Glossary of Terms


A political process consisting of actions designed to transform citizen or popular interests into rights; a process aimed at influencing decisions regarding policies and laws at national and international levels; actions designed to draw a community’s attention to an issue and to direct policymakers to a solution.


A system of racial segregation and discrimination imposed by the white minority government of South Africa from 1948 until its abolition following the 1994 national election.


Any place offering protection or safety.


Bullying is an act of repeated aggressive behavior in order to intentionally hurt another person, physically or mentally. It necessarily implies an intention to harass or act arrogantly toward a colleague, particularly in the school, either in a direct way (disturbing physically or psychologically) or indirectly (excluding and isolating.) Today there is more attention regarding the issue, especially because of the potentially harmful consequences it can have on character development and well-being of young people. Recent incidents of cyberbullying, the use of the Internet, cell phones or other devices to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person, have resulted in deaths and caused authorities to take note and try to address the dangerous trend.


The monitoring and restriction of speech and publication, as well as telecommunications. Censorship is usually done through review and approval mechanisms to ensure compliance with policies of the government in the name of traditional values, national security, or morality of the community. Self-censorship is done by press or telecommunications industries in order to conform to government ideologies.


Civil and political rights are a class of rights and freedoms that protect individuals from unwarranted action by government and private organizations and individuals and ensure one’s ability to participate in the civil and political life of the state without discrimination or repression. These rights are included in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and are outlined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Civil rights include the ensuring of people’s physical integrity and safety; protection from discrimination on grounds such as physical or mental disability, gender, religion, race, sexual orientation, national origin, age, immigrant status, etc; and individual rights such as the freedoms of thought and conscience, speech and expression, religion, the press, and movement.


The International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid declares apartheid a crime against humanity resulting from the policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination, and violating the principles of international law, in particular the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and constituting a serious threat to international peace and security.


Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: "No one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." Cruel Punishment is one of the central concerns around the world and is also related to the issue of the death penalty, for claims that prolonged delay before executions constitutes inhuman treatment.


Culture is the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual, and emotional features that characterize a society or social group, including not only arts and letters, but also modes of life, value systems, traditions, and beliefs. Rights to culture are mentioned frequently in international human rights instruments, often in conjunction with economic and social rights.


When there is a broad consensus among states about a norm, it becomes internationally binding, and thus a source of international law.


Primarily a U.S. term that refers to whether or not a legal proceeding conforms to rules and principles for the protection of the parties’ rights. Although the term is not generally used in international human rights instruments, those instruments generally protect the human rights of those who are brought before courts.


Economic, social and cultural rights are socio-economic human rights, distinct from civil and political rights. Economic, social and cultural rights are included in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and outlined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Examples of such rights include the right to food, the right to housing, the right to education, the right to health and the right to an adequate standard of living.


Violence committed against a victim because of his/her gender, for example violence against women such as rape, sexual assault, female circumcision, dowry burning, etc.; violence against women for failing to conform to restrictive social and cultural norms. The Vienna Declaration specifically recognized gender-based violence as a human rights concern.


These are the crimes recognized as the most serious ones. Crimes that threaten peace and security. The International Criminal Court (ICC) was created to prosecute these crimes. The ICC, however, does not exercise jurisdiction over the crime of aggression. Genocide is defined as acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. Crimes against humanity are attacks or violent acts committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack. War crimes are crimes committed in large scale as part of a plan or policy, involving serious violations of the Geneva Conventions. The crime of aggression is defined as "planning, preparation, initiation or execution by a person able to exercise effective control or direct the political action and a military State, an act of aggression which, by nature, gravity and scale, constitutes a clear violation of the UN Charter.


The dissemination of information aimed at building a universal culture of human rights through knowledge and skills, and the molding of attitudes directed to: the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; the full development of the human personality and a sense of its dignity; the promotion of understanding, respect, gender equality, and friendship among all nations, indigenous people and racial, national, ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups; the enabling of all persons to participate effectively in a free society; the furtherance of the activities of the United Nations for the Maintenance of Peace.


People who are original or natural inhabitants of a country.


Refers to the equal importance of each human rights law. A person cannot be denied a right because someone decides it is "less important" or "non-essential."


Acronym for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (now called U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).


Refers to the complementary framework of human rights law. For example, the ability to participate in your government is directly affected by the right to self-expression, to get an education, and even to obtain the necessities of life.


Organizations formed by people outside of government. NGOs monitor the proceedings of human rights bodies such as the Commission on Human Rights at the UN and are the "watchdogs" of the human rights that fall within their mandate. Some are large and international; others may be small and local. NGOs play a major role in influencing UN policy.


Rights that afford citizens the ability to freely participate in the political processes of a country, which include the right to vote, and freedom of political expression, assembly, and association. Political rights are protected by international law as stated in the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.


When a person is forcibly returned to the home country where his/her life or freedom would be threatened; also called forced repatriation.


A person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution.


Closely tied to the liberal state and the liberal political tradition of the Western nations, rule of law mandates some minimum degree of separation of government powers for the protection of individual rights. An independent judiciary is indispensable in a democratic and pluralist state. Distinguished from "rule by law," a tool used by authoritarian rulers to maintain order without necessarily honoring human rights.


Determination by the people of a territorial unit of their own political future, free of coercion from powers outside that region.


Used to denote the direction of emotional attraction or conduct. This can be toward people of the opposite sex (heterosexual orientation), toward people of both sexes (bisexual orientation), or toward people of the same sex (homosexual orientation).


A pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact, or any other course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. Stalking is against the law in every state. Stalking across state lines or in federal territories is illegal under federal law.


The infliction of intense pain, either physical or psychological, generally to punish or to obtain a confession or information, or for the sadistic pleasure of the torturer. Torture is prohibited by the UDHR and the ICCPR and remains impermissible even as a response to terrorism or as a means to investigate possible terrorists. The prohibition of torture is viewed as customary international law and peremptory in nature, and as such is considered an international crime punishable by domestic or international tribunals.


Refers to people who experience a psychological identification with the opposite biological sex which may be profound and compelling and lead some to seek "gender reassignment" through medical procedures. This is generally regarded as an issue concerning a person’s gender identity.


A formal agreement between states that defines and modifies their mutual duties and obligations. Used synonymously with convention and covenant.


This term is frequently associated with Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, which have been established throughout the world to provide public forums for victims and perpetrators of crimes to reveal the violence and abuses that were committed during tyrannical regimes and conflicts. It encourages transparency in the process of recording an accurate history of events that is critical to promoting healing and eventual societal reconciliation.


A "common standard of achievement for all peoples and nations," drafted by the UN Commission on Human Rights and approved by the General Assembly in 1948. Though not legally binding, it has inspired constitutional bills of rights, human rights treaties, and other mechanisms for international protection of human rights.


A fear or contempt of that which is foreign or unknown, especially of strangers or foreign people.