Human rights come from their foundation document - the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. You can also read this in English and Gaelic. The United Nations has led the way since then in developing human rights, although the European regional system has also developed over the same time and is a source of a lot of rights, good practice and policy.

Human rights include "civil and political" rights, such as:

  • Freedom of expression
  • Freedom of religion or conscience
  • Freedom of assembly
  • The right to a fair trial
  • The right to privacy
  • The right to vote

Human rights also include "economic, social and cultural" rights, such as:

  • The right an adequate standard of living
  • The right to adequate food, housing, sanitation and water
  • The right to education
  • Rights at work

The UN Human Rights Framework

The member states of the United Nations draft human rights treaties known as Conventions. This means states voluntarily make their own international obligations. Once a Convention is drafted it is then up to the states to ratify it within their own system. This means that they are required to comply with the treaty Articles.

The Articles contained within the Conventions set the international standard, while leaving individual states to implement the standards according to their own legal and policy processes.

Some states incorporate the Conventions into their legal systems.

So far, the UK, has incorporated one international Convention into its legal systems - the European Convention of Human Rights, through the Human Rights Act 1998.

UN Human Rights Treaties

These are the nine core human rights treaties developed by the UN. The UK has ratified the first seven.

The United Kingdom is reviewed regularly for its compliance with most of these treaties by UN Committees of special experts.

Every four to five years, the United Kingdom is subject to Universal Periodic Review (UPR). This process means the UK's compliance with all treaties is reviewed by other countries based on international human rights standards. This happens at the UN Human Rights Council based in Geneva.

Find out more about the Commission's treaty monitoring work.

European Human Rights System

The European Convention on Human Rights has direct effect in the UK through the Human Rights Act. It also has its own court, the European Court of Human Rights. People across Europe can bring cases to this court once they have been through all the court systems in their own countries if they believe their rights have been violated.

If you have taken a case through the domestic courts and still believe your human rights have not been upheld, then you can consider exercising your right to apply to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to hear your case. Read guidance on taking a case to the court.

Human Rights Act 1998

This UK law gives direct legal effect to the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights. This means human rights arguments can be heard in courts and also places a duty on public bodies to act in compliance with human rights at all times.