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What are human rights?

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world. In the UK human rights are protected by the Human Rights Act 1998.

Read this page to find out more about human rights.  

What are human rights?

Human rights are based on important principles like dignity, fairness, respect and equality. They protect you in your everyday life regardless of who you are, where you live and how you chose to live your life.

Examples of human rights include:

  • the right to life
  • the right to respect for private and family life
  • the right to freedom of religion and belief.

The European Convention on Human Rights protects the human rights of people in countries that belong to the Council of Europe. This includes the UK. The Council of Europe is different from the European Union.

How are your human rights protected in the UK?

In the UK, human rights are protected by the Human Rights Act 1998. The Act gives effect to the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. These rights are called Convention rights.

If your Convention or human rights have been breached, you can take action under the Human Rights Act in the UK courts. Sometimes you can also take your case to the European Court of Human Rights.

What’s the European Court of Human Rights?

The European Court of Human Rights is the court of the Council of Europe. It’s based in Strasbourg, in France. The court ensures the countries of the Council of Europe, like the UK, respect the European Convention on Human Rights. If your human rights have been breached and you’ve not been able to get a remedy in the UK, you may be able to take your case to the Strasbourg court.  

When can you take a case to the European Court of Human Rights?

You can take a case to the European Court of Human Rights if you've not been able to get a remedy in the UK or you've taken your case as far as possible in the UK courts.

This is the case - for example if:

  • leave for judicial review has been refused - this means you've been refused the right to apply for judicial review
  • you've been refused the right to appeal to the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court
  • a final appeal has taken place.

You can also take a case to the European Court of Human Rights if a UK court has made a declaration of incompatibility in relation to a law but Parliament has decided not to amend it.

You can find more information on how to take a case to the European court of Human Rights on Liberty's Your rights website at

What’s the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

You can find human rights in many different places. In addition to the European Convention on Human Rights, there are many international documents or instruments which apply all over the world, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations after the Second World War.

Although it's a very important document, the Declaration is not legally binding in the UK or other countries. This means they don’t have to follow it and you can’t rely on it in the courts. But the rights and freedoms included in the Declaration were used to create other binding documents like the European Convention on Human Rights.

You can see a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at www.un.org

Next steps

The Human Rights Act 1998

Other useful information

Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission

You can find information about human rights on the website of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission at

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