targeted person.

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Genocide: the ultimate restriction of human rights

The main enemies to human rights have traditionally been the governments under which a person lives. Consider the genocides that exterminated:

bulletPeople believed to be Witches, and other heretics, from 14th to the 18th century, during what are called the "burning times," in Western Europe. Perpetrators were mainly civil and Christian authorities.
bulletNative Americans from the late 15th century onwards, primarily by European immigrants.
bulletCongolese in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1885 to 1912 by the Belgium colonial administration.
bulletArmenians in Turkey during the early 20th century in the last days of the Ottoman Empire.
bulletUkrainians who were starved to death during the artificial famine of 1932-3, implemented by Soviet Russia.
bulletJews, Roma (a.k.a. Gypsies), homosexuals and Jehovah's Witnesses by German Nazis before and during World War II.
bulletChinese during the "Rape of Nanking" by Japanese military in 1937.
bulletCambodians by their Communist government during 1975-9.
bulletMuslims in Bosnia Herzegovina during the 1990s, by Serbian Orthodox Christians.
bulletTutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda during 1994 by other Hutus.
bulletChristians, Animists and Muslims in Sudan, etc. from 2003 to now.

References and footnotes:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, (UDHR), United Nations, at: http://un.org/
  2. A cisgendered person is one whose genetic gender matches their perceived gender (a.k.a. gender identity). transgender persons are generally regarded as those having a mismatch between their genetic gender and their perceived gender.
  3. The term "homophobia" has multiple meanings. On this website we define it as  engaging in an action aimed at denigrating or restricting the human rights of persons who have a homosexual orientation and/or who engages in homosexual behavior. Examples of actions are
    bulletharassment of gays, lesbians and bisexuals
    bulletPassing or maintaining laws that deprive homosexuals of job protection, accommodation protection, hate-crimes protection, and
    bulletPassing or maintaining laws that deprive loving, committed same-sex couples the right to marry.
  4. The term "transphobia" also has multiple meanings. On this website we define it as as engaging in an action aimed at denigrating or restricting the human rights of persons who are transgender. Examples of transphobic actions are
    bullettrans-bashing -- physical assaults and sometimes murder,
    bulletharassment of transgender persons or transsexuals, and
    bulletPassing or maintaining laws that deprive transgender persons or transsexuals of job protection, accommodation protection, and hate-crimes protection.
  5. Paraphrased from Forum 18 at: www.forum18.org.

Site navigation: Home pageHuman rights > here

Copyright © 1995 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-FEB-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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