3. What are human rights?
Human rights are commonly understood as being those rights which are inherent to the human being. The concept of
human rights acknowledges that every single human being is entitled to enjoy his or her human rights without
distinction as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin,
property, birth or other status.
Human rights are legally guaranteed by human rights law, protecting individuals and groups against actions which
interfere with fundamental freedoms and human dignity. They are expressed in treaties, customary international law,
bodies of principles and other sources of law. Human rights law places an obligation on States to act in a
particular way and prohibits States from engag- ing in specified activities. However, the law does not establish
human rights. Human rights are inherent entitlements which come to every person as a con- sequence of being human.
Treaties and other sources of law generally serve to protect formally the rights of individuals and groups against
actions or aban- donment of actions by Governments which interfere with the enjoyment of their human rights.
The following are some of the most important characteristics of human rights:
• human rights are founded on respect for the dignity and worth of each person;
• human rights are universal, meaning that they are applied equally and without discrimination to all people;
• human rights are inalienable, in that no one can have his or her human rights taken away other than in specific
situations – for example, the right to liberty can be restricted if a person is found guilty of a crime by a court
• human rights are indivisible, interrelated and interdependent, for the reason that it is insufficient to respect
some human rights and not others. In practice, the violation of one right will often affect the respect of sev-
eral other rights. All human rights should therefore be seen as having equal importance and of being equally
essential to respect for the dignity and worth of every person.