Human Rights & Civil Liberties

RZZT funds the development of software that protects, respects and fulfils human rights and civil liberties. But what exactly are human rights and civil liberties, and how can they be protected, respected and fulfilled?

What are human rights?

Human rights are rights that belong to every person simply because they are human.

Human rights are diverse, and there is no definitively-agreed list.

Included among the more well-known human rights are: the right to life, liberty and security of person; the right against torture; the right against arbitrary arrest; the right to a fair trial; the right to privacy; the right against racial discrimination; and the right against sexual discrimination.

Other widely-recognised but less well-known human rights include: the right to participate in government; the right to work; the right to adequate food; the right to adequate medical care; the right to education; the right to benefit from scientific advancement; and the right to strike.

What are civil liberties?

Civil liberties are a subset of human rights. They can be described as ‘freedom-based’ rights, and include the rights to freedom of expression, opinion, thought, conscience, religion, peaceful assembly, association and movement.

Respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights and civil liberties

Respecting human rights and civil liberties means refraining from interfering with or restricting the exercise of human rights and civil liberties.

Protecting human rights and civil liberties means shielding individuals and groups from human rights and civil liberties abuses.

Fulfilling human rights and civil liberties means taking action to facilitate the exercise of human rights and civil liberties.

Although human rights and civil liberties typically operate as restraints and imperatives on government, the private sector can play a role in respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights and civil liberties. This is especially important given the level of cooperation between the private sector and government, and the growth of large networked platforms for communication and commerce.

Software can respect, protect and fulfil human rights and civil liberties in a number of ways. For example:

  • A blogging service can respect the right to freedom of expression by having transparent and unambiguous guidelines for content moderation.
  • A communications platform can protect the right to privacy by ensuring communications cannot be compromised by third parties.
  • An application could fulfil the right to work by making it easier for workers in economically-depressed areas to find employment.

A brief history of human rights

Beginning with the English Bill of Rights Act 1689, human rights made their way into the constitutional law of the liberal democracies of the 17th to 19th centuries. During the 19th and early 20th century, human rights slowly became part of international law.

After the Second World War, the need and demand for the international recognition and protection of human rights became increasingly apparent. Work on an ‘International Bill of Rights’ began in 1947 under the auspices of the newly-formed United Nations.

Drawing on the constitutions of liberal democracies and the ideas of philosophers, Eleanor Roosevelt, John Humphrey and Rene Cassin prepared the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 and is the foundation of modern international human rights law.

Modern human rights instruments

Since 1948 the number of international human rights instruments has expanded significantly, and have been influential in the development of post-colonial constitutions. The main instruments are:

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, GA Res 217A (III), UN GAOR, 3rd sess, 183rd plen mtg, UN Doc A/810 (10 December 1948).
  • The nine core United Nations human rights instruments (and their optional protocols):
    1. The International Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, opened for signature 21 December 1965, 660 UNTS 195 (entered into force 4 January 1969) (‘ICERD’).
    2. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, opened for signature 16 December 1966, 993 UNTS 171 (entered into force 23 March 1976) (‘ICCPR’).
    3. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, opened for signature 16 December 1966, 993 UNTS 3 (entered into force 3 January 1976) (‘ICESCR’).
    4. The Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, opened for signature 18 December 1979, 1249 UNTS 13 (entered into force 3 September 1981) (‘CEDAW’).
    5. The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, opened for signature 10 December 1984, 1465 UNTS 85 (entered into force 26 June 1987) (‘CAT’).
    6. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, opened for signature 20 November 1989, 1577 UNTS 3 (entered into force 2 September 1990) (‘CRC’).
    7. The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, opened for signature 18 December 1990, 2220 UNTS 3 (entered into force 1 July 2003) (‘ICMW’).
    8. The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, opened for signature 20 December 2006, 2716 UNTS 3 (entered into force 23 December 2010) (‘ICPPED’).
    9. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, opened for signature 13 December 2006, 2515 UNTS 3 (opened for signature 3 May 2008) (‘CRPD’).
  • Regional human rights treaties:
    • The Council of Europe’s Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, opened for signature 4 November 1950, 213 UNTS 221 (entered into force 3 September 1953) (‘ECHR’).
    • The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union [2012] OJ C 326/391.
    • The African Union’s African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, opened for signature 1 June 1981, 1520 UNTS 217 (entered into force 21 October 1986) (‘ACHPR’).
    • The Organisation of American States’ American Convention on Human Rights, opened for signature 22 November 1969, 1144 UNTS 123 (entered into force 18 July 1978).