What are Human Rights?

Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world.

Ideas about human rights have evolved over many centuries. But they achieved strong international support following the Holocaust and World War II. To protect future generations from a repeat of these horrors, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. For the first time, the Universal Declaration set out the fundamental rights and freedoms shared by all human beings.

These rights and freedoms – based on core principles like dignity, equality and respect – inspired a range of international and regional human rights treaties. For example, they formed the basis for the European Convention on Human Rights in 1950. The European Convention protects the human rights of people in countries that belong to the Council of Europe. This includes the United Kingdom.

Until recently, people in the United Kingdom had to complain to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if they felt their rights under the European Convention had been breached. However, the Human Rights Act 1998 made these human rights part of our domestic law, and now courts here in the United Kingdom can hear human rights cases. Find out more about how human rights work.

How do Human Rights work?

The Human Rights Act 1998 sets out the rights in the UK which are protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Act did not invent human rights for British people. Instead, it introduced into our domestic law some of the rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international documents.

More specifically, it gave greater effect within the UK to the rights and freedoms protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, a treaty which British lawyers helped to draft.

So the Act meant that these basic rights and freedoms are now more easily protected within the UK.

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