Human Rights Basics

Human rights are the rights that every human is born with and are essential for a life of dignity.

Human rights are:

  • Equal & Universal: Human rights must be guaranteed to all people without distinction of any kind. In practice, if human rights are not equally respected or realized this means that human rights are being violated, not that they don’t exist.
  • Inalienable: Human rights are not earned and cannot be taken away even if those in power don’t recognize them. Individuals are entitled to human rights by birthright.
  • Interdependent: Human rights are connected and dependent on one another. The violation of one right negatively impacts the fulfillment of your other human rights.

How do we know what our human rights are? Toggle Accordion

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a historic document agreed to by the world’s governments that defines the fundamental human rights to be universally guaranteed. It is a common standard for all peoples and nations. Its content has been legally codified into 2 international treaties: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Combined, these 3 documents are known as the International Bill of Human Rights.

  • Political rights include the freedom of peaceful assembly and the right to vote
  • Civil rights include due process rights and equality before the law
  • Economic rights include reasonable work conditions, fair pay, and right to form unions

Social and cultural rights include the right to education, the ability to participate in the cultural life of your community and to share in the benefits of scientific advances

Who must protect human rights? Toggle Accordion

Individual human beings are rights holders. Everyone has a duty to not violate the rights of others but governments are considered the principal duty bearers. Governments have a three-fold responsibility to respect, protect, and fulfill their human rights obligations.

  • The obligation to respect means that governments must not violate, limit, or interfere with the exercise of human rights.
  • The obligation to protect requires governments to protect individuals and groups from having their human rights violated by others.
  • The obligation to fulfill means that governments must take positive steps to facilitate the enjoyment of human rights.

All human beings are born equal in dignity and rights. Human rights are only respected, protected, and fulfilled to the extent that people, individually and collectively, demand that they are.

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Text reprinted from Carrie Booth Walling, Human Rights and Justice for All: Demanding Dignity in the United States and Around the World (Routledge, 2022).