7.3.7 Humanitarianism

Should internationalism be pursued?

Big Idea:

  • To what extent do organizations promote internationalism?

As a human being, you may be familiar with something called "human rights", which are rights based on dignity, equality and mutual respect. These rights include

  • right to freedom-of thought, expression, movement, from discrimination,
  • right to safety, privacy, and life,
  • right to equality,
  • right to education,
  • right to food and shelter,
  • right to political process (such as freedom of speech and freedom of association), and
  • right to legal processes (such as freedom from arbitrary arrest and the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty)

Humans have these rights based on a moral and legal claim as a human being. These rights are universal because, as a human, your claim to them is equal to every other human’s claim to them. While we wish all countries respected their citizens' fundamental human rights, many nations infringe upon these rights through oppression or persecution.

The idea that all human beings have rights has only recently gained much exposure and support. After World War II groups and individuals began to speak out against human rights abuse. Explore the tabs below to learn about the various restrictions or factors that can limit the support of human rights in a nation.

While all governments should strongly support human rights for all citizens, government actions to protect human rights are often limited by politics, ideologies, and economics.

In addition to the limitations preventing some governments from protecting human rights within a nation,  there is also much disagreement between the governments of different countries on which human rights issues are important and who should be able to voice concerns about these rights. For example, in the lead up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics the world criticized China (as the host country) for its continued human rights abuses, but China expressed strong sentiment that human rights are a national matter and not the concern of other countries.

In some cases, trade can also weaken a nation's stand on human rights. A country is not likely to take a stand against another country's abuse of human rights if it benefits from trade with that country. For example, Britain, because of its trade with South Africa, was reluctant to press for more human rights for South Africa's black people before South Africa ended its apartheid policy in 1993.

It becomes difficult for a country to criticize the abuse in other countries when their own country has abused the rights of some of its citizens. Even openly democratic countries do not have clean records, and they must consider this when criticizing another country for human rights abuse. If you examine human rights in countries around the world, you are likely to find examples of human rights violations at various times in the history of every country.

Two world respected organizations for the promotion of human rights are listed below. Go to their websites to learn more about them and human rights. Open each of the tabs below to explore the international organizations that address humanitarian issues in the global community. It's well worth the journey.

United Nations: Protecting Human Rights

The United Nations: In December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Some of the most important rights and freedoms listed in the Declaration are as follows.

  • All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
  • Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.
  • No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.
  • No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
  • No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile.
  • Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
  • Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.
  • Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Every day, people somewhere in the world are arrested for having a belief unpopular with the government, practicing a minority religion, or for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The rights detailed in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights are undeniable in an ideal world, but the Declaration has no real authority. As a result, many countries simply disregard it.


View the video The Declaration at 70: What are the universal human rights?

Amnesty International

Few organizations have fought so bravely and successfully for human rights as Amnesty International. Amnesty International is a humanitarian, non-profit organization, that has worked all over the world to achieve its primary objective: to stop governments from imprisoning and mistreating prisoners of conscience, prisoners of religion, and innocent people. Amnesty International uses two principal methods to achieve that objective. 

  • It publicizes specific stories of real people who are experiencing or have experienced the loss of their human rights at the hands of a repressive regime. No government likes to be known as oppressive and brutal. This kind of publicity gains the release of many political prisoners.
  • It highlights specific imprisoned individuals every month so that Amnesty International members all over the world can write letters to the governments that have arrested these individuals. Amnesty International instructs members to demand politely (but firmly) the release of these prisoners. This has been a very successful method.

In constant need of monetary support, Amnesty International receives funding mostly from private donors. Members pay membership fees, and many people simply send donations. Following the success of Live Aid, the worldwide fundraising concert in Ethiopia, a concert called Conspiracy of Hope was televised in many countries, and a subsequent record album was released. The musicians and performers involved in the project donated their time to publicize the need for the world to cooperate and protect human rights in all nations.

In 1977, Amnesty International won the Nobel Peace Prize for its struggle for worldwide human rights. Its work continues.


Watch on overview of the last 50 years of Amnesty International.

Use the 7.3 Notebook Organizer (Word, PDF, Google Doc ) to take notes about what you have read/viewed (review how to take notes here). When you are done, you can move to the next page.