Chapters of the article
What do we mean by human rights?
Human rights are rights that we have simply because we exist as human beings. Although it might appear otherwise at first glance, these rights are not granted by any state. They are inherent in all of us, regardless of nationality, gender, origin, race, religion, language, political opinion or any other status. We include the most basic rights, such as the right to life, as well as those that fundamentally affect its quality, such as the right to education, the right to work and the right to express oneself freely.
Are human rights and fundamental rights the same?
- The concept of human rights emphasises more the interconnection of these rights with individual people. These are rights that exist outside states. They are often characterized as inalienable, inalienable, non-derogable and non-derogable.
- The concept of fundamental rights is typically associated with national human rights arrangements. In the Czech Republic, we also speak of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms in this context.
The permanence of human rights goes hand in hand with the impossibility for the public authorities to withdraw or abrogate them. Individuals cannot waive them or transfer them to another person. People are their bearers from birth to death and in some cases even before birth and after death. This “natural law” nature of human rights has, of course, been debated for a long time. In practice, it must always be the state and a specific body that defines and protects the rights in question.
Has the concept of human rights existed since time immemorial?
Throughout history, since the Middle Ages, we have encountered various documents that ascribed certain rights to certain groups. It was not until the end of the 17th century in England and the end of the 18th century in America(Bill of Rights) that human rights became more prominent. In Europe at the same time, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was a breakthrough in this respect. Yet in the decades and centuries that followed, massive human rights abuses continued to occur, as was particularly evident in the courts punishing the crimes of World War II.
That is why the protection of human rights was included as one of the main objectives of the United Nations in the UN Charter. Then in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. It is a comprehensive list of human rights that has been endorsed by the majority of UN member states and has inspired many other states and organizations to adopt other human rights documents. In Europe, the most important convention negotiated was the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, abbreviated as the European Convention on Human Rights, in 1950.
Human Rights Day is celebrated worldwide on 10 December to commemorate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Fundamental rights and freedoms in the Czech Republic
Fundamental human rights in the Czech Republic are guaranteed primarily by the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. They are guaranteed to all without distinction of sex, race, colour, language, creed and religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, membership of a national or ethnic minority, property, birth or other status. At the same time, the Charter guarantees that no one shall be harmed by the exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms.
Violations of human rights
The Czech Republic has not been one of the countries where mass violations of human rights have occurred for several decades. However, this does not mean that something does not happen in individual cases that constitutes an interference with these rights. It can happen through the actions of an individual, a company, or even through maladministration. In such a case, our legal system offers various defences.
There can indeed be many ways in which a fundamental right can be violated. For example, your employer may discriminate against you at work because of your skin colour, an administrative authority may unreasonably deny you the right to assemble, or an ordinance may have been passed in your municipality that prevents a group of people from exercising their rights. All of these situations could be human rights violations, but the remedy would be very different each time. It is therefore appropriate to consult the right solution.
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Which authorities are involved in the protection of human rights?
Protection of all our rights (not just the fundamental ones) should primarily be provided by the courts, led by the Supreme Court. In addition to the general courts, the administrative judiciary, of which the Supreme Administrative Court is the highest authority, provides a specialised check on the correctness (legality) of decisions of a public authority.
TheConstitutional Court of the Czech Republic is also sometimes erroneously referred to as the highest instance to which appeals can be made at any time if other means fail. While exhaustion of other legal remedies is one of the conditions for its jurisdiction to rule, it must also be the case that the decision in the proceedings violated a right guaranteed by the constitutional order.
Protection of human rights at government level
For many years, the protection of human rights was entrusted to one member of the Government, the Minister for Human Rights. However, several years ago this function ceased to exist. However, within the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic, there is still the post of Government Commissioner for Human Rights, which is usually linked to the chairmanship or vice-chairmanship of the Government Council for Human Rights.
The Government Council for Human Rights is an advisory body to the Government of the Czech Republic; however, it does not deal with individual cases of rights violations, but rather with the concept of the long-term development of human rights protection in the Czech Republic and prepares proposals and initiatives to improve the human rights situation.
Other options for the protection of rights
TheOmbudsman is not an institution focused directly on fundamental or human rights, but is generally supposed to protect people from the actions of authorities and other institutions that are contrary to the law, do not comply with the principles of democratic rule of law and good governance, or even from their inaction. In doing so, it contributes to the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms.
However, the Ombudsman cannot directly enforce your rights or make authoritative decisions. However, he or she can help you and can, for example, bring an action in the public interest.
Tip: If you feel that a right guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms has been restricted, first try to identify which piece of legislation the fundamental right has been reflected in and how exactly it has been violated. This will then determine how you can enforce the right.
Don’t be afraid to seek advice – as we have already indicated above, there are indeed many forms and options for protecting human rights, and the correct course of action should only be determined with detailed knowledge of the specific situation. If you do not know what to do with specific questions, do not be afraid to ask a legal expert.