Research Handbooks in Human Rights series
Edited by Robert Kolb and Gloria Gaggioli
Chapter 1: The history of international human rights law
The Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 (UDHR) reaffirms the ‘faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women’, and expresses the conviction that ‘human rights should be protected by the rule of law’. Article 1 of the same Declaration proclaims that: ‘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.’ The quoted passages highlight the double nature of international human rights (IHR). They are at the same time legal and moral rights. As legal rights, human rights are entitlements ‘protected by the rule of law’, which implies that they form part of positive law. More precisely, so as to be accurately described as international human rights, they need to be protected by the international legal order. As moral rights, IHR are generally viewed as basic entitlements that belong to every person by virtue of the sole fact of being human. Based on a common, albeit contested classification, they comprise civil and political rights (so-called first generation rights), social, economic and cultural rights (so-called second generation rights) and solidarity rights (so-called third generation rights). According to the traditional view, first generation rights are negative rights, protecting life, bodily and physical integrity and individual freedom against state interference, as well as formal equality and the right to political participation.