What are human rights?
Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.
Universal human rights are often expressed and guaranteed by law, in the forms of treaties, customary international law , general principles and other sources of international law. International human rights law lays down obligations of Governments to act in certain ways or to refrain from certain acts, in order to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups.
Universal and inalienable
The principle of universality of human rights is the cornerstone of international human rights law. This principle, as first emphasized in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in 1948, has been reiterated in numerous international human rights conventions, declarations, and resolutions. The 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights, for example, noted that it is the duty of States to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems.
All States have ratified at least one, and 80% of States have ratified four or more, of the core human rights treaties, reflecting consent of States which creates legal obligations for them and giving concrete expression to universality. Some fundamental human rights norms enjoy universal protection by customary international law across all boundaries and civilizations.
Human rights are inalienable. They should not be taken away, except in specific situations and according to due process. For example, the right to liberty may be restricted if a person is found guilty of a crime by a court of law.
Interdependent and indivisible
All human rights are indivisible, whether they are civil and political rights, such as the right to life, equality before the law and freedom of expression; economic, social and cultural rights, such as the rights to work, social security and education , or collective rights, such as the rights to development and self-determination, are indivisible, interrelated and interdependent. The improvement of one right facilitates advancement of the others. Likewise, the deprivation of one right adversely affects the others.
Equal and non-discriminatory
Non-discrimination is a cross-cutting principle in international human rights law. The principle is present in all the major human rights treaties and provides the central theme of some of international human rights conventions such as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
The principle applies to everyone in relation to all human rights and freedoms and it prohibits discrimination on the basis of a list of non-exhaustive categories such as sex, race, colour and so on. The principle of non-discrimination is complemented by the principle of equality, as stated in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
Both Rights and Obligations
Human rights entail both rights and obligations. States assume obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect and to fulfil human rights. The obligation to respect means that States must refrain from interfering with or curtailing the enjoyment of human rights. The obligation to protect requires States to protect individuals and groups against human rights abuses. The obligation to fulfil means that States must take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of basic human rights. At the individual level, while we are entitled our human rights, we should also respect the human rights of others.
30 Basic Human Rights
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
1. We are all free and equal. We are all born free. We all have our own thoughts and ideas. We should all be treated in the same way.
2. Don’t discriminate. These rights belong to everybody, whatever our differences.
3. The right to life. We all have the right to life, and to live in freedom and safety.
4. No slavery – past and present. Nobody has any right to make us a slave. We cannot make anyone our slave.
5. No Torture. Nobody has any right to hurt us or to torture us.
6. We all have the same right to use the law. I am a person just like you!
7. We are all protected by the law. The law is the same for everyone. It must treat us all fairly.
8. Fair treatment by fair courts. We can all ask for the law to help us when we are not treated fairly.
9. No unfair detainment. Nobody has the right to put us in prison without a good reason and keep us there, or to send us away from our country.
10. The right to trial. If we are put on trial this should be in public. The people who try us should not let anyone tell them what to do.
11. Innocent until proven guilty. Nobody should be blamed for doing something until it is proven. When people say we did a bad thing we have the right to show it is not true.
12. The right to privacy. Nobody should try to harm our good name. Nobody has the right to come into our home, open our letters or bother us or our family without a good reason.
13. Freedom to move. We all have the right to go where we want in our own country and to travel as we wish.
14. The right to asylum. If we are frightened of being badly treated in our own country, we all have the right to run away to another country to be safe.
15. The right to a nationality. We all have the right to belong to a country.
16. Marriage and family. Every grown-up has the right to marry and have a family if they want to. Men and women have the same rights when they are married, and when they are separated.
17. Your own things. Everyone has the right to own things or share them. Nobody should take our things from us without a good reason.
18. Freedom of thought. We all have the right to believe in what we want to believe, to have a religion, or to change it if we want.
19. Free to say what you want. We all have the right to make up our own minds, to think what we like, to say what we think, and to share our ideas with other people.
20. Meet where you like. We all have the right to meet our friends and to work together in peace to defend our rights. Nobody can make us join a group if we don’t want to.
21. The right to democracy. We all have the right to take part in the government of our country. Every grown-up should be allowed to choose their own leaders.
22. The right to social security. We all have the right to affordable housing, medicine, education, and child care, enough money to live on and medical help if we are ill or old.
23. Workers’ rights. Every grown-up has the right to do a job, to a fair wage for their work, and to join a trade union.
24. The right to play. We all have the right to rest from work and to relax.
25. A bed and some food. We all have the right to a good life. Mothers and children, people who are old, unemployed or disabled, and all people have the right to be cared for.
26. The right to education. Education is a right. Primary school should be free. We should learn about the United Nations and how to get on with others. Our parents can choose what we learn.
27. Culture and copyright. Copyright is a special law that protects one’s own artistic creations and writings; others cannot make copies without permission. We all have the right to our own way of life and to enjoy the good things that “art,” science and learning bring.
28. A free and fair world. There must be proper order so we can all enjoy rights and freedoms in our own country and all over the world.
29. Our responsibilities. We have a duty to other people, and we should protect their rights and freedoms.
30. Nobody can take away these rights and freedoms from us.
* List provided by Youth For Human Rights International, adapted and simplified from the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights