Unit I.  Why Do We Need Human Rights?
A Case to Consider

What would you do if you were arrested by your own government but you had never committed a crime?

1933. Placard reads, “Germans! Defend
yourselves! Do not buy from Jews!”
In the 1930s, Hitler and the German Nazis instituted the policy of placing German Jews and other German “undesirables” (such as Gypsies and homosexuals) into concentration camps. In 1942, the government turned the concentration camps into death camps and millions perished.

How could this be allowed to happen? German law offered no legal protections to people the government considered “sub-humans”.

Concerned outside parties, like the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, could not rely on international law to try to help these victims of discrimination, persecution, and worse, because general international human rights law did not exist. There were no specialized legal notions like genocide or crimes against humanity.

Existing international law pertained to prisoners of war, but it did not apply to the Germans being victimized by their own government’s policy. At that time, neither German national law nor international law provided rights to protect people from their own government.

International human rights law was created after 1945 as an attempt to prevent anything like the Holocaust from happening again. The goal was to translate universal moral rights into international law, to ensure that national governments did the right thing. International human rights law was created because individuals within states often did the wrong thing to each other. At the same time, international humanitarian law was expanded.

International human rights treaties, when ratified (such as the 1984 Convention Against Torture), were intended for peaceful situations. A core of such treaties are applicable in war as well. International humanitarian law (such as the 1949 Geneva Conventions) applies only in situations of armed conflict.

By establishing and protecting human rights, people seek to rectify wrongs and to prevent future atrocities and oppressions. It’s an ongoing process that’s far from complete.
aired 01/27/05 on
“The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer”

Are human rights inherent? Why should you care about human rights?

In this unit, you’ll learn about abuses, past and present, that underscore the need to establish and protect international human rights.
“Inherent” Rights
Human Rights Watch
Amnesty International

   (60th Anniversary of Liberation of Auschwitz)
    aired 01/27/05 on "The PBS NewsHour"
Nazi Photos Outside Death Camp: Album Found
Anne Frank, Lessons in Human Rights and Dignity
Anne Frank, The Writer
Frontline: Memory of the Camps Transcript
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Remember Images
Shoah: Holocaust Links

Module One.
Foundation: Introduction