Three generations of human rights

From Academic Kids

The division of human rights into three generations was initially proposed in 1979 by the Czech jurist Karel Vasak at the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg. His division follows the three great watchwords of the French Revolution: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. The 3 generations are reflected in some of the rubrics of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

First-generation human rights deal essentially with liberty. They are fundamentally civil and political in nature and serve to protect the individual from excesses of the state. First-generation rights include, inter alia, freedom of speech, the right to a fair trial, and freedom of religion. First generation rights are therefore mostly negative rights. They were first enshrined at the global level by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

See: Articles 3 to 21 of the Universal Declaration, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Second-generation human rights are related to equality. They are fundamentally social, economic, and cultural in nature. In social terms, they ensure different members of the citizenry equal conditions and treatment. They also grant people the right to work and to be employed, thus securing the ability of the individual to support a family. They are mostly positive rights, representing things that the State is required to provide to the people under its jurisdiction.

See: Articles 22 to 27 of the Universal Declaration, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.

Third-generation human rights focus essentially on fraternity and, in generic terms, can be seen as rights of solidarity. They cover group and collective rights: the right to self-determination, to economic and social development, to sovereignty over natural resources, to communicate, and to participate in the common heritage of mankind. These rights are briefly covered in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (see above), but these provisions are an exceptional addition to the documents, which generally conceive of rights as an individual's claim upon society. Otherwise, this third generation has not yet been incorporated into any legally-binding human rights equivalent.

An alternative explanation for the Three-generations rests on the political divisions of the Cold War, where first-generation civil and political rights were promoted by the West, second-generation economic, social and cultural rights promoted by the East and third-generation, solidarity rights by the Third-World. These divisions were also reflected in the creation of the international human rights framework.


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