What are Human Rights?

Human rights – what are they?

Human rights recognise the inherent value of each person, regardless of background, where we live, what we look like, what we think or what we believe.

Human rights are based on principles of dignity, equality and mutual respect, which are shared across cultures, religions and philosophies. They are about being treated fairly, treating others fairly and having the ability to make genuine choices in our daily lives.

Respect for human rights is the cornerstone of strong communities in which everyone can make a contribution and feel included.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations on 10 December 1948, sets out the basic rights and freedoms that apply to all people. Drafted in the aftermath of World War Two, it has become a foundation document that has inspired many legally-binding international human rights laws.

How do these rights affect our everyday lives?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights helps countries around the world make laws which are fair and equitable for everyone, no matter what. Human rights apply everyday  in Australia, no matter who you are, such as:

  • the right to clean drinking water
  • right to live in safety, free from harm
  • having enough food to eat
  • access to education
  • right to justice
  • medical care
  • right to a fair trial

There are many, many other examples of human rights. For instance, in Australia it is against the law to fire someone from their job because of their race, gender, religion or sexuality.  To do so, would be unlawful and an infringement of their human rights.

Are our rights ever threatened?

Unfortunately, yes. Around the world, and in Australia, there are people whose human rights are being violated.

A prominent Australian example would be the treatment of asylum seekers, some of whom are being held in detention centres indefinitely. It has been argued by lawyers, that by denying asylum seekers proper access to legal channels or even a release date, is a clear infringement of their human rights. 

What can you do to protect our human rights
  • Word yourself up: understand what human rights are, how they are implemented in our society, and where they are at risk. Knowledge is power!
  • Become connected: the Australian Human Rights Commission is an excellent place to start exploring human rights issues.
  • Talk about it: the best way you can begin to make an impact on a human rights issue is by talking it over with your friends, relatives and teachers. Spread the word about it, and see if there are opportunities for you to make a difference.
  • Get involved: find out what human rights organisations are operating near you and how you can support their work.