What is the Western View of Human Rights?

In the liberal democratic political systems of the West European and North American states traditionally the primary focus was on civil and political rights. Socio-economic rights were not recognized as fundamental rights in these states, through a few of them found their way in one other form in the constitutions of these states. It is only in later part of the 20th century that states like Canada and Switzerland included in their constitutions positive rights or group rights. Let us examine the human rights provisions in the constitutions of the UK, USA, France and Canada.

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The United Kingdom

There are no written constitutions in the UK. The law of the constitution is embodied in historic documents or charters, in statutes of a constitutions nature, and in the common law (judge made legal rules). As noted earlier, Magna Carat, the petition of rights (1628) and the Bill of Rights (1689) were the best known historic documents. The other documents of importance were the Act of settlement (1701), the reform Act of 1832 and the parliament Act of 1911. Because such laws deal with fundamental political rights and the allocation of power among governmental institutions, they are regarded as part of the constitutions. Most of the civil rights are rooted in common law. Rights are safeguarded through the application of the “rule of law”. Although the British have no detailed list / bill of the rights as that exists in the American constitution, these rights are nevertheless protected.

It is gratifying to note that in 1998 the British parliament passed a “Human rights Acts”, which became operational in October 2000. This act incorporates the European convention on human rights (ECHR). The UK had ratified the ECHR in 1951. Now the rights enumerated in ECHR have a status of domestic law. Jack straw, the then home secretary, described the act as “one of the most important pieces of constitutional legislation the UK has seen”. Prof. K.D. Ewing has remarked that the adoption of the quite possibly since the Bill of rights of 1688.

United States of America

Compared with other liberal democratic systems, the American system seems to be fully defined and safely implemented or protected. The first ten amendments to the constitution (in 1791) are popularly known as the bill of rights, which guarantees certain individual freedoms to US citizens. These classical rights and liberties are written into both federal and state constitutions. The courts enjoy judicial supremacy and the power of judicial review which enables them to determine the constitutionality of the laws and to make observance of human rights real. While interpreting the provisions of the constitution or laws the courts uphold these rights and also determine their nature and content. Following civil and political rights are recognized by the American systems the freedom of religion , speech, the press, peaceful assembly, association, and petition, security against unreasonable searches and seizures, protection against deprivation of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, protection against having private property taken for public use without just compensation, the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury, the right to choose counsel for one’s defense, to subpoena witness in one’s favor , and to have a trail that is fair in all respects and in accordance with due process of laws, security against excessive bail or fines and against cruel and unusual punishments, the equal protection of laws, protection against slavery, involuntary servitude ,ex-post-fact laws , unwarranted suspension of the writs of habeas corpus, and

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