Human rights are rights and freedoms granted to all humans based on principles of fairness, dignity, justice, respect, and equality.  These rights are universal and the same for all.  Human rights encompass the right to food, shelter, freedom from slavery, equal protection of the law, ownership of property, and education, among others.  The concept of human rights may also be applied to other realms, including migrant rights and workers’ rights, such as those covered by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

Human rights serve as moral imperatives that guide individual and group behaviors.  Because of their universality, they can be a powerful framework for international and U.S.-focused struggles for equality and justice.

In 1948, the United Nations established the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has become a standard for promoting and defending these rights.  Under this declaration, nations have a duty to promote and protect the human rights of their citizens.  Human Rights Day is celebrated every year on December 10th to recognize date this declaration was adopted.

Several institutions and non-governmental organizations monitor human rights abuses, including The United Nations Human Rights Council and Special Procedures, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), among others.  However, human rights are generally enforceable only to the extent that nations incorporate these tenets into their laws or adhere to covenants that create special international courts.  While some supranational human rights courts have regional enforcement jurisdiction (the Inter-American Court, the African Court for Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the European Court of Human Rights, for example), their powers and effectiveness vary.

Primers and additional resources

Universal Declaration of Human Rights– United Nations document that covers the rights that belong equally to all people

Something Inside So Strong– A resource guide on human rights in the United States distributed by the U.S. Human Rights Network

The Electronic Resource Centre for Human Rights Education – an online repository of human rights education and training materials, online forums, databases and links

United Nations Human Rights website – provides resources and information related a variety of human rights issues

Ideas for Human Rights Education – publication that documents innovative ideas and good practices in human rights education

International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families – document on the rights of migrants that was adopted in 1990

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