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What Are Human Rights?
Human rights are the rights a person has simply because they are human beings.
Human rights are held by all persons equally, universally, and forever.
Human rights are inalienable: you cannot lose these rights any more than you can cease
being a human being.
Human rights are indivisible: you cannot be denied a right because it is “less important”
or “non-essential.” Human rights are interdependent: all human rights are part of a
complementary framework. For example, your ability to participate in your government
is directly affected by your right to express yourself, to get an education, and even to
obtain the necessities of life.
Another definition of human rights is those basic standards without which people
cannot live in dignity. To violate someone’s human rights is to treat that person as
though she or he were not a human being. To advocate human rights is to demand that
the human dignity of all people be respected.
In claiming these human rights, everyone also accepts the responsibility not to infringe
on the rights of others and to support those whose rights are abused or denied.
Human Rights as Inspiration and Empowerment
Human rights are both inspirational and practical. Human rights principles hold up the
vision of a free, just, and peaceful world and set minimum standards for how individuals
and institutions everywhere should treat people. Human rights also empower people
with a framework for action when those minimum standards are not met, for people still
have human rights even if the laws or those in power do not recognize or protect them.
We experience our human rights every day in the United States when we worship
according to our belief or choose not to worship at all; when we debate and criticize
government policies; when we join a trade union; when we travel to other parts of the
country or overseas. Although we usually take these actions for granted, people both
here and in other countries do not enjoy all these liberties equally. Human rights
violations also occur every day in this country when a parent abuses a child, when a
family is homeless when a school provides inadequate education, when women are paid
less than men, or when one person steals from another.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Rights for all members of the human family were first articulated in 1948 in the United
Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Following the horrific
experiences of the Holocaust and World War II, and amid the grinding poverty of much
of the world’s population, many people sought to create a document that would
capture the hopes, aspirations, and protections to which every person in the world was
entitled and ensure that the future of humankind would be different. See Part V,
“Appendices,” for the complete text and a simplified version of the UDHR.
The 30 articles of the Declaration together form a comprehensive statement covering
economic, social, cultural, political, and civil rights. The document is both universal (it
applies to all people everywhere) and indivisible (all rights are equally important to the
full realization of one’s humanity). A declaration, however, is not a treaty and lacks any
enforcement provisions. Rather it is a statement of intent, a set of principles to which
United Nations member states commit themselves in an effort to provide all people a
life of human dignity.
Over the past 50 years, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has acquired the
status of customary international law because most states treat it as though it were law.
However, governments have not applied this customary law equally. Socialist and
communist countries of Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Asia have emphasized social
welfare rights, such as education, jobs, and health care, but often have limited the
political rights of their citizens. The United States has focused on political and civil rights
and has advocated strongly against regimes that torture, deny religious freedom, or
persecute minorities. On the other hand, the US government rarely recognizes health
care, homelessness, environmental pollution, and other social and economic concerns as
human rights issues, especially within its own borders.
Across the USA, a movement is rising to challenge this narrow definition of human
rights and to restore social, economic, and cultural rights to their rightful place on the
human rights agenda. The right to eat is as fundamental as the right not to be tortured
or jailed without charges.
Using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) select 3-4 (or more if
applicable) UDHR articles *(ex. article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in
dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act
towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood)*to make the argument that the
demands of Black Liberation work.
You can focus on one element of some of the BLM demands.
In your paper 2-3 pages, demonstrate how the Black Lives Matter List of Demands are
also demands for Human Rights. Think about what is being demanded and how these
demands imply that certain rights and freedoms are being denied. To do so, compare
the list of demands from the Black Lives Matter list of demands (see below for PDF) to
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights articles (see below for PDF) and respond to
the following:
(a) Which demands by the BLM movement are similar to human rights promised in
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Why do you believe this?
(b) Which demands are not found in the UDHR? Should they be added? Why or
Why not?
BLM List of Demands: DOC
Universal Declaration of Human Rights: PDF
This criterion is
linked to a Learning
BLM list of
Demands: Universal
Human Rts
This criterion is
linked to a Learning
OutcomeWhat is not
This criterion is
linked to a Learning
should be included?
6 to >5.0 pts
Full Marks
Successfully uses information from the
BLM list of demands; to review the
Universal List of Human Rights; explains
similarity and justification for this;
provides 3-4 examples
3 pts
Full Marks
Explains what is not included in the
Universal List.
3 to >2.0 pts
Full Marks
Fully answers the question included why
or why not; thoughtful
5 to >0.0 pts
Partial Marks
point deduction based on limited use of both
documents (focuses on one rather than both);
or limited explanations and justifications for
use. Looks at only one or two elements of
the documents.
1 pts
Partial Marks
General response or acceptance that the list
is good as it is.
2 to >0.0 pts
Partial Marks
General response without specific
justification for why or why not
0 pts
Fails to
0 pts
No Marks
Fails to
0 pts
No Marks
This criterion is
linked to a Learning
Total Points: 15
3 to >2.0 pts
Full Marks
Paper is well written; meets
minimal page requirement; one or
less grammatical or spelling
2 to >0.0 pts
Partial Marks
One of more of: Is less than page
requirement; several grammatical or
spelling errors; organization difficult
to follow
0 pts
No Marks
Too difficult to read
due to the abundance
of writing errors.
Black Lives Matter List of Demands
We demand investments in the education, health and safety of Black people, instead of investments in
the criminalizing, caging, and harming of Black people. We want investments in Black communities,
determined by Black communities, and divestment from exploitative forces including prisons, fossil
fuels, police, surveillance and exploitative corporations. This includes:
1. A reallocation of funds at the federal, state and local level from policing and incarceration (JAG,
COPS, VOCA) to long-term safety strategies such as education, local restorative justice services,
and employment programs.
2. The retroactive decriminalization, immediate release and record expungement of all drug related
offenses and prostitution, and reparations for the devastating impact of the “war on drugs” and
criminalization of prostitution, including a reinvestment of the resulting savings and revenue into
restorative services, mental health services, job programs and other programs supporting those
impacted by the sex and drug trade.
3. Real, meaningful, and equitable universal health care that guarantees: proximity to nearby
comprehensive health centers, culturally competent services for all people, specific services for
queer, gender nonconforming, and trans people, full bodily autonomy, full reproductive services,
mental health services, paid parental leave, and comprehensive quality child and elder care.
4. A constitutional right at the state and federal level to a fully-funded education which includes a
clear articulation of the right to: a free education for all, special protections for queer and trans
students, wrap around services, social workers, free health services (including reproductive body
autonomy), a curriculum that acknowledges and addresses students’ material and cultural needs,
physical activity and recreation, high quality food, free daycare, and freedom from unwarranted
search, seizure or arrest.
5. A divestment from industrial multinational use of fossil fuels and investment in communitybased sustainable energy solutions.
6. A cut in military expenditures and a reallocation of those funds to invest in domestic
infrastructure and community well-being.

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