What are human rights?

Human rights are rights that every human being has by virtue of his or her human dignity.

Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings. They define relationships between individuals and power structures, especially the State. Human rights delimit State power and, at the same time, require States to take positive measures ensuring an environment that enables all people to enjoy their human rights. History in the past 250 years has been shaped by the struggle to create such an environment. Starting with the French and American revolutions in the late eighteenth century, the idea of human rights has driven many revolutionary movements for empowerment and for control over the wielders of power, governments in particular.

Human rights are the sum of individual and collective rights laid down in State constitutions and international law.

Governments and other duty bearers are under an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil human rights, which form the basis for legal entitlements and remedies in case of non-fulfilment. In fact, the possibility to press claims and demand redress differentiates human rights from the precepts of ethical or religious value systems. From a legal standpoint, human rights can be defined as the sum of individual and collective rights recognized by sovereign States and enshrined in national legislation and in international human rights norms. Since the Second World War, the United Nations has played a leading role in defining and advancing human rights, which until then had developed mainly within the nation State. As a result, human rights have been codified in various international and regional treaties and instruments that have been ratified by most countries. Today they represent the only universally recognized value system.

Human rights are manifold.

Human rights pertain to all aspects of life. Their exercise enables all individuals to shape and determine their own lives in liberty, equality and respect for human dignity. Human rights encompass civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, as well as the collective rights of peoples.