What are human rights?

What are human rights?

Human rights are rights that are believed to belong justifiably to every person, they are inherent to all human beings, whatever their nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. Make sure you know yours!


How it all started

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations (UN) on 10 December 1948. Henceforth 10 December would be celebrated as International Human Rights Day and 7 to 13 December as Human Rights Week. Both would be used to promote awareness of human rights issues around the world and also to highlight the efforts of the UN to improve global human rights conditions. This saw the start of a new era in which human rights issues were campaigned, highlighted and extended to many people in many different countries.


Know your human rights

All humans are equally entitled to their human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.

According to the United Nations (UN), the following can be said about human rights:

    • They are inherent to all human beings
    • These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible; that is, the one affects the other
    • They are often expressed and guaranteed by law
    • They are universal; they apply to all people
    • They are inalienable; no one can take them away from you except under specific circumstances (eg when put in jail after committing a crime)
    • They are equal and non-discriminatory; that is, they apply equally to all people
    • They entail both rights and obligations.


Examples of human rights


There are many human rights issues, but these are some examples:

    • Life, liberty and security of person
    • Freedom from slavery and servitude
    • Freedom from torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
    • Equality before the law (isonomia)
    • Not being subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile
    • Freedom of movement and residence
    • Nationality
    • The right to marriage and to found a family
    • Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
    • Peaceful assembly and association
    • Work
    • Health
    • Education.


South Africa’s own Human Rights Day was officially declared a public holiday in 1994 following the inauguration of former president Nelson Mandela. It is celebrated on 21 March and offers an opportunity to celebrate South Africa’s unique constitution that offers equal rights to all; and to also remember our past and celebrate our future.


Human Rights Week 2013. Retrieved from: http://www.humanrightsweek.com/index.php/about-human-rights-week-2013
Annual Human Rights Day Forum 2014. Retrieved from: http://fhrf.org/fhrf/2014-forum/


(Revised by M van Os)