What is the Difference between Civil and Human Rights?

Civil rights are political rights. They have to do with the government and citizenship; the relationship between the State and its people. Some countries have more civil rights than others. For example, in democratic countries, a lot of importance is given to civil rights, and a lot of effort goes into making sure there are fair and regular elections so that people have the right to choose their government.
Civil rights are focused on protecting the freedom of the population from interference by the state, and allowing them to be active in the political life of the country. Some examples of civil rights include:

  • freedom to vote
  • freedom of thought and political expression
  • freedom from discrimination (that is, being treated unfairly because of one’s gender, or race, or religion)
  • freedom to form groups (known as ‘freedom of assembly’)
  • free of the press (so that newspapers and television stations aren’t controlled by the government)

Civil rights are important because they recognise that the government can be very powerful, and they make sure that people always have the right to choose how they want to be treated by the State, or to be able to disagree with things the government is doing if they believe them to be wrong.

Human rights, on the other hand, are common to all people. They include the right to life, and are considered to be the basis of a safe existence. They are generally protected by international law. Human rights are based on moral ideas about what all human beings everywhere deserve, regardless of where they live and what kind of government rules them.
The idea of human rights is more complicated because different people disagree about what they should include. Some people think there should be less human rights and that they should be limited to things like freedom from slavery and freedom from torture. On the other hand, some people think that human rights should include things like the right to education and the right to a fair trial.

The most important document about human rights is the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which was written in 1948, after the Second World War, when a group of important world leaders got together to try and make sure such a terrible war never happened again. It is not a legal document in the sense that the written laws of a country are, but it is more a statement about the sorts of aims that those leaders thought should guide them. The first ‘article’ of the declaration says that

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

There are 30 sections in the Declaration, including the right to life, the right to privacy, the right to freedom of movement and a safe place to live. It also says that people should not be tortured, discriminated against, or have their human rights taken away from them.



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