Human rights belong to everyone. They are the basic rights we all have simply because we are human, regardless of who we are, where we live or what we do. Human rights represent all the things we need to flourish and live together as human beings. They are expressed in internationally agreed laws, and cover many aspects of everyday life ranging from the rights to food, shelter, education and health to freedoms of thought, religion and expression.
Practical exercise What human rights do we have?
Draw up a list of all the human rights you think we have. It might help to think about what you think people need in order to survive and flourish.
Here are a couple of examples to start you off:
- the right to life
- the right to education
When you have finished, follow this link to take a look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
How does your list compare? Are there any surprises? Are there any rights that you think are missing, or any that you think shouldn’t be included?
Who has responsibilities for human rights?
Human rights are based on the principle that we all have human rights – we are all ‘rights holders’. When an individual has a right, there is a corresponding ‘duty bearer’, usually the state, who is responsible for making sure that right is respected, protected and fulfilled. By the state, in broad terms we mean the government and those acting on its behalf. Human rights prevent states from doing certain things, like not treating you in a degrading way. They also require states to take certain actions to make sure your rights are protected and fulfilled, like taking steps to protect your life and improve your quality of life.
This doesn’t mean that human rights have nothing to say about the responsibilities of individuals, or our relationships with each other. Human rights recognise that we all live alongside each other, and everyone else has rights too. If we compromise others’ human rights, we are subject to laws that may limit our own rights as a result. For example, if someone is convicted of burgling your home, it is likely that they will be sent to jail, restricting their right to liberty.
Key things you need to know about human rights
- Human rights belong to everyone
- They are expressed in internationally agreed laws
- They are based on core values including fairness, respect, equality, dignity and autonomy
- The ideas behind human rights have developed gradually through history and come from many different societies and civilisations
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) was the first internationally agreed statement of human rights
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the starting point for all modern human rights laws
- Human rights laws place duties on states to respect, protect and fulfil our human rights