Tue. Sep 28th, 2021

Human Rights: A Basic Summary

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.

Background: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected and it has been translated into over 500 languages.

These are the provisions which apply to the right of expression, the right of assembly and protest and the right to participate in an elected government.

For the full declaration go to the United Nations website >>

Article 19.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20.
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
(2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21.
(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

European Convention of Human Rights: background

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) (formally the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) is an international convention to protect human rights and political freedoms in Europe after WWII. Drafted in 1950 by the then newly formed Council of Europe, the convention entered into force on 3 September 1953. All member states of the Council of Europe are party to the Convention and new members are expected to ratify the convention at the earliest opportunity.

Not only are we a signatory to this convention, we helped to set it up. It has nothing to do with the European Court of Justice. It has nothing to do with the EU.

The Convention established the European Court of Human Rights(also referred to by the same initials as the convention, ECHR). Any person who feels their rights have been violated under the Convention by a state party can take a case to the Court. Judgments finding violations are binding on the States concerned and they are obliged to execute them. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe monitors the execution of judgements, particularly to ensure payment of the amounts awarded by the Court to the applicants in compensation for the damage they have sustained.

European Convention of Human Rights: Articles 10 and 11.

ARTICLE 10 Freedom of expression

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

ARTICLE 11 Freedom of assembly and association

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

2. No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This Article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State

Provisions of the UK Human Rights Act, derived from the European Convention of Human Rights, and currently due for revision by this parliament:

Article 10 protects your right to hold your own opinions

Article 10 protects your right to hold your own opinions and to express them freely without government interference.

This includes the right to express your views aloud (for example through public protest and demonstrations) or through:

  • published articles, books or leaflets
  • television or radio broadcasting
  • works of art
  • the internet and social media

The law also protects your freedom to receive information from other people by, for example, being part of an audience or reading a magazine.

Are there any restrictions to this right?

Although you have freedom of expression, you also have a duty to behave responsibly and to respect other people’s rights.

Public authorities may restrict this right if they can show that their action is lawful, necessary and proportionate in order to:

  • protect national security, territorial integrity (the borders of the state) or public safety
  • prevent disorder or crime
  • protect health or morals
  • protect the rights and reputations of other people
  • prevent the disclosure of information received in confidence
  • maintain the authority and impartiality of judges

An authority may be allowed to restrict your freedom of expression if, for example, you express views that encourage racial or religious hatred.

However, the relevant public authority must show that the restriction is ‘proportionate’, in other words that it is appropriate and no more than necessary to address the issue concerned.  

Using this right

This right is particularly important for journalists and other people working in the media.

They must be free to criticise the government and our public institutions without fear of prosecution – this is a vital feature of a democratic society.

But that doesn’t prevent the state from imposing restrictions on the media in order to protect other human rights, such as a person’s right to respect for their private life.

Article 11 protects your right to protest by holding meetings and demonstrations with other people

You also have the right to form and be part of a trade union, a political party or any another association or voluntary group. Nobody has the right to force you to join a protest, trade union, political party or another association.

Are there any restrictions to this right?

There are some situations where a public authority can restrict your rights to freedom of assembly and association.

This is only the case where the authority can show that its action is lawful, necessary and proportionate in order to:

  • protect national security or public safety
  • prevent disorder or crime
  • protect health or morals, or
  • protect the rights and freedoms of other people.

Action is ‘proportionate’ when it is appropriate and no more than necessary to address the issue concerned.  

You may face a wider range of restrictions if you work for the armed forces, the police or the Civil Service.

What remedy do I have if I believe these human rights are being breached?

ARTICLE 13: Right to an effective remedy

Everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in this Convention are violated shall have an effective remedy before a national authority notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.

ARTICLE 14: Prohibition of discrimination

The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status