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What are Human Rights?

Our human rights are the basic things we need in order to live with dignity, develop and reach our potential, such as food, housing and health care and the right to express ourselves, hold religious beliefs, and be free from violence and abuse.

We all have these rights no matter who we are, what we are like, or what we do. Nobody has to earn their human rights. We are entitled to our rights simply because we are human.

Some rights have limits built into them. For example, the right to liberty can be lost if you commit crime. Some rights are qualified, meaning that we cannot exercise these rights if we would breach other people's rights by doing so. The state can limit these qualified rights if it has a good reason for doing so – such as protecting the safety of others. Others, like the right not to be tortured, are absolute – the state must never breach these rights.

We all rely on our human rights all of the time – mostly without knowing it. It is only when someone violates our rights that we realise how much we need them.

The idea of human rights has been around for a very long time, but they were set out in international treaties – agreements between governments – following the Second World War, when everyone agreed that the terrible things that happened during the holocaust should never be allowed to happen again.

States, or governments, are responsible for ensuring that people have their human rights in practice. This means that public bodies shouldn’t do anything to breach your human rights. It also means that the Government must ensure that laws prevent other people from breaching your rights, and should protect you if they know that someone is threatening to breach your rights.