CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS

As already stated earlier, civil and political rights are the rights that generally restrict the powers of the government in respect of actions affecting the individual and his or her autonomy (civil rights), and confer an opportunity upon people to contribute to the determination of laws and participate in government (political rights).

CIVIL RIGHTS 

Some of the most important rights in this category are:

Right to Life

Everyone has the right to life, and - according to the international human rights mechanisms - this right can be violated in a variety of ways, including: deaths in custody as a result of torture, neglect, the use of force, or life-threatening conditions of detention; killings by state agents, or persons acting in direct or indirect compliance with the State, when the force used is not absolutely necessary and proportionate to the circumstances; expulsion or "refoulement" (illegal return) of persons to a country where their lives are in danger; failure by the state to investigate alleged violations of the right to life and to bring those responsible to justice.

International human rights mechanisms also place limits on the use of the death penalty.

The right to freedom from torture

Everyone has the right to freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. According to the international human rights mechanisms, this right can be violated in a variety of ways, including: the deliberate infliction of severe physical or psychological pain by state agents with the intention of causing suffering; expelling or returning a person to a country in which they face a real risk of being tortured or subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; keeping persons in very poor conditions of detention, even if there is no intention to inflict suffering; corporal (physical) punishment of children in schools.

The right to a fair trial

Everyone has the right to a fair trial, and - according to the international human rights mechanisms - this right can be violated in a variety of ways, including by: hearing criminal charges before administrative bodies which are not independent and impartial courts; trials in which, from the beginning, one party has a significant advantage over the other (this is said to breach the principle of "equality of arms"); excessive delays in bringing a case to trial and/or in completing court proceedings; secret trials; failing to respect the presumption of innocence by denying procedural protection to accused persons (e.g. information about the nature of the charge, time to prepare a defense, access to a lawyer, the possibility to confront witnesses and (if necessary) access to interpretation).

The right to freedom of assembly and association

Everyone has the right to freedom of assembly and association. According to the international human rights mechanisms, this right can be violated in a variety of ways, including: preventing peaceful public demonstrations (unless it can be shown that there would be a serious danger to public safety and order if the demonstration took place); restricting possibilities to join voluntary associations; denying persons the right to form and/or join organized unions.

The Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion

This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching. Coercing people to adopt certain religion and imposing unreasonable restrictions, including criminal penalty, for exercising one’s own religion are the most typical violations of this right. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

The right to freedom of expression

Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, and - according to the international human rights mechanisms - this right can be violated in a variety of ways, including by: restricting access to political, artistic or commercial information and ideas (e.g. denying pregnant women information about abortion facilities); limiting the freedom of the press; placing undue restrictions (excluding reasonable licensing restrictions) on broadcasting.

The right to an effective remedy

Everyone has the right to an effective remedy if his/her human rights are violated. According to the international human rights mechanisms, this right can be violated in a variety of ways, including by: failing to provide adequate procedures to complain about, or obtain compensation for, killings by security forces; not carrying out thorough enquiries into alleged ill-treatment by security forces; not establishing complaints procedures regarding the interception of telephone calls; failing to provide means of redress for persons suspended from school on the grounds of their religious affiliation.

The right to privacy

Everyone has the right to privacy, and - according to the international human rights mechanisms - this right can be violated in a variety of ways, including by: intervening in a person's private life (which includes their right to form relationships and to enjoy sexual autonomy); disrupting family life (which includes the right to marry and to found a family); destroying a person's home or preventing a person from living in his/her home; interfering with private correspondence.

The right to liberty and security

Everyone has the right to liberty and security and - according to the international human rights mechanisms - this right can be violated in a variety of ways, including: unlawful or arbitrary detention (where there is no legal basis for the deprivation of liberty), for example when a person is kept in detention after the completion of their prison sentence or despite an amnesty law which applies to them; detention of persons because they have exercised the rights and freedoms guaranteed by international instruments, including the ones described in this manual; detention after a trial which did not comply with international standards for a fair trial (see the right to a fair trial).

The right to asylum

Everyone who has a well-founded fear of persecution has the right to asylum in a country where they will be safe. According to the international human rights mechanisms, this right can be violated in a variety of ways, including by: not providing the facilities necessary to enable people to claim asylum (including interpreters and properly-trained immigration staff); failing to give adequate consideration to a request for asylum; expelling a person to a country in which he/she would be at risk of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The right to freedom from discrimination

Everyone has the right to freedom from discrimination, and - according to the international human rights mechanisms - this right can be violated in a variety of ways, including by discriminating against someone because of: sex, race, color, language, religion, political allegiance, opinions, nationality, social background, association with a national minority.

POLITICAL RIGHTS

These rights guarantee the positive liberty to contribute to the process of governing the affairs of society in which one lives. Political rights presume that the government processes should be structured so as to provide opportunities for political participation of all eligible citizens. According to the modern concept of political rights, every citizen should have the right and opportunity, without unreasonable restrictions, to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through chosen representatives.

While political rights are very much emphasized in the US, the percentage of Americans who choose to actively participate political process is one of the lowest among industrialized nations. This fact alone speaks volumes about the political environment in which American citizens are expected to exercise their political freedoms. For example, in the 2000 presidential campaign, for example, less than 50 percent of the eligible voters cast their ballots.  Scholars differ on why this decline in voting has occurred from the high point of the late 19th century, when voting rates regularly ran at 85 percent or better of qualified voters. Some historians attribute the decline to the corresponding decline in the importance of political parties in the daily lives of the people. Others think that the growth of well-moneyed interest groups has led people to lose interest in elections fought primarily through television and newspaper advertisements. When non-voters are queried as to why they did not vote the answers range widely. There are those who did not think that their single vote would make a difference, and those who did not believe that the issues affected them, as well as those who just did not care — a sad commentary in light of the long historical movement toward universal suffrage in the United States.

But many people were reminded by the closeness of the 2000 presidential election that the individual's vote does count. A shift of fractions of a percentage point in half-a-dozen states could easily have swung the election the other way. Perhaps as a result, Americans in the future will not take this important right, a right that lies at the very heart of the notion of "consent of the governed," quite as much for granted.

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