The foundation of human rights

A Bahá’í Perspective

Human Rights Day – observed on 10 December – is a reminder that human rights are God-given rights, and that we are all born with equal rights to grow and develop our potentialities with equal opportunities.

Most of us would agree that there is need to apply an equal standard of human rights to everyone, while every individual member in our societies should be given equal opportunities. However, observing human rights will only be possible through conscious belief in the principle of oneness of humanity, as the concept of human rights is closely related to this principle. 

“In the Baha’i­ view, the foundation of universal understanding and, therefore, for human rights education is the oneness of humanity, a spiritual principle amply confirmed by all the sciences. Anthropology, physiology and psychology recognize only one human species, albeit infinitely varied. If we see ourselves as members of one human family, interconnected and interdependent, we will be unable to violate the rights of another member of that family without feeling the pain ourselves”.

Achieving world unity requires universal respect for human rights, and commitment to human rights results from recognition of the oneness of humanity. Such recognition requires abandonment of prejudice of every kind – race, nation, class, colour, creed, gender, degree of material civilization – everything which enables people to consider themselves superior to others.

Rapid development of science and technology has outstripped the rate of social progress and moral and spiritual development. As a result, we observe that as old methods and forms of human rights violation gradually disappear, new forms of violation emerge. Therefore, social progress and moral and spiritual development should keep pace with scientific and technological advancement, if the violation of human rights is to be effectively addressed.   

Protection and promotion of human rights, in the Bahá’í view, requires transformation of thoughts, values and attitudes. To affect any degree of transformation, however, it is essential to create a new mindset. Such a transformation must start with recognition of the oneness of human family.

Rights are inseparable from responsibilities

In a new world order envisaged by Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith, rights are inseparable from responsibilities. Each right is attached to a corresponding responsibility. The right to be recognized equally before the law, for example, implies the responsibility to obey the law. The right to marry carries with it the responsibility to support the family unit, to educate one’s children and to treat all family members with respect. The right to work cannot be divorced from the responsibility to perform one’s duties to the best of one’s ability. The right to expect respect implies that one has to respect others. In the broadest sense, the notion of “universal” human rights implies a responsibility to humanity as a whole. 

Considering that rights cannot exist without corresponding responsibilities, each member of the community has a responsibility to uphold the rights of the other members, based on a recognition of their unity and interdependence.  When individuals assume responsibility for ensuring each other’s human rights, this can empower all members of our society and give them a new sense of purpose and dignity in life.

 “The source of human rights” according to a statement of the Bahá’í International Community “is the endowment of qualities, virtues and powers which God has bestowed upon mankind without discrimination of sex, race, creed or nation.” “Everyone, individually as well as in association with others, has the right and responsibility to promote the well-being, and respect for the rights, freedoms, identity and human dignity, of all other members of his or her local and national communities, as well as the international community, and to promote the well-being and respect for the identity of these communities as a whole”.

Lack of access to education is one reason people fail to recognize their abilities, talents, capabilities as well as their rights. Therefore, the cause of universal education, in the Bahá’í view, deserves the utmost support that the governments of the world can lend it. 

Our children, from young ages, must be taught the value of human life, of personal integrity, of ethical and moral concern for the world and of respecting the rights of others. They should be taught about their own rights and liberties, while at the same time being taught to respect and protect the human rights and liberties of others. 

“… education in fundamental human rights”in the words of the Bahá’í International Community,“sensitizes individuals to the rights of others. It encourages each person to develop a personal commitment to building a broader sense of community. Such education is necessary not only to ensure that knowledge of human rights will be disseminated generally, but also to help build a durable, supportive social order in which human rights are a day-to-day reality for every individual”.

For feedback please contact: or call 082 773 8301

OPINION: Flora Teckie