Understanding Human Rights

What are Human Rights?

We need human rights in order to live life in freedom and dignity and to have our basic needs met. Human Rights are the fundamental building blocks for building a life of well-being.

65 years ago, the world joined together in recognizing that all peoples, in all nations, were free and equal regardless of race, religion, economic status, age and gender. Through the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the United Nations brought into force  the first international document recognizing human rights as a basis for peace, justice and freedom.

The Universal Declaration is in essence a formula which outlines 30 articles essential to enabling all human beings the ability to achieve their full potential and to live a life free of fear and want. It was a unique, new approach that developed from the world saying ‘never again’ to the horrific events of World War II.

The Declaration has become the heart of international law which has lead to the development of a rich body of human rights instruments and treaties around the world, both domestically and internationally. There are more than 80 international treaties that build upon the basic tenets set out in the Universal Declaration. In Canada, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms represents our country’s approach to implementing the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration.

What makes the declaration important, and continually relevant today, is that this was the first international document that was developed and embraced by people from all regions of the world with all countries officially ratifying it. Lead and principally drafted by Canadian lawyer John Peters Humphrey, this document overcomes barriers of culture and difference.

The Universal Declaration is the basic standard for what all governments must do to guarantee human rights, including:

Civil and Political Rights:

Right to freedom from discrimination
Right to life
Right to free speech and belief
Right to assembly and association
Right to due process of law
Right to participate in government and in free elections
Right to freedom from torture

Economic, Social and Cultural Rights:

Right to health
Right to food
Right to water
Right to housing
Right to work
Right to education
Right to social security
Right to participate in cultural life

Basic Human Rights Principles:

Basic Human Rights Principles

There are certain human rights principles that apply to all human rights:

Universal: Human rights apply to all people in the world.

Indivisible: Human rights are connected, one human right cannot be fulfilled without the others.

Inalienable: Human rights cannot be taken away, from anyone. They belong to all of humanity.

Natural: Human Rights must be independent of politics, law and other institutions.

Obligation: States or governments, as well as individuals on their own, have an obligation to actively promote and protect these rights.

Non-discrimination: All human rights must be guaranteed without discrimination on the basis of race, gender, language, class, belief, nationality or other status.  Human rights prohibit both laws and practices that intentionally cause discrimination, as well as those with a discriminatory impact.

Participation: Everyone has the right to participate in fulfilling their human rights, including participation in all aspects of public administration and the development and implementation of policies.