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Civil and political rights facts for kids

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Savka Dabcevic Kucar
Savka Dabčević-Kučar, Croatian Spring participant; Europe's first female prime minister

Civil and political rights are a class of rights that protect individuals' freedom from infringement by governments, social organizations, and private individuals. They ensure one's ability to participate in the civil and political life of the society and state without discrimination or repression.

Civil rights include the ensuring of peoples' physical and mental integrity, life, and safety; protection from discrimination on grounds such as race, gender, national origin, colour, age, political affiliation, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability; and individual rights such as privacy and the freedoms of thought, speech, religion, press, assembly, and movement.

Political rights include natural justice (procedural fairness) in law, such as the rights of the accused, including the right to a fair trial; due process; the right to seek redress or a legal remedy; and rights of participation in civil society and politics such as freedom of association, the right to assemble, the right to petition, the right of self-defense, and the right to vote.

Civil and political rights form the original and main part of international human rights. They comprise the first portion of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (with economic, social, and cultural rights comprising the second portion).

Protection of rights

T. H. Marshall notes that civil rights were among the first to be recognized and codified, followed later by political rights and still later by social rights. In many countries, they are constitutional rights and are included in a bill of rights or similar document.

The question of to whom civil and political rights apply is a subject of controversy. In many countries, citizens have greater protections against infringement of rights than non-citizens; at the same time, civil and political rights are generally considered to be universal rights that apply to all persons.

Social movements for civil rights

Most civil rights movements relied on the technique of civil resistance, using nonviolent methods to achieve their aims. In some countries, struggles for civil rights were accompanied, or followed, by civil unrest and even armed rebellion. While civil rights movements over the last sixty years have resulted in an extension of civil and political rights, the process was long and tenuous in many countries, and many of these movements did not achieve or fully achieve their objectives.

Civil rights

Universal civil rights include:

  • The right to life - Every human being has right to their life. It is protected by law and no one has a right to take another person's life arbitrarily. This means without a legal reason.
  • The right to a fair trial - Every person has a right to a fair trial. They have the right to be equal before courts and tribunals. They have a right to a fair and public trial before a competent and impartial court.
  • The freedom from torture - Every person has the right to be free from torture. They have the right to be free of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
  • The freedom of speech - Article 19 of the ICCPR guarantees the right to free expression. But it is a derogable right, meaning it can be regulated if that regulation serves a vital public interest. An example is the US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in the case Schenck v. United States (1919). The case was about limiting free speech during wartime to serve the greater good. He is famously quoted as saying: "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic."
  • The right to privacy - Article 17 of the ICCPR protects all persons from any interference, unlawful or arbitrary, with their "privacy, family, home or correspondence."
  • The rights of liberty and security - Article 9(1) of the ICCPR uses the expression "Liberty and security of the person." It says no one may be arbitrary arrested or detained. No one may have their liberty taken away except by lawful process.
  • The right of asylum - When the UDHR was first drafted, one of the rights granted was the right to enjoy asylum. This status right was included with the right to a nationality and the right to be recognized before the law.

Political rights

Political rights include:

  • The right to natural justice - Includes the principals of a fair hearing. It is also called Audi alteram partem. Latin for "hear the other side".
  • The right to due process - The right to due process in criminal proceedings under the law. Currently it is not a derogable right (see freedom of speech above).
  • The right to seek legal redress - This is a right all people have to the court system. It is the right to bring a lawsuit against another person, organization or government.
  • The right to Political participation - A right granted UDHR. It states: "Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives."
  • The right to assemble - The right of assembly is provided by the UDHR. It says: "Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association". It adds: "No one may be compelled to belong to an association".
  • The right to petition - This is a right to complain about injustices and to have those complaints heard. Several international conventions provide the right to petition to individuals.
  • The right of self-defense - This applies to persons and is a right to defend themselves against immediate harm. It applies when a person is charged with a crime. It also applies to collective self-defense against attack.
  • The right to vote - This was first granted by the UDHR. The ICCPR expanded this right to include the rights to vote, to be elected, to vote by secret ballot and universal suffrage (the right for all adults to vote regardless of race or sex).
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