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 under International / human rights treaties on our Case law page.