Human rights are universal legal guarantees protecting individuals and groups from actions and omissions that compromise fundamental freedoms, rights and human dignity. Human rights law obliges (mainly) governments and other duty bearers to do certain things and prevents them from doing others. Some of the most important features of these rights:

  • Human rights are universal – the birthright of all human beings;
  • Human rights focus on the inherent dignity and equal worth of all human beings;
  • Human rights are equal, indivisible and interdependent;
  • Human rights cannot be surrendered or taken away;
  • Human rights impose an obligation to act or to refrain from action, in particular on States and State actors;
  • Human rights are internationally valid and guaranteed,
  • Human rights are protected by law
  • Human rights protect individuals and, to some extent, groups.

In recent years, human rights standards have been increasingly defined. Codified in international, regional and national legal systems, they form a set of performance standards against which duty bearers at all levels of society – but especially the organs of the state – are held accountable. The fulfilment of obligations under international human rights treaties is monitored by independent committees of experts called “treaty bodies”, which also help to clarify the meaning of certain human rights.