Human rights apply to everyone. But because of a history of discrimination, some groups of people need special protection for their human rights. Below are some topics in human rights that have been identified by the United Nations and others as requiring special attention.|
To find out more about how these areas relate specifically to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, check out the Index of Topics in our Interactive Declaration.
Apartheid and Racial Discrimination
The Rights of Indigenous People
Womens Rights are Human Rights
The Rights of the Child
Human Rights, Development and Democracy
Human Rights and Humanitarian Assistance
In 1952, when the General Assembly took up the issue of apartheid in South Africa, the United Nations placed itself at the forefront of international efforts to end this crime against humanity. Constant vigilance and pressure over the years resulted in the dismantling of the apartheid system in 1994.
The fight against racism continues around the world. The United Nations strives to raise awareness to combat this stain on society. The years 1993-2003 have been proclaimed the Third Decade to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination.
Throughout history, the worlds indigenous peoplean estimated 300 million in more than 70 countrieshave suffered at the hands of colonizers and others seeking territory and riches.
The United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations, which has been meeting since 1982, works to promote indigenous peoples rights. Members have drafted a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which, if adopted, will represent a major step forward.
The General Assemblys proclamation of 1993 as the International Year of the Worlds Indigenous People and 1995-2004 as the International Decade of the Worlds Indigenous People is an effort to strengthen international cooperation for solving the problems faced by indigenous communities.
Respect for human rights will not be universal until womens rights are recognized and protected.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was adopted by the General Assembly in 1979 and has now been ratified by over 160 countries. Compliance is monitored by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
The UN Commission on the Status of Women focuses on elaborating the rights of women, and UNIFEM, the UN Development Fund for Women, has a special programme which works to promote and protect womens rights.
But around the world, cultural and traditional forces continue to subject women to secondary status. All too often violations remain hidden and silent.
The global womens movement, a new cultural force, is working to break the silence and demand that rights for women everywhere be respected and upheld.
Respect for human rights begins with the way society treats its children.
The United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) was founded in 1946 to promote the rights of children. UNICEF, the only organization of the United Nations dedicated exclusively to children, works with other United Nations agencies, governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to provide community-based services in primary health care, nutrition, basic education, and safe water and sanitation in over 140 developing countries.
On 20 November 1989, the UN General Assembly adopted the historic Convention on the Rights of the Child. To date it has been ratified by 191 countries. This landmark treaty is the most complete statement of childrens rights ever and is the first to give these rights the force of international law.
Never before have so many people crossed borders in search of better lives. And experts predict that the number of migrant workersestimated at nearly 100 millionwill only rise with increased globalization. But where they seek improved living standards, many migrant workers find instead discrimination and abuse. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) extends legal protection and humanitarian assistance to millions of refugees. Another UN agency. The International Labour Organization (ILO), protects the rights of workers.
In 1990, following 10 years of negotiations, the General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.
However, the treaty has not yet entered into force because it needs ratification by 20 Governments and as of September 1997 had only been ratified by nine: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cape Verde, Colombia, Egypt, Morocco, Philippines, Seychelles, Sri Lanka and Uganda.
Often marginalized in society, disabled persons constitute ten per cent of the worlds population.
They are frequently denied the most basic educational opportunities. Physical restrictions bar them from public buildings and transport. Social attitudes exclude them from cultural life and normal relationships. Prejudice and ignorance often lead to unnecessary institutionalization.
The World Health Organization (WHO) works to promote the right to health for all. In striving for a consensus on the protection of the rights of disabled persons, the General Assembly adopted the Standard Rules on the Equal-ization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities in 1993. The rules offer an instrument for policy-making in the quest for a society for all which recognizes the development of the human potential of each person.
Full human dignity means not only freedom from torture, but also freedom from hunger. It means freedom to vote and the right to education. It means freedom of expression and the right to health. It means the right to enjoy all rights without discrimination. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) strives to ensure economic and social development that respects individual human rights.
In 1986, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Right to Development, which states that:
"The human person is the central subject of development and should be the participant and beneficiary of the right to development."
However, despite international efforts, over one billion people today live in absolute poverty on less than $1 a day.
Good governance, democracy and popular participation are increasingly viewed as key agents in the quest for economic and social development, as are equitable trade terms and debt relief.
Around the world, human rights are an integral part of situations in which humanitarian assistance is required. Victims might be refugees, displaced people or other civilians caught up in internal conflicts. Still, their plight is the same. Their human rights are likely to have been violated and they need protection and assistance.
"Human rights violations are a major cause of refugee flows", says Sadako Ogata, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Refugees also suffer a range of abuses once they leave their homes, from piracy and rape to arrest, detention, torture and discrimination in the country to which they have escaped.
The international community is increasingly focusing on preventive action to address problems before they become humanitarian emergencies.