Human rights

Human rights

What are human rights?

"Poverty eradication without empowerment is unsustainable. Social integration without minority rights is unimaginable. Gender equality without women's rights is illusory. Full employment without workers' rights may be no more than a promise of sweatshops, exploitation and slavery. The logic of human rights in development is inescapable." - Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

The concept of human rights is well entrenched in international law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that the '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' (Weiss 1990, p. 9).

Adopted by the United Nations in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) outlines the rights of all people. The rights stated in the declaration can be grouped as:

  • civil and political rights - rights that protect individual freedoms and participation in the decision-making processes of the community and those that relate to freedom of thought, opinion and religion (see Articles 2-21)
  • economic, social and cultural rights - rights that achieve a minimum standard of living (food, health care) and which ensure a share in a country's economic welfare (employment, education) (see Articles 22- 27).

Human rights are considered universal, indivisible and fundamental for development and democracy. All people must have access to all rights in order for the world to be a safe and secure place.


Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Robinson, M. A Voice for Human Rights.  Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, p. 128.

Key questions for this area

If you are teaching or studying human rights, or are looking to add content to your unit, the following are some key questions you should be able to answer and/or consider:

  • Economic viability, sustainable development and human rights (e.g. in the form of labour conditions, income) are often at odds. How can these be addressed in a balanced way?
  • How can we address the emerging issue of environmental asylum seekers?

If you are interested in finding out more about this topic, check out our resources for inspiration.

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