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What are human rights?

What are human rights?

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.

So simple, it's child's play...

Sometimes talking about our rights can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. 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. Unicef works with schools in the UK to create safe and inspiring places to learn where children are respected, their talents nurtured and and they are able to thrive.

Your human rights

How do 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 do 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

See the British Library's website for more information on these and other icons of liberty and progress.

The atrocities of the Second World War made the protection of human rights an international priority. The United Nations was founded in 1945. It 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.

Watch our video on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Declaration formed the basis for the European Convention on Human Rights, adopted in 1950. British lawyers played a key role in drafting the Convention, 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 made these rights part of our domestic law. The 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.

Last updated: 24 May 2018