Issues in Depth

Human Rights

What Are Human Rights?

Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more.  Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.

Human Rights

Promoting respect for human rights is a core purpose of the United Nations and defines its identity as an organization for people around the world. Member States have mandated the Secretary-General and the UN System to help them achieve the standards set out in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To do so, the UN System uses all the resources at its disposal, including its moral authority, diplomatic creativity and operational reach. Member States, however, have the primary responsibility for protecting human rights of their populations.

International Law and Justice

Among the greatest achievements of the United Nations is the development of a body of international law—conventions, treaties and standards—central to promoting economic and social development, as well as to advancing international peace and security. Many of the treaties brought about by the United Nations form the basis of the law that governs relations among nations. While the work of the UN in this area does not always receive attention, it has a daily impact on the lives of people everywhere. 

Peace and Security

Saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war was the main motivation for creating the United Nations, whose founders lived through the devastation of two world wars. Since its creation, the UN has often been called upon to prevent disputes from escalating into war, or to help restore peace when armed conflict does break out, and to promote lasting peace in societies emerging from wars.

Oceans and the Law of the Sea

Life itself arose from the oceans. The ocean is vast, covering 140 million square miles, some 72 per cent of the earth's surface. Not only has the oceans always been a prime source of nourishment for the life it helped generate, but from earliest recorded history it has served for trade and commerce, adventure and discovery. It has kept people apart and brought them together.

Even now, when the continents have been mapped and their interiors made accessible by road, river and air, most of the world's people live no more than 200 miles from the sea and relate closely to it.

AIDS

In June 1981, scientists in the United States reported the first clinical evidence of a disease that would later become known as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS. Its cause, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), was identified in 1983.

Since the start of the epidemic around 78 million (71 million–87 million) have become infected with HIV and around 35 million (29.6 million–40.8 million) people have died of AIDS-related illnesses. In 2015, there were 36.7 million (34.0 million–39.8 million) people living with HIV.

Decolonization

When the United Nations was founded in 1945, some 750 million people, nearly a third of the world's population, lived in Territories that were dependent on colonial Powers. Today, fewer than 2 million people live under colonial rule in the 17 remaining non-self-governing territories. The wave of decolonization, which changed the face of the planet, was born with the UN and represents the world body’s first great success.

Climate Change

Climate change is one of the major challenges of our time and adds considerable stress to our societies and to the environment. From shifting weather patterns that threaten food production, to rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding, the impacts of climate change are global in scope and unprecedented in scale. Without drastic action today, adapting to these impacts in the future will be more difficult and costly.

Children

The UN agency for children

In the aftermath of World War II, the plight of Europe’s children was grave, and a new agency created by the United Nations stepped in to provide food and clothing and health care to these children.

In 1953, UNICEF became a permanent part of the UN and began a successful global campaign against yaws, a disfiguring disease affecting millions of children, and one that can be cured with penicillin.

Atomic Energy

The UN and the nuclear age were born almost simultaneously. The horror of the Second World War, culminating in the nuclear blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, brought home the need to address the nuclear issue. By its first resolution, the General Assembly established the UN Atomic Energy Commission to deal with the problems raised by the discovery of atomic energy.  And a landmark address by United States President Dwight D.

Ageing

The world’s population is ageing: virtually every country in the world is experiencing growth in the number and proportion of older persons in their population.

Population ageing is poised to become one of the most significant social transformations of the twenty-first century, with implications for nearly all sectors of society, including labour and financial markets, the demand for goods and services, such as housing, transportation and social protection, as well as family structures and intergenerational ties. 

Africa

Through its unique capacities as the world’s premiere vehicle for international cooperation, the UN system plays a crucial role in coordinating assistance of all kinds — to help Africa help itself.  From promoting the development of democratic institutions, to the establishment of peace between warring nations, the UN is present on the ground supporting economic and social development and the promotion and protection of human rights.

Water

Fresh water sustains human life and is vital for human health. There is enough fresh water for everyone on Earth. However, due to bad economics or poor infrastructure, millions of people (most of them children) die from diseases associated with inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene.  Water scarcity affects more than 40 per cent of the global population and is projected to rise. It is estimated that 783 million people do not have access to clean water and  over 1.7 billion people are currently living in river basins where water use exceeds recharge.

Youth

Young people are effective agents of change. Enthusiastic and creative, they contribute to development by addressing society’s most challenging issues, such as combating poverty and hunger in their communities, stemming the HIV/AIDS pandemic through peer education and championing the protection of the environment. Youth often lead by example by practicing green and healthy lifestyles and promoting innovative new technologies, like online social networks.

Women

The United Nations and women

UN support for the rights of women began with the Organization's founding Charter.  Among the purposes of the UN declared in Article 1 of its Charter is “To achieve international co-operation … in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”

Rural Poverty

At the heart of every human experience is the desire to survive and prosper. To live without fear, hunger or suffering. To imagine how your life could be better and then have the means to change it. Yet, every day, 1.4 billion people – nearly one fifth of the world’s inhabitants – cannot fulfil their most basic needs, let alone attain their dreams or desires.

Refugees

The world is witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record. An unprecedented 59.5 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 20 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also 10 million stateless people, who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement. 

Population

Our growing population

In 1950, five years after the founding of the United Nations, world population was estimated at around 2.6 billion people. It reached 5 billion in 1987and 6 billion in 1999.  In October 2011, the global population was estimated to be 7 billion. A global movement "7 Billion Actions" was launched to mark this milestone. And as of  mid-2015 the world population reached 7.3 billion, meaning that the world has added approximately one billion people in the span of twelve years.  

Persons with Disabilities

Some 10 per cent of the world’s population, approximately 650 million people, live with a disability.  They are the world’s largest minority, and some 80 per cent of them live in developing countries.  Among the worlds poorest people, 20 per cent have some kind of disability.  Women and girls with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to abuse.  Persons with disabilities are more likely to be victims of violence or rape, and are less likely to obtain police intervention, legal protection or preventive care.

Human Settlements

When the UN was founded in1945, two thirds of the world’s people lived in rural settings. By 2000, the population balance had shifted, with half of humanity now living in cities. Moreover, it is expected that by 2050, two thirds of world’s people –– some 6 billion of them –– will be living in cities. And while cities are a major hub of national production and consumption –– economic and social processes that generate wealth and opportunity – they also create disease, crime, pollution and poverty.

Food

The world needs to produce at least 50% more food to feed 9 billion people by 2050. But climate change could cut crop yields by more than 25%. The land, biodiversity, oceans, forests, and other forms of natural capital are being depleted at unprecedented rates. Unless we change how we grow our food and manage our natural capital, food security—especially for the world’s poorest—will be at risk. (World Bank, 2016)

Demining

Every year, landmines kill 15,000 to 20,000 people — most of them children, women and the elderly — and severely maim countless more.  Scattered in some 78 countries, they are an ongoing reminder of conflicts which have been over for years or even decades.  Yet despite this random carnage, they continue to used as weapons of war.

According to an article by Nicolas E. Walsh and Wendy S. Walsh in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2003:

Education

Education is a right, like the right to have proper food or a roof over your head. Article 26 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to education”. Education is not only a right but a passport to human development. It opens doors and expands opportunities and freedoms. It contributes to fostering peace, democracy and economic growth as well as improving health and reducing poverty. The ultimate aim of Education for All (EFA) is sustainable development.

Global Issues Overview

As the world’s only truly universal global organization, the United Nations has become the foremost forum to address issues that transcend national boundaries and cannot be resolved by any one country acting alone.

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