What are human rights?

Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that every person in the world should have. There are two main types of human rights – civil and political rights, and social, cultural and economic rights.

Civil and political rights

  • The right to life and liberty
  • Freedom of expression
  • Equality before the law
  • The right to be free from discrimination

Social, cultural and economic rights

  • The right to participate in culture
  • The right to work
  • The right to an adequate standard of living
  • The right to education

Where did they come from?

Human rights were set out for the first time in 1948, by the United Nations in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The declaration inspired a range of international and regional human rights treaties which continue to be developed to this day.  Many countries, including New Zealand, have also made the rights part of their own laws.

Human rights focus primarily on the relationship between a nation’s government and its citizens. The government is required to protect people’s rights. When you hear in the media about human rights abuses, often it is in the context of a government not protecting their rights. Others, such as businesses and local government are responsible for respecting people’s rights.

Learn more about international human rights legislation.

Human rights in New Zealand

New Zealand was one of the founding members of the United Nations. Led by Prime Minister Peter Fraser, we also played a key role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The rights became part of New Zealand law through the Bill of Rights Act in 1990. Human rights under the Act include:

  • The right to freedom of expression
  • The right to religious belief
  • The right to freedom of movement
  • The right to be free from discrimination

The Human Rights Act was introduced in 1993 with a focus on protecting New Zealanders against unlawful discrimination. The Human Rights Act is also the legislation that sets out the work of the Human Rights Commission.

Learn more about New Zealand human rights legislation.

How do they help me?

The Bill of Rights Act and Human Rights Act make law things that many of us probably take for granted. Such as the right to work, and the right to not be discriminated against because of our age, race or gender.

The Bill of Rights Act and Human Rights Act make law things that many of us probably take for granted. Such as the right to work, and the right to not be discriminated against because of our age, race or gender.

Everyone living in New Zealand is entitled to these rights. If you feel your human rights have been abused, you have the right to go to court.

If you feel you have been unlawfully discriminated against, you can make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission. If your complaint is not resolved you have the right to apply for free legal representation to take your case to the Human Rights Tribunal. You can do this through the Office of Human Rights Proceedings.

Learn more about how human rights work.