Human rights are the basic entitlements that belong to each and every one of us, regardless of our background, where we live, what we look like, what we think or what we believe.
Based on the principles of dignity, equality and mutual respect, they have been agreed upon by governments from all around the world.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations on 10 December 1948, sets out the basic rights and freedoms that apply to all men, women and children.
It has become the most important document of its kind and although not legally-binding itself, forms the basis of many legally-binding international agreements.
These includes two major international agreements: one on civil and political rights, such as freedom of speech and freedom from torture, and one on economic,social and cultural rights, such as the right to health and the right to education.
International human rights laws protect people from racial discrimination, from torture and from enforced disappearances. They also recognise the rights of specific groups of people, including women, children, people with disability, indigenous peoples and migrant workers.
Some of these treaties are complemented by optional protocols that deal with specific issues or allow people to make complaints.
The Australian Government has agreed to uphold many of these fundamental human rights. These commitments are reflected in our national laws, as well as government policies and programs. They are not automatically enforceable through the Australian courts.
Australia is a party to the seven major human rights treaties:
- The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
- The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
- Convention on the Rights of the Child
- The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
- Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
For more information on these international human rights standards and how they work, visit the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
For information on Australia’s reports under these treaties, see the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Some useful websites for conducting further research on international human rights law are set out below (this is only a sample of what is available):
Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM) Documentation. A collection of databases including full text searching of UN Human Rights Committee views and general comments.
University of Minnesota Human Rights Library. The Library houses a large collection of human rights documents and provides links to a wide range of human rights sites.
Bayefsky. A useful database with materials associated with the UN treaty system
WorldLII. The World Legal Information Institute contains legislation and cases from a large number of countries.
BAILII. British and Irish case law and legislation, European Union case law, Law Commission reports and other law-related British and Irish material.
European Court of Human Rights. Case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, the European Commission on Human Rights and the Committee of Ministers. The judgments, decisions, resolutions and reports of these bodies are held in a database.
African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Commission is charged with three major functions: the protection of human and peoples’ rights; the promotion of human and peoples’ rights; and the interpretation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights is an autonomous judicial institution whose purpose is the application and interpretation of the American Convention on Human Rights.
Interrights. The International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights aims to enforce human rights through law; to strengthen human rights jurisprudence and mechanisms through the use of international and comparative law; and to empower legal partners and promote their effective use of law to protect human rights. Searchable database of Commonwealth international and human rights law and jurisprudence.