Brief Introduction To Human Rights

Universal human rights are often expressed and guaranteed by law, in the forms of treaties, customary international law, general principles and other sources of international law. International human rights law lays down obligations of Governments to act in certain ways or to refrain from certain acts, in order to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or group.

In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was the first instrument formally recognizing human rights. In 1950, the European Convention on Human Rights was adopted by the Council of Europe. In 1966 the United Nations General Assembly adopted The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and The International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights.These two entered into force in 1976 and along with the UDHR constitute what is referred to as the International Bill of Human Rights.

Other Human Rights Conventions include:

  • Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women(CEDAW)
  • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
  • Convention Against Torture (CAT)
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)
  • International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (MWC)
  • Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
  • International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance
  • Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (ILO 169)


  • Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union
  • Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings
  • European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML)
  • European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT)
  • European Social Charter (revised in 1996)
  • Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM)

Key Principles pertaining to Human Rights:
HUMAN RIGHTS ARE FOR ALL (Universal and Equal)

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
European Convention on Human Rights:
The High Contracting Parties shall secure to everyone within their jurisdiction the rights and freedoms defined in Section I of this Convention.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights:
Considering that, in accordance with the principles proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

Human Rights are inalienable. Individuals should not be deprived of their human rights.However, rights can incur limitations in certain specific occurrences and only if this is provided for by law. An example of a limitation can be seen in Article 2(2) of the ECHR:
“Deprivation of life shall not be regarded as inflicted in contravention of this article when it results from the use of force which is no more than absolutely necessary:

  • (a) in defence of any person from unlawful violence;
  • (b) in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent escape of a person lawfully detained;
  • (c) in action lawfully taken for the purpose of quelling a riot or insurrection.”

Human Dignity, as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and which constitutes a key concept in the human rights framework, can only be achieved through all rights set out in the various conventions and treaties. All human rights whether civil, political, economic, social or cultural, are inalienable. If we are denied of one right, for example our right to education, then this curtails our right to an adequate standard of living.