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This module introduces the general concepts and characteristics of human rights, exploring both their ethical and historical roots and their modern-day form and implementation. It looks at the legal instruments and terminology in use as well as the organisations and mechanisms that protect and promote human rights.

It highlights several core aspects of human rights, including the basic overarching concept of human dignity and the enumeration of specific rights under this umbrella. It explains states’ dual responsibilities to respect and protect human rights: ‘respect’ represents a negative obligation to refrain from an action that would limit human rights; and ‘protect’ refers to a positive obligation to take action to ensure the enjoyment of human rights.

The activity is designed to stimulate a general discussion on the role and purpose of human rights in today’s societies before, in later modules, homing in on specific policy-related aspects of human rights. The discussion questions begin with a non-legalistic approach to human rights. This is followed by questions designed to spur discussions on human dignity and specific rights, the purpose of human rights and the obligations these rights create.

The questions raise fundamental issues on the principles, organisation and function of society and the state and can prompt spirited discussion.

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