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Our Human Rights
Human Rights Day will be celebrated tomorrow. It commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. The foundation of the Universal Declaration is that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. It sets out the basic human rights to which all people are entitled.
What are human rights?
Human rights then are the rights which all persons have by reason of being human beings. These rights are universal, inalienable. These are your rights. Examples of human rights are:
• Right to life and liberty
• Right to equality
• Right to a fair trial
• Right of free speech
• Right to vote
• Right to respect for your family life
• Right to an education
• Right to enjoy property
• Right to housing
• Right to work
• Right to worship (or not)
• Right to associate with whoever you wish.
These may be further divided into five categories:
• Civil Rights
• Political Rights
• Economic Rights
• Social Rights
• Cultural Rights.
Sources of Human Rights
The Constitution sets out your fundamental human rights and freedoms. The State cannot infringe or take away these except in limited ways and by means set out in the Constitution. The courts are given an important role in upholding these human rights. Human rights are, additionally, protected by international law. Trinidad and Tobago has signed many treaties and conventions since independence.
When a State signs and ratifies these treaties, it assumes the responsibility to bring local laws in line with what has been agreed, to adopt policies in keeping with these treaties and to follow the enforcement means set out by it.
Some of the main international sources of human rights are:
• Universal Declaration of Human Rights
• International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
• International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
• Convention on the Rights of the Child
• Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
• International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racism (CERD)
• Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment (CAT).
Defending and Promoting Your Human Rights
There are laws in place to recognise, protect and enforce human rights. You however are the best defender of your own human rights. What can you do? Know your rights. Know your Constitution. Learn about the law and keep up-to-date with changes being made to the law.
Speak out against abuses. Write letters to the newspaper; write to your MP or Minister; write to the United Nations, Amnesty International and other Human Rights Watch Groups and Organisations; call in to television and radio programmes; stage a peaceful protest.
Complain to an appropriate authority e.g. the Ombudsman, the Police Complaints Authority, the Equal Opportunities Commission. Become politically involved.
Give money or contribute to a human rights cause or organisation such as NGOs that promote respect for human rights. Join or form your own human rights group. Participate in community activities. Promote a culture of human rights. This column is not legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should consult a legal adviser. Co-ordinator: Roshan Ramcharitar
December 9, 2013
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