Empowerment
November 9, 2021
The three generations of human rights

Human rights are indivisible, interrelated, and interdependent. Nevertheless, in order to better appreciate and understand human rights, various persons have grouped different rights into various categories. Today, human rights have been popularly categorized by some persons as first, second, and third-generation human rights.

First-generation human rights consist of civil and political rights. Civil and political rights are usually ‘negative’ in nature, protecting individual rights from being infringed by the State and other persons. Amongst other things, they include the right to life, right to liberty, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, privacy rights, property rights and voting rights.

Under the United Nations human rights system, there is a legally binding treaty known as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”) dedicated to protecting civil and political rights. St Vincent and the Grenadines(SVG), has acceded to this convention.

On the other hand, the Inter-American human rights system does not appear to have a treaty specifically dedicated solely to civil and political rights. However, it does have the American Convention on Human Rights which deals mostly with civil and political rights.

Chapter II of this convention protects civil and political rights. At the time of writing this article, SVG has not yet acceded to this important human rights treaty under the Inter-American human rights system. At the domestic level, if one closely examines SVG’s Constitution, one will realize that Chapter I dealing with “Protection of fundamental rights and freedoms” is heavily focused on various civil and political rights.

Second-generation human rights, on the other hand, consist of social, economic, and cultural rights. These rights are usually ‘positive’ in nature and States have an obligation to fulfil these rights. Amongst other things, they include the right to work, the right to education, the right to health, right to an adequate standard of living (which includes the right to food, right to water, right to housing and right to clothing), and right to participate in cultural activities.

Under the United Nations human rights system, there is a legally binding treaty known as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“ICESCR”) dedicated to protecting economic, social and cultural rights, which SVG has acceded to. In the Inter-American human rights system, chapter III of the American Convention on Human Rights protects economic, social and cultural rights set forth in the Charter of the American States as amended by the Protocol of Buenos Aires. Moreover, apart from the American Convention on Human Rights, there is a specific convention protecting economic, social and cultural rights known as the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“Protocol of San Salvador”). At the time of writing this article, SVG has not yet acceded to the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“Protocol of San Salvador)”.

Third-generation human rights go beyond individual rights and focus on collective concepts such as the community or people. Amongst other things, they include group and collective rights, right to self-determination, right to economic and social development, right to a healthy environment, right to natural resources, and the right to intergenerational equity and sustainability.

Though SVG is not a party to this regional human rights system, the African human rights system has been a shining example, leading in the recognition of group and collective rights, which we can see in documents under the African human rights system such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Some persons also claim that a fourth generation of human rights is emerging but for the purposes of this article we will not touch on this discussion.

Today, I encourage us to get to know more about the different generations of human rights because with such knowledge we will be better able to empower ourselves and others because we will know more about our rights and the rights of others.

Author: Jeshua Bardoo is a Vincentian Barrister-at-law and Solicitor. He is also the President of Equal Rights, Access and Opportunities SVG Inc. He can be contacted via email at [email protected]