How Do We Define Our Different Kinds Of Human Rights?

Human rights are the fundamental protections and conditions that everyone deserves. It has taken some time for people to agree on exactly what they should be. Over the years we have identified more and more human rights. They fall into 3 main categories which are used today in human rights law. These categories show us how different rights can demand different things from states and can provide different protections for people.


Many of the first human rights recognised under international law were civil rights, usually concerning basic freedoms and political rights. Examples of these rights include the right to life, freedom of speech or the right to a fair trial.

These rights are often referred to as ‘negative rights’, meaning that they protect people from unnecessary interference. They are about preventing harmful actions rather than encouraging positive ones. This can mean protecting people’s’ property and person from harm and theft, or insuring that governments cannot act against their people.


These emerged after World War II as some governments started recognising more rights by including them in the UN Declaration (the United Nations’ agreement on human rights). These rights are all about promoting equality in society. They include things like the right to a job, food or housing.

This set of human rights was new because it required ‘positive’ action by governments. Things like safe drinking water and a good supply of food are something states have a responsibility to provide for their citizens because of these rights.


Solidarity (or minority) rights are the final generation of human rights that have been recognised in international agreements. They protect groups of people and sometimes even whole nations.  Also, they focus on protecting freedom, independence and equal opportunities of groups. They are seen as particularly important to areas that were once colonies (part of an empire) or ruled by another group. This is because they includes things like the right to self-determination (choosing your own government) or the right to peace.

Something unusual about these rights early on was that, for the first time, they applied to a group of people rather than individuals. This is why they are also used to protect minority groups. These may be groups of people who are especially vulnerable in society, like women, children or disabled people. Special human rights have been introduced to protect many of these groups, making sure governments are acting to protect these people and that they have access to the same rights as everyone else.



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