What Are Human Rights?

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human rights

Human rights are a set of principles and standards that are recognized by international law. They are based on the idea that all humans are born free and equal in dignity and rights. These rights include the right to life, freedom, and security. They are guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international instruments. They are defended and promoted by government actors, international organisations such as the United Nations and the Council of Europe, NGOs, and other groups and individuals who work to protect people from discrimination, violence, and injustice.

The concept of human rights arose out of a combination of observations. One was the observation that people everywhere require the realization of diverse values or capabilities for their well-being, and that this requirement is often painfully frustrated by social as well as natural forces. This frustration often results in exploitation, oppression and persecution. The other observation was that there are many ways to treat people fairly, and that such treatment can be beneficial to everyone involved. These twin observations sparked the development of human rights concepts and practices.

A core value of human rights is the belief that there are some things that all humans can justifiably demand of each other and of their governments. These demands may be based on moral grounds, or they might be grounded in true premises about current institutions, problems and resources. It is argued that there are reliable ways to find out what these demands are, and that people can reach rational agreement on them by open-minded and serious inquiry.

It is also commonly held that human rights violations are a violation of the fundamental dignity and equality of all persons. They can occur through physical violence or non-violent means, and can be against any person, anywhere in the world. Violations can be against civil and political rights, such as the right to freedom of expression or the right to a fair trial; they can be against economic and social rights, such as the right to housing or the right to health care; and they can also be against children’s rights, women’s rights, or the right to be free from slavery, female genital mutilation or the death penalty.

A central principle of human rights is that they are inalienable, meaning that they can never be taken away from anyone, and that they cannot be denied on the basis of a distinction such as race, ethnicity, religion, language, disability, sexual orientation or any other attribute. This principle is reflected in the fact that human rights are indivisible, interdependent and interrelated: the enjoyment of one right depends on the enjoyment of others; and no right can be considered more important than any other. This concept of interdependence also applies to the concept that rights are mutually reinforcing; a violation of one right can lead to a violation of several other rights as well. Therefore, human rights must be applied on an individual and collective basis.