The first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed in Paris on 10 December 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”.
World Human Rights Day is celebrated every year on the same date. The aim is to educate and raise awareness. We interviewed Gianni Rufini, the Director General of Amnesty International Italia to discuss this broad and debated topic in depth, starting from the definition of Human Rights to the analysis of the current situation in the world.
What are human rights?
We often talk about human rights (HHRR), but then in fact, few know what they actually are.
Human rights are those rights guaranteed to human beings simply because they are humans. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, they must be guaranteed regardless of the culture, religion, gender, ethnicity.
The different generations of HHRR
Today it’s possible to identify a historical evolution of the concept of human right and divide them into three different categories or “generations”.
First-generation HHRR are civil and political rights. They protect personal autonomy and guarantee the participation of individuals in the life and political decisions of the State. Civil rights include freedom of opinion, freedom of the press, freedom of expression, equality before the law and the right to personal security. This category of rights expressly protects the right to life, privacy and it prohibits forced labour, slavery, torture and other forms of exploitation.
Second-generation rights are social, economic and cultural rights. They include the right to work, the right of association, the right to education and the right to social assistance.
Finally, there are the rights which have developed most recently and which concern the community and social solidarity. The third-generation rights include rights that protect vulnerable groups, such as women, LGBTQI+ community, children, indigenous people, refugees and migrants. Also included in this category are the right to peace, development, humanitarian assistance and environmental protection.
States and HHRR
There is an inherent conflict in the relationship between the State and human rights.
On the one hand, the State should guarantee every citizen equal rights. On the other hand, it should limit its power so as not to affect personal freedoms. But this is not exactly how it really works.
As Mr. Rufini said during the interview, “Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was willed and signed by states, those same states are the biggest enemies when it comes to implement them. They have an obligation to ensure rise, and at the same time, they are often fighting against those rights. This is the contradiction that comes from the exercise of power: if I want to have the power, I have inevitably to repress some people’s rights”.
Human Rights are often seen as obstacles by governments. In fact, the function of HHRR is to put limits to the state’s power, to ensure that citizens can express themselves.
Democratic vs non-democratic countries
Most of us mistakenly think that human rights violations only occur in undemocratic countries. But as Mr. Rufini explains: “These things don’t happen only in undemocratic countries. No state has fulfilled its obligations entirely”.
The main reason for this is that in recent decades, new rights have emerged. Not all countries have accepted them so we still have to fight.
“In the evolution of society and culture, there is the acquisition of new rights, of new views of life that imply the existence of new rights. We have to convince states to transform these ideas in laws that actually allow citizens to do certain things. It’s not so easy because all the states are very conservative in this sense, are very reluctant to open new areas, new freedoms and new spaces to the citizens” remarks Mr. Rufini.
It appears clear that the only way to achieve a full democracy is the full realization of all citizens’ rights. However, the trend recently goes in the opposite direction. In many countries considered democratic, anti-terrorism laws and laws on immigration are increasingly repressive. In others, even the simple right of expression or association is not guaranteed and continuously violated.
Mr. Rufini wanted to mention the situations in Hungary, Poland and Belarus. In these countries laws still repress freedom of association, press and information and also preclude refugees from the right to asylum. And this is happening in the heart of Europe. That’s why the fight for human rights is fundamental even in developed countries.
What will the future bring?
Thanks to the work of organizations such as Amnesty International we are raising awareness around HHRR and violations that are still happening now around the world. “Now human rights are a concept everyone knows, and they are part of our lives” says Mr. Rufini.
However, we still need to fight many battles, first of all, the one against inequality.
Mr. Rufini remarked that “According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, if human beings are born equal, this equality should be reflected in the economic life. All people should have enough food, enough money, enough well-being to enjoy a healthy and long life”.
Now it’s time to put an end to wars, starvation and inequality and it’s necessary to start redistributing wealth on this planet in a more equal manner.
To conclude, Mr. Rufini pointed out that “Today in the world 62 people own half of the wealth of the entire planet. With such disproportions it’s impossible to realize the minimum level of equality that is a foundation for human rights for all”.
Watch the full interview on our YouTube channel: