Civil and political rights
Civil and political rights are a class of rights and freedoms that protect individuals from unwarranted government action and ensure one’s ability to participate in the civil and political life of the state without discrimination or repression.
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)
- Individual political freedom, including rights of individuals (freedom of thought and conscience, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of movement) and the right to participate in civil society and politics (freedom of association, right to assemble, right to petition, right to vote)
Civil rights include:
- Ensuring peoples’ physical integrity and safety and to make sure people were not forced into labor.
- Protection from discrimination (based on gender, religion, race, etc.)
- Equal access to health care, education, culture, etc.
Civil and political rights comprise the first portion of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (with economic, social and cultural rights comprising the second portion). The theory of three generations of human rights considers this group of rights to be “first-generation rights”, and the theory of negative and positive rights considers them to be generally negative rights.
Guarantees of rights
Civil and political rights were among the first to be recognized and codified. In many countries, they are constitutional rights and are included in a bill of rights or similar document. They are also defined in international human rights instruments, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Civil and political rights need not be codified to be protected, although most democracies worldwide do have formal written guarantees of civil and political rights. Civil rights are often considered to be natural rights. Thomas Jefferson wrote in his 1774 A Summary View of the Rights of British America that “a free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate.”
Custom also plays a role. Implied rights are rights that courts may find to exist even though not expressly guaranteed by written law or custom; one example is the right to privacy in the United States.
The question of who civil and political rights apply to 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 considered to be universal rights that apply to all persons.
When civil and political rights are not guaranteed to all as part of equal protection of laws, social unrest may ensue. Civil rights movements over the last 60 years have resulted in an extension of civil and political rights.
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