The Checks and Balances of Human Rights and the State

In 2020 alone, several protests have already broken out in different countries. In June, millions of people supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement held protests in 550 locations all over the United States. The death of George Floyd sparked outrage, both in the streets and online.

By July, Filipinos protested against the Anti-Terror Law because of its broad definition of “terrorism,” among other contentions. When October came, thousands of people flooded the streets of Thailand in continuation of their protest against the existing monarchy.

Yes, mass gatherings are discouraged in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but why are these people risking their lives to take action in the streets? The answer is complicated, as the right to dissent and protest has so many layers. However, it boils down to one thing: human rights.

What Do Human Rights Stand For?

According to the United Nations, “Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status.” These are necessities to living a holistic life granted to every single human being–free from discrimination. They are inherent, which means that they exist even in the absence of a statute.

Even then, the rights of the people are expressly stated in laws. In international law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the document of all documents regarding human rights. These provisions are executed in states under the doctrine of incorporation, which means that international law is a valid legal basis in national and local litigation.

Additionally, different states have their own laws that reiterate these fundamental rights. These are usually contained in the constitution or the Bill of Rights.

rights and justice

What Are These Rights?

Humans have so many rights. There are political rights, social rights, rights of minorities, and environmental rights, to name a few. Nonetheless, fundamental rights are the right to life, liberty, and property. The great philosopher, John Locke, calls these “natural rights.” None of these rights can be taken away without due process of law:

  • The Right to Life. This right is by far the most important of them all, and nothing can surpass it. It is biologically inherent, as a person cannot exist without it.
  • The Right to Liberty. To oversimplify it, this right ensures that no person is arrested without good reason and proper legal procedures.
  • The Right to Property. Although subject to several interpretations, the right to property aims to grant people a dignified life by allowing them to possess a minimum property.
  • Other rights include the right to free speech, freedom of religion, the right to private and family life, the right to education, the right to protest, etc.

These rights can only be taken away from a person after due process of law. This means that the government should adhere to a set of rules and procedures before they decide that a person can no longer enjoy a right. Therefore, the government cannot arrest someone without a warrant or take away their lives based on suspicion.

Who Safeguards Human Rights?

It is not the human rights groups who care about their placards under the striking heat of the sun. Nor is a child custody lawyer in charge of upholding the right of the child to a family and the parents’ right to rear their child. Most especially, ensuring that one’s fundamental rights are intact is too heavy of a burden for an individual.

The responsibility lies in the government. The government is compelled to exercise its powers to protect the fundamental rights of its people. By virtue of police power, the legislature should enact laws for the general welfare, safety, and security of the people and the state. The Supreme Court also has the duty to review laws to guarantee their constitutionality.

So Why Are People Protesting?

When people feel like their rights are being aggrieved by the very people designated to protect them, they take action. Some people have the legal capacity and the standing to sue can file petitions in court. The masses, with their power in numbers, take it to the streets.

Protests have an outstanding power, as proven by history. The Women’s Suffrage Parade in 1913 afforded women the right to vote. The Stonewall Riots in 1969 granted the LGBTQIA+ community the rights they have now. The Philippines ousted a dictator and freed themselves from martial law through the EDSA Revolution in 1986.

Laws and statutes exist to uphold the social contract–that the government does its job and the people give their dues. Human rights are inherent and crucial to the peace and harmony of the state and the individual. This is the balance.

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