What are human rights?

A young girl carrying food and water through the bush, Cuito Cuanavale, Kuando Kubango, Angola.

WaterAid courtesy of Chris Strickland/ Demotix

Human rights are the inherent rights every individual has, just for being human. They are therefore independent from any state rule. Human rights reflect a global moral conscience, with roots in philosophies, religions and cultures throughout the world.

Human rights therefore represent a worldwide agreement on the standards and steps necessary to achieve a more equitable world in which everyone might live and develop in accordance with their rights and dignity.

Their protection and promotion is the responsibility of states (at all levels and branches of power), but they also entail obligations to international organisations, private sector and individuals.

Human rights were recognised by the international community in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Since then, many legally binding treaties have been produced. Please see the Timeline of international law for more information.

Human rights are not limited to freedom from torture and freedom of speech, but include all those rights essential for human survival, physical security, liberty and development in dignity. They include the right to a standard of living adequate for health and wellbeing, the right to education, and the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. All human rights have been affirmed as indivisible, interdependent and inter- related (Vienna Declaration and Programme for Action 1993).

Human rights are universal and inalienable. All human beings are equally entitled to human rights without discrimination.