Active repression of human rights (including the right to work, education, social security, health, national self-determination, individual liberty, freedom of thought, expression, movement, privacy, religion, and ideology) or passive refusal to ensure human rights, usually on the part of governments, but also on the part of groups and individuals, occurs regardless of constitutions, legal provisions and bona fide statements. Human societies are so organized that in practice they tend to deny at least some of man's inalienable rights to some of its members on the grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. The widespread violations of human rights over the globe relate to the insecurity of governments that do not have a broad popular support; to the need to maintain national security in times of real or perceived external threat; to the imposition of a form of organization of society on the minority or majority that do not accept it; to the maintenance of political stability seen as a sine qua non for economic and social progress; to, sometimes, the personal idiosyncracies or perversity of dictators; and, perhaps, to the conception of power seen and lived as limitless, by conviction or tactic.
As the notion of human rights has come to be understood in contemporary international usage, it means a set of justifiable or legitimate claims with at least six features: (a) they impose duties of performance or forbearance upon all appropriately situated human beings, including governments; (b) they are possessed equally by all human beings regardless of laws, customs, or agreements; (c) they are of basic importance to human life; (d) they are properly sanctionable and enforceable upon default by legal means; (e) they have special presumptive weight in constraining human action; and (f) they include a certain number that are considered inalienable, indefensible, and unforfeitable.
It can be argued that denial of human rights does not constitute infringement or violation of human rights, since denial can be considered merely an attitude without any active consequence in society. However, it can also be argued, notably in the case of gender discrimination, that denial is in itself an insidious form of violation which is equally harmful to its victims.
According to the United Nations, half the world's people experience some human rights abuse. Halfway through 1993, the UN Centre for Human Rights had received 125,000 claims of violation of human rights, three times the total for the whole of 1992. In the first three months of 1993, it also received reports of 5,000 people who had disappeared.
Saudi Arabian scholars and religious leaders who, in 1993, set up a human rights committee have been dismissed from their jobs and their group declared illegal and unacceptable under Islam by the country's highest clerical body.
Human rights are necessarily indivisible; their violation in the case of a single human being implies the flouting and denial of the very principle from which they spring. If only certain rights are recognized and guaranteed, the denial or disregard of others is a sufficient denunciation of the illusory character of such partial observance.
There is no agreed upon set of human rights. Some countries are interested in individual political rights, some in collective economic rights, some freedom from torture, some the rights of the child, and others freedom from racism and apartheid. In addition to the lack of agreement to what human rights are, so many rights have been added to the list that the list of rights has become impossibly complex, unenforceable and largely meaningless. The emphasis on human rights without the corresponding human responsibilities reinforces individualism and conveys a false and immoral understanding of human beings.