Everything you need to know about human rights
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3 Generations of Human Rights

Human rights are inherent to every person from his or her birth. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlines the 30 rights generally recognized on the international level. In addition, individual constitutions dictate the rights and freedoms of each person on the national level. From a legal perspective, there are three different generations or types of rights. Let’s take a look at these 3 generations of human rights.

Everything you need to know about human rights

Categorization of Human Rights

In 1979, Czech jurist Karel Vasak introduced 3 different categories of human rights. His theory was based on the 3 tenets of the French Revolution. These are liberty, equality, and fraternity. As such, he divided human rights in civil-political, socio-economic, and collective-developmental rights.

We continue to often see the categorization today. For example, that’s the case in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Meanwhile, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not follow these categories. However, it does include both civil-political and socio-economic rights.

Civil-political Rights

The first category of rights is rather individualistic. Civil-political rights essentially protect the individual from the state. You might hear them referred to as “blue rights.” Additionally, they are “negative” in nature. This means that in order to implement them, the government simply has to refrain from infringing upon them.

There are two subcategories of civil-political rights. The first refers to physical and civil security. For example, the rights to freedom from slavery or to equal treatment before the law are civil-political rights in this category.

The second subcategory focuses on individual liberties. We often hear about the freedom of speech and that is a great example of this type of civil-political right. Others include freedom of thought, religion, assembly, and political participation.

Many of the rights in this generation are based on the United States Bill of Rights and the French Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Additionally, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights outlines the global framework for this type of human right.

Socio-economic Rights

The second generation of rights speaks to socio-economic aspects. Often, we call them “red rights.” What strongly differentiates them from blue rights is their “positive” nature. In order to ensure these rights are protected, the government must fulfill them. In essence, socio-economic rights seek to guarantee equal conditions and treatment for all people.

Just like the previous category, socio-economic rights include two subtypes. One is the provision of goods to meet social needs. This can refer to shelter, healthcare, education, and nutrition. On the other hand, there are economic needs. This means the right to fair wages, social welfare, or adequate work and livings standards.

The International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights outlines the global framework for this generation of human rights.

Collective-developmental Rights

The third and final generation of rights is collective-developmental. While you will find these types of rights mentioned in many documents, they are frequently contested. Many refer to collective-developmental rights as aspirational or soft law. Additionally, they often do not carry official legal status.

Yet, just like the previous two categories, there are two subtypes of collective-developmental rights. One is self-determination. This means the right to political status or development in areas of culture and society. The second sub-type speaks to the special rights of ethnic and religious minorities. This could be the right to culture, communication, and religion.

Most recently, collective-developmental rights may also include the right to natural resources, a healthy environment, and sustainability among others.

Indivisibility of Rights

Many see the categorization of human rights as natural. However, plenty of scholars also argue that the three types of rights are interdependent and indivisible. They promote the idea that we must place equal emphasis on all three types of rights to achieve balance and coherency in human rights.

In fact, the debate centers on the idea that too much emphasis on one set of rights can create an imbalance. For example, if we only promote civil-political rights, then we may create disadvantage and marginalized groups.

On the other hand, too much focus on socio-economic rights is also an issue. It can jeopardize the welfare system by undermining the feedback mechanisms typically guaranteed by civil-political rights. The same goes for collective-developmental rights. Too much focus on the collective can undermine civil-political and socio-economic rights.

What do you think? Can we place human rights in different categories? Or are they indeed dependent on each other to provide the most quality of life and equality for each individual?

Everything You Need to Know about Human Rights

Humanitarians continuously work towards the protection and promotion of human rights. Even if their main mission is different, human rights always figure in the humanitarian approach. For example, humanitarians save lives because they believe in the individual’s right to life. Here you can take a closer look at the different aspects of human rights, their characteristics, history, and more.

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