What human rights are protected?

Contributed by LorraineFinlay and current to 27 July 2018

The international community has agreed to protect certain human rights that are outlined in a number of international human rights treaties. The rights that are protected include core civil and political rights (such as the right to life, right to a fair trial, freedom of speech and freedom of religion) as well as economic, social and cultural rights (such as the right to work, the right to education and the right to take part in cultural life).

These human rights are considered to be universal and inalienable. That is, they apply to every individual equally simply by virtue of the fact that they are a human being, and they apply regardless of your race, gender, religion or age. While countries are able to lawfully limit many of these rights, this can only be done in certain circumstances that are outlined out in the treaties themselves.

Australia is a signatory to seven of the core international human rights treaties, namely the:
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  • International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
  • Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
However, Australia adopts a dualist approach to international law, which means that it draws a distinction between national and international laws. When Australia ratifies an international human rights treaty this means that it has agreed to recognise those rights only at an international level. These rights will not be protected at the domestic level unless Australia specifically enacts domestic laws through the Australian Parliament recognising the particular rights. This may mean that there is a difference between the human rights that are directly protected under Australian law, and the human rights that Australia has agreed to recognise and protect at the international level.

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