© David Espinosa for Fine Acts

What are human rights?

Human rights are about creating a world where we are all free and equal in our rights and dignity.

No matter who we are or where we come from, we all have similar needs and aspirations and we’re at our best when the values of freedom, respect, equality and dignity guide our decisions and actions.

So what are human rights, what are civil rights and liberties and what are rights that we all share?


Human rights are the agreed standards that our governments, institutions and businesses need to respect and uphold to ensure people are treated fairly and with respect at all times.

For example, we all have the right to education and healthcare, the right to equality and to be protected from discrimination, mistreatment or violence. We should all be free to express our political opinions or enjoy our cultures or practice religion if we so choose.

Of course, our rights come with a responsibility to respect the rights of other people. We are free to think, say and do what we want, so long as that doesn’t harm other people or violate their rights.

Different countries have different ways of incorporating human rights into their laws. For example, you might be wondering what is the human rights act? Some countries have dedicated laws – acts, charters or bills of rights  – to specifically articulate and protect human rights. Whereas other countries have their human rights protections spread through various pieces of legislation.

Different types of human rights 

Although we all have the same human rights, there are different types of rights that cover a range of circumstances and our governments have a responsibility to ensure everyone’s human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.

All of our human rights are outlined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which is the foundational document for all international human rights laws and treaties.

The types of human rights articulated in the Universal Declaration include some of the following types of rights and topics that the team at ISHR focuses on.

Have you ever moved house? What about countries? Throughout history, migrants have helped strengthen communities and build thriving and diverse societies around the world. But do you know about the challenges they often face? Read about migrant rights here.

People travel to other countries for a variety of reasons, but some people are forced by conflict or political persecution to seek safety in another country. International refugee law is clear – everyone has the right to seek asylum in another country if they are facing political persecution or other specific dangers. Get the facts about refugee rights here.

If you believe that women should enjoy all of the same rights and freedoms as men – then you believe in feminism. That’s the simple foundation for the whole women’s rights movement – from Russian rock-band Pussy Riot to England’s women’s suffrage pioneer Emmeline Pankhurst. Find out what else you might have in common here

For many people, their sense of belonging and their community’s connection to culture is inextricably linked to their land. The land rights of indigenous peoples are about more than just providing access to land for cultural reasons – human rights laws recognise that in many cases land also provides food and a livelihood for communities. Yet every year people are driven off their land. Find out why here.

Are environmental rights the missing human rights? Issues about the environment and human rights are increasingly overlapping and the intersection of human rights and environmental protection have been highlighted by a number of recent landmark court cases that used human rights laws to seek meaningful action to limit climate change. Learn more here

Many people have bravely pushed our societies to be more open and tolerant places for everyone, but there’s more work to be done so everyone can feel free to be who they are and live the life they choose. Find out what it is here

Our ability to freely form and express our opinions is vital for leading a fulfilling and dignified life – it’s also essential for a functioning democracy. In addition to freedom of expression, everyone should have freedom of association and freedom of assembly which includes peaceful protests. But do you know the limitation of such rights and freedoms? Find out here

The right to engage with the human rights system, such at the UN Human Rights Council, if you or our community is experiencing human rights violations, is crucial to the protection and realisation of human rights. So how do you do it? Find out here

Equality is a core principle of human rights. Yet many people all around the world are still pushing to have their right to equality and non-discrimination recognised and upheld. Do you know the difference between direct and non-direct discrimination? Find out here

So that gives you an idea of some of the types of human rights we all have and the types of human rights violations that occur. But the above list is just a small glimpse of the many human rights and issues around the world.

UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights

All of our human rights are outlined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which is the foundational document for all international human rights laws and treaties.

The Universal Declaration sets out the rights and freedoms shared by every human being and the responsibilities owed by every government. 

For a complete overview of all our human rights, read more about the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Hopefully, this page was useful if you were searching for topics such as ‘human rights what is it’ but you can also find more information about “who protects human rights”.