Copyright © 2007 Dorling Kindersley
The laws that establish a balance between the powers of a state and the individual rights of its citizens are known as human rights. After World War II, the United Nations (UN) drew up a list of human rights to protect all citizens and promote the rights of each individual.
Some human rights are accepted by almost all cultures and political parties, while others are still disputed. For example, rights supporting political freedoms, such as the right to vote in elections, are more widely accepted than those supporting economic and social freedoms, such as equal rights for women.
Nations have rights, just as citizens within nations do. The right of nations to make decisions free from outside control is called sovereignty. Sovereignty can be a barrier to HUMANITARIANISM, if a nation refuses to admit to its human rights problems.
International law on human rights allows the international community to punish politicians if they abuse the rights of their citizens. But many states reject this use of international law, because they suspect that it could be used to control a country, rather than to improve its human rights.
The goal of humanitarianism is to put human welfare above all things. In warfare, for example, the humanitarian approach is that doctors should treat wounded enemy soldiers as well as their own, without concern for the political issues involved. Humanitarian organizations provide vital sources of aid in times of war or crisis.
Humanitarian organizations, such as the Red Cross, are able to enter war-torn areas to get help to the people who need it most. All sides trust them to give impartial aid during a conflict—to help any human being who needs it, whichever political side they may be on. Some humanitarian aid agencies prefer to be partial, giving aid only to the people whose political positions they share.