Civil rights and human rights

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Civil rights and human rights are two terms with differing definitions, though there is some overlap in those definitions. We will examine the meanings of the terms civil rights and human rights, where these expressions came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

Civil rights refers to the laws and customs that protect an individual’s freedom in a given country or political system. Civil rights protect an individual’s life, safety, political and legal rights and protect him from discrimination. The expression civil rights comes from the Latin term ius civis, which means the rights of a citizen. Ancient Romans had certain rights granted to them under the law, whether they be full, free citizens or slaves. The idea of civil rights in English law was first proposed by Sir Edward Coke, who argued that English citizens had certain rights by virtue of their citizenship. The term civil rights took on a more political sense during the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, though the movement was simply a demand that African-Americans and others be treated in a way that the Constitution already guaranteed. Civil rights may vary from country to country, or from government to government.

Human rights are fundamental ways of living and being treated that every human on the planet deserves, by virtue of being human. Human rights are universal the world over, and do not vary from country to country or government to government. Some basic human rights are access to clean water, protection from torture and the right to fair trial. The idea of human rights came to the fore in 1948, when the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Note that civil rights and human rights often overlap, as one of the duties of a state is to protect the life, liberty and safety of its citizens.


“It is an honor to have Kentucky’s historic sites included in the U.S. Civil Rights Trail,” said Kristen Branscum, Tourism Commissioner for the Kentucky Department of Tourism. (The Lexington Herald-Leader)

A pivotal figure in the U.S. civil rights movement shared a bit of his story Sunday evening with about 750 people at the Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Service at Salem Baptist Church. (The Omaha World-Herald)

U.S. sanctions head of Iran’s judiciary, others, over human rights abuses (Reuters)

In meetings I’ve had over the past year with the well meaning and generally beleaguered Trump administration officials responsible for aspects of the government’s human rights policy, a frequent refrain is that this administration isn’t receiving enough credit for the positive steps it has taken with respect to promoting human rights and the rule of law (and, to be fair, it has taken a few ). (Newsweek)