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What Are Human Rights?

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 1 Aug 2013 | comments*Discuss
Human Rights basic Rights human

Human rights are, at their most basic level, rights to which everyone human being is entitled simply for because he or she is a human being. These rights do not necessarily need to be enshrined in law because they exist no matter what, though spelling them out in legislation certainly makes enforcing human rights much easier.

Due to the fact that most countries in the world agree that human rights are fundamental (that is, shared by all people regardless of age, race, sex, religion, location, or any other factor), they are considered universal rights. The one document largely accepted as the foundation of international human rights law is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights passed by the United Nations (without a dissenting vote) in December, 1948. In the United Kingdom today, a variety of organisations and legislation protect the human rights of citizens.

Basic Human Rights

Human rights encompass ideas of fairness, respect, justice and equality. As universal rights this means that they are not necessarily bestowed on anyone (or kept from anyone) but are simply inherent and due to all human beings. Though different countries may make different laws regarding these rights, and some countries may not have any laws regarding them, most people around the world agree on a number of basic human rights. These usually include:

  • The right to life
  • The right to free speech
  • The right to freedom of religion
  • The right to be free from torture
  • The right to be free from any other cruel/unusual/inhumane treatment
  • The right to education and work
  • The right to an adequate standard of living and housing
  • The right to a fair trial
  • The right to engage in social, political and cultural activities

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

In 1948, following the horrors of World War II, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This document attempted to lay out all of the human rights due to every worldwide citizen, including the rights discussed above. In general this document divided human rights into three broad categories: civil and political rights, economic, cultural and social rights and solidarity rights. Due to its international acceptance, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has become the foundation of most international law regarding human rights. In 1993, at the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights, this document was again affirmed by members of the United Nations without a dissenting vote. The Declaration itself can be found at the United Nations website.

Human Rights in the United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, human rights are protected in a variety of ways. For example, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office hold human rights as one of the basic foundations of the UK's international policies, and a Joint Committee on Human Rights sits in Parliament. The UK also adheres to the European Convention on Human Rights, and the Human Rights Act 1998 makes it possible for UK courts to hear cases on breaches of human rights (rather than parties needing to go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg). A variety of human rights watchdog organisations including Amnesty International (www.amnesty.org.uk), Liberty (www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk) and Justice (www.justice.org.uk) also operate in the United Kingdom.

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