What are human rights?

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These rights are universal, interrelated, interdependent and indivisible. Everyone is entitled to these rights in equal measure, without discrimination.

Human rights entail both rights and obligations. States assume the duty to respect, protect and enforce human rights. They cannot simply restrict the enjoyment of human rights; they must protect individuals from possible violations and must proactively promote human rights. As individuals, we can enjoy our human rights, but we must also respect the human rights of others.

Universal human rights are expressed and guaranteed in the form of treaties, customary international law, general principles, and other sources of international law. To ensure the promotion and protection of human rights, States adopt human rights standards in international and regional forums. These standards include obligations of States to act in a certain way, or refrain from acting in a certain way, to promote and protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups.

At the global level, respect for human rights is enshrined in the United Nations Charter. Article 1 of the Charter states that the United Nations has as its objective "To achieve international co-operation [..] in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion".

The United Nations Charter attaches great importance to respect for human rights, but neither defines nor lists these rights. On 10 December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This Declaration is the fundamental international definition of the inalienable and inviolable rights of all members of the human race. As a recommendation of the General Assembly, the Declaration is not legally binding, but has become a reference document with considerable moral authority. The most important principles and standards enshrined in this basic text have since been codified in a series of binding international and regional treaties, from which it has been possible to further develop and refine human rights standards.

Some of these treaties have a general character, while others focus on specific rights or particular groups of persons. Most of them have since been supplemented with optional protocols, in which the obligations of States are further specified. International monitoring mechanisms to ensure respect for human rights are also often provided for. In addition, international control mechanisms have been developed to ensure compliance with these treaties and protocols.  These mechanisms, which are made up of independent experts, play a fundamental role in the promotion and protection of human rights at the national level. Belgium attaches great importance to their independence and efficient functioning and is committed to constructive dialogue and cooperation.

The standards drawn up at United Nations and Council of Europe level are closely related and complementary in content. Belgium is a proponent of this complementarity between the UN and the regional level and strives for more effective cooperation between both.