What are Human Rights?

As Human Rights can be defined those subjective rights that every human being is entitled to in equal measure. In a more narrow sense the term “Human Rights” is understood as antonym to “Civil Rights” and therefore stands for basic rights that, independent of the nationality, are inherent to all human beings. The concept of human rights acts on the assumption that all human beings are endowed with the same rights due to their person hood and that these rights, targeted on political, civil and social equality are universal, inalienable and indivisible. The idea of human rights is closely connected to the idea, developed during the era of Humanism and Enlightenment, of the “Natural Right” (every human being is endowed by nature with inalienable rights – independent of gender, age, nationality or the form of government he lives in – which include the right of life and physical integrity and the right of personal freedom). Through this phrasing and assessment of basic rights in constitutions and international agreements, human rights have now become actionable rights. Nowadays human rights are the “only value system, which rightfully can claim the title of universal application”.

In history there have always been aggressive and strong centres of power that dictated their own rules and enforced their pretended “values” through violence. Thereby value systems, philosophies and ideologies with a devastating aftermath for mankind were generated. Sad climaxes of these grave violations of human rights were the First and Second World War, at the end of which the international governments realized the necessity to agree on a universal value system that was accepted by everyone and which should guarantee a life in peace and with a minimum of personal freedom to all human beings. Thus, as direct reaction to World War II and its disregard and disrespect of human rights that led to acts of barbarism, on the 10th of December 1948 at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed and authorized the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Universal Declaration of Human Rights). Since then the 10th december is celebrated as International Day of Human Rights. Declared aim of this declaration is that, “Human Rights should be protected by the rule of law, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression,”.

Thereupon in the year 1968 the General Assembly of the United Nation resolved on the, under international law binding, Covenants of Human Rights: ”International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR)” as well as the “International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CCPR)”. Both became operative in the year 1976 and are binding. Other international agreements followed, like the treaty on the elimination of racial discrimination (CERD, 1965), the treaty against all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW, 1979), the convention against torture (CAT, 1984), the convention on the rights of the child (CRC, 1989) and other United Nations Human rights treaties. All together these declarations and agreements should guarantee a minimum of rights and codes of practice that are valid for all human beings on earth and that means for governments, administrations, police and military as well as for singular persons, companies and organisations.

The most important individual rights listed in these agreements are

  • Freedom Rights (freedom of expression, religion, conscience, assembly or association)
  • Equality Rights (equality before the law, protection against discrimination because of gender, race, colour of skin, religion, ethnic or social provenience, etc.)
  • Political Rights (right to vote, for petition, freedom of political parties, etc.)
  • Rights of economic life (property, mobility, freedom of acquisition, settlement and service)
  • Collective Rights (Right of nations self-determination, protection of minorities and indigenous people, right of development, etc.)
  • Procedural Rights ( especially in  criminal law)
  • Special Rights (for children, elderly people, sick, disabled persons, foreigners, asylum seekers and other groups of disadvantaged persons).

Conclusively it can be said: Human Rights are all those personal rights “that enable human beings to devise their life in accordance with the principles of freedom, equality and human dignity.” 2

1 Univ.-Prof. Dr. Manfred Nowak, Einführung in das internationale Menschenrechtssystem, 2002
2 idem

Court of Justice of the European Union - success for HRI and partners

SENEGAL - project "one bed, one mosquito net"

CHINA - HRI congratulates and demands freedom for LIU XIAOBO

ITALY/EU - Eliminate discrimination with objective criteria of choice

ITALY - Full access to scholarships for non-EU citizens

ITALY - Action against discrimination