Defining human rights
October 12, 2021
Defining human rights

“What are human rights?”, “Who do they belong to?”, and “Where did they come from?”, are just a few questions that one may ask, when they hear the phrase, “Human rights”.

According to The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner, “Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status”.

From the above definition, we can see that human rights belong to everyone and not just to a select chosen few. We can also see that human rights are inherent to everyone, meaning, they exist as a natural, essential and permanent characteristic of all human beings.

Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of expression, the right to work and education, and many more.

Human rights are universal, inalienable, indivisible, independent and interrelated. However, what does this mean?

Human rights are universal because every human being has them, every human being is born with them. Additionally, human rights are inalienable, which means that they should not be taken away, except in specific situations and according to due process. Moreover, human rights are indivisible. This means that one right cannot be separated from another right and no one right is more important than another. Furthermore, human rights are interdependent and interrelated, meaning, the improvement of one right facilitates advancement of other rights. Likewise, the deprivation of one right adversely affects other rights. When one right is affected, it has a domino effect on other rights.

Apart from individuals respecting the rights of others, the state also has a duty and an obligation to respect human rights, to protect human rights, and to fulfill human rights.

According to The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner, “States assume obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect and to fulfil human rights. The obligation to respect means that States must refrain from interfering with or curtailing the enjoyment of human rights. The obligation to protect requires States to protect individuals and groups against human rights abuses. The obligation to fulfil means that States must take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of basic human rights.”

The state should therefore not be a silent actor when it comes to human rights issues. Nor should the state deflect from its obligations and duties under international law by putting the burden of dealing with human rights issues only on other individuals or organizations.

The state should be actively involved in helping individuals, groups and societal institutions to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights.

Today, I encourage us to get to know more about our human rights and to respect the human rights of others.

Author: Jeshua Bardoo is a Vincentian Barrister-at-law and Solicitor. He is also the President of Equal Rights, Access and Opportunities SVG Inc. He can be contacted via email at