Overview of the Concept of Human Rights

Overview of the Concept of Human Rights

The Black’s Law Dictionary defines human rights as the freedom, immunities and benefits that, according to modern values (especially at an international level), all human beings should be able to claim as a matter of right in the society in which they live.[1] According to Eseni, “human rights are those rights or claims that are inherent in man. They are assaulted with the nature of man.[2] Nwazuoke on his part said that “the addition of the adjective “human” to rights indicate that the right in question belong solely to human beings.” [3] According to Dowrick,[4] human rights are:

Those claims made by men, for them shows or on behalf of other men, supported by some theory which concentrates on the humanity or man, on man as a human being, a member of human kind.

Gasiokwu is of the opinion that the above definition of human rights by Dowrick is ambiguous and has a link with natural law philosophy which in its time was politically motivated.[5]

According to Osita Eze;

Human right are representing demand or claims which individuals or groups make on society, some of which are protected by law and have become part of Lex Lata while other remain aspiration to attained in the future.[6]

The Helsinki Act defines human rights as the right to be free from governmental violations of the integrity of the person; the right to the fulfilment of such vital needs as food, shelter, healthcare and education, and the right to enjoy civil and political liberties.[7]

Umozurike[8], described human rights are those rights which appertain to individuals as human beings and which they expect the society they love or reside in should respect irrespective of their colour, race, religion, sex or other distinctions. The same learned author defined human rights elsewhere to mean claims which are invariably supported by ethics and which should be supported by law made on society, especially or its official managers, by individuals or groups on the basis of their humanity.[9]

According to Okpara, human rights are universally accepted principles and rules that support morality and that make it possible for each member of human family to realize his or her full potential and to live life in an atmosphere of freedom, justice and peace.[10]

Human Rights according to the United Nation in 1987 means those rights, which are inherent in our nature and without which, we cannot function as human being.[11] The second paragraph of the American declaration of independence 1976 states that “it is self-evident that the creator has endowed man with certain inalienable right-life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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Human are universal and respect neither boundaries nor state or origin. They fear no political systems and must be upheld at all times for any individual or group in any condition except where they threaten to curtail similar or comparable rights of others. This universality theory of human has been challenged by the cultural relativists to the effect that primitive people attain a solid solidarity that, human or legal rights are designed to achieve among more civilized groups[12].

Although, the school of cultural relativism is fast declining in favour of the universality principle, exceptions to the universality of human rights may be found in areas of marriage.[13] Nonetheless, according to the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action[14] all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated.

Human rights are also inalienable. They cannot be denied except in circumstance permitted by law. Such as lawful imprisonment for a crime after due process of trial of the confiscation or property or a judgment creditor. They are those inherent rights of all human beings wherever they are and whoever they are.

These rights are not gifts by government or any person. They are attached to a human being wherever he goes. Every human being is thus, the subject and object of rights and it is because each human being has intrinsic worth that we talk about fundamental human rights or the inalienable rights of man[15].

In all, human rights are those inherent rights of all human being anywhere they may find themselves in any part of the world since states do not confer human rights, they cannot therefore withdraw them or take them away permanently from human beings. Rather, state have the duty to promote and protect human rights. This duty is being owned to all persons irrespective of sex, nationality, race, political opinion, or social group. No legal or constitutional authority can annul human rights



[1]   B.A Gamer, Black’s Law Dictionary, 10thed op. cit. p.859

[2]  A.U. Eseni, Human Rights in Africa, (Lagos; Mbeyi& Associates (Nig) Ltd, 2011), p.4

[3]  T. Nwazuoke, Introduction to Human Rights Law,

[4]   F.E. Dowrick, Human Rights, Problems, Prospects and Text (West mead UK; Saxon House, 1979), pp-8-9.

[5]   M.O.U. Gasiokwu, Human Right, History, Ideology and Law (Jos; Fab Educational Books, 2003), pp.1-2.

[6]   O. Eze, Human Rights In Africa: Selected Problems (Lagos: Macmillan, 1984), p.5.

[7]   The Helsinki Act is the final act of the conference on security and cooperation in Europe signed in    Helsinki    the Cajul al. or Finland in August, 1975 by the United States of America, Canada and 33 other    countries.

[8].   U.O. Umozurike, op. cit p.5.

[9]   U.O. Umozurike, The Africa Charter on Human and People’s Right, (Hague: Kluwar International, 1997),    pp.1-7.

[10]    O. Okpara, Human Rights Law and Practice in Nigeria , op. cit pp. pp.40-41: Note Human Right apply to    all human beings without discrimination.

[11]  Ibid. p.41.

[12]   D. Washburn, Cultural Relativism and Human Rights, (New York; American Anthropologist, 1987), Vol.  III pp. 939-942.

[13]   In some Cultures Marriage means the Union of one man and one Woman to the Exclusion of others.

[14]  Second World Conference on Human Rights Vienna, June, 1993.

[15]  C.A. Oputa, op. cit. p.14.

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