What are human rights?

Human rights belong to every member of the human family regardless of sex, race, nationality, socio-economic group, political opinion, sexual orientation or any other status.

Human rights are universal. They apply to all people simply on the basis of being human.

Human rights are inalienable. They cannot be taken away simply because we do not like the person seeking to exercise their rights. They can only be limited in certain tightly-defined circumstances and some rights, such as the prohibition on torture and slavery, can never be limited.

Human rights are indivisible. You cannot pick and choose which rights you want to honour. Many rights depend on each other to be meaningful - so, for example, the right to fair trial would be meaningless without the prohibition on discrimination, and the right to free speech must go hand in hand with the right to assemble peacefully.

Human rights are owed by the State to the people - this means public bodies must respect your human rights and the Government must ensure there are laws in place so that other people respect your human rights too. For example, the right to life requires not only that the actions of those working on behalf of the State do not lead to your death, but that laws are also in place to protect you from the actions of others that might want to do you harm.

Human rights were first recognised internationally by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in 1948. This was quickly followed by the adoption, two years later, of the European Convention on Human Rights. In 1998 the Human Rights Act was passed, making the rights and freedoms in the European Convention on Human Rights directly enforceable in the UK. It entered into force on 2 October 2000.

The UK is also a party to a number of other international instruments that seek to protect and promote other human rights.

 

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