Human rights as an important basis for work

Aim: To strengthen knowledge and understanding of human rights principles, particularly in relation to the rights of victims of violence, abuse and torture. The aim is also to clarify the consequences of violating these rights, both for the victim and for society as a whole. In this handbook, we will specifically take as our starting point the rights of boys and men who have been subjected to gross and degrading violence in the context of war, conflict and flight. 

The clear human rights focus of the handbook can also help to strengthen knowledge about human rights and how this can be relevant in practical work. The fact that the people we meet have themselves been victims of serious human rights violations and may have thoughts on how this should be handled is a good argument that we as aid workers can benefit from strengthening our own knowledge of the relationship between human rights, human rights violations and providing assistance. 

Human rights are rights that apply to all people – that means that the rights apply to everyone. International human rights declarations and covenants make clear the right of individuals to be treated with fairness and respect and that everyone is entitled to benefit from basic human rights. The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that these rights form the basis of freedom, justice and peace. 

Human rights standards refer to the concrete rights defined in international agreements entered into by states. They also refer to the different mechanisms or systems created to ensure that states live up to their human rights obligations and respect them in practice. In particular, it establishes the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Threats to life and personal integrity, such as we see when people are subjected to sexual assault, can have serious consequences for the individual, and contribute to a loss of health and quality of life. States are also obliged to follow up allegations or information that fundamental rights have been violated, in particular the right not to be tortured or subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment. Follow-up may, for example, take the form of investigations and, where necessary, protective measures. 

Human rights underline and promote the importance of respecting the dignity and physical and psychological integrity of the individual. That is why we choose to make human rights principles central and guiding ideas in working with people who are victims of various forms of violence and abuse, and who represent serious violations of these principles. In practice, what we have in mind in our daily psychosocial work and in the actions we describe and propose towards people who have been sexually assaulted, is to act in line with human rights. This means respecting the dignity and integrity of the other person and understanding the acts they are subjected to in the light of human rights. We can help them to see for themselves that the violence they have been subjected to violates international principles and that there is a responsibility on states and authorities to provide help, treatment and protection. We believe that knowledge and understanding of human rights and what they mean in practice can help to inspire and equip us. We may also feel that we are part of a larger group, nationally and internationally, that is making active health and psychosocial work with people who are victims of serious human rights violations a way of promoting and protecting these principles.