What are human rights?

Published: 19 June 2019

Last updated: 19 June 2019

What countries does this apply to?

  • England
  • Scotland
  • Wales

Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world, from birth until death. 

They apply regardless of where you are from, what you believe or how you choose to live your life.

They can never be taken away, although they can sometimes be restricted – for example if a person breaks the law, or in the interests of national security.

These basic rights are based on shared values like dignity, fairness, equality, respect and independence. 

These values are defined and protected by law.

In Britain our human rights are protected by the Human Rights Act 1998.

Our work as an NHRI: as a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI), our job is to make Britain fairer. Find out about our work

We’ve been speaking to children across the country asking them about human rights and receiving simple, honest and funny answers. 

The majority of schools we spoke to as part of this project belong to Unicef’s Rights Respecting Schools network.

Your human rights

How human rights help you

Human rights are relevant to all of us, not just those who face repression or mistreatment.

They protect you in many areas of your day-to-day life, including:

  • your right to have and express your own opinions
  • your right to an education 
  • your right to a private and family life
  • your right not to be mistreated or wrongly punished by the state

Where human rights come from

The idea that human beings should have a set of basic rights and freedoms has deep roots in Britain.

Landmark developments in Britain include:

  • the Magna Carta of 1215
  • the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679
  • the Bill of Rights of 1689

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 

The atrocities of the Second World War made the protection of human rights an international priority.

The United Nations was founded in 1945.

The United Nations allowed more than 50 Member States to contribute to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948.

This was the first attempt to set out at a global level the fundamental rights and freedoms shared by all human beings.

Video: Watch our video on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The European Convention on Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights formed the basis for the European Convention on Human Rights, adopted in 1950.

British lawyers played a key role in drafting the European Convention on Human Rights, with Winston Churchill heavily involved.

It protects the human rights of people in countries that belong to the Council of Europe, including the UK.

The Human Rights Act 1998

The Human Rights Act 1998 made the rights set out by the European Convention on Human Rights part of our domestic law.

The Human Rights Act means that courts in the United Kingdom can hear human rights cases.

Before it was passed, people had to take their complaints to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.

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