What Are Human Rights?

Human rights are about respect, dignity, equality, and security for everyone, everywhere, everyday.

Human rights are about relationships among and between individuals, groups and the State. They are about how we live together and inform us of our responsibilities to each other.

Human rights are about life, education, health, work, personal security, equal opportunity and fair treatment. They are also about our system of government.

Human rights start at home.

Human rights can be defined broadly as the basic standards without which people cannot live in dignity as human beings. Human rights are the foundation of freedom, equality, justice, well-being, and peace.

In Samoa, the Constitution 1960 guarantees to every Samoan certain fundamental human rights including the right to life, personal liberty, a fair trial, religious freedom, freedom of speech, freedom from inhumane treatment, freedom from forced labour, freedom of assembly and free association, freedom of movement and residence, individual rights regarding property, and freedom from discriminatory legislation. These legal guarantees protect individuals and groups against unlawful interference with their freedoms and dignity.

In the context of Samoa, examples of human rights include rights to the basic liberties of life such as water, housing, family life, and education. Human rights touch most aspects of Samoan life and as such the work carried out by ministries, the private sector and civil society, more often than not has a human rights dimension.

Human rights have a number of distinct characteristics. In particular, human rights are:

  • Universal: Human rights are universal, irrespective of our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or other status, and regardless of our country’s political, legal, economic, or cultural systems. We are all entitled to human rights without discrimination.
  • Inherent and inalienable: Every person is born with and has human rights, and those rights cannot be taken away, except in very specific situations and following due process. For example, the right to liberty may be restricted if a person is found guilty of a crime by a court of law.
  • Indivisible and Interdependent: There is no hierarchy among human rights. All human rights are equally important; the improvement of one right facilitates advancement of the others and the deprivation of one right adversely affects the others. For example, it is meaningless to talk about the right to take part in one’s country’s public affairs for a person who goes hungry; a child is equally unable to realise the right to education if he or she is not at the same time protected from violence.
  • Non-discrimination: The principle of non-discrimination applies to all human rights law. Non-discrimination applies to everyone in relation to all human rights and freedoms and it prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race, descent, language, political or opinion, colour, ethnicity, nationality, social origin, property, disability, age, marital status, birth or other status. The principle of non-discrimination is complemented by the principle of equality, as stated in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.

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 people. Drafted in the aftermath of World War Two, it has become a foundation document that has inspired many legally-binding international human rights laws.

The Samoan Government has agreed to uphold and respect some of these human rights treaties:

“International human rights law sets forth the core obligations of governments toward their people, prescribing the basic freedoms that governments must respect and the steps they must take to uphold public welfare.”

― Kenneth Roth (Human Rights Watch)

The NHRI has a responsibility to monitor Samoa’s performance in meeting its international human rights commitments. We provide advice and recommendations so that these standards are reflected in our national laws, as well as policies and programs developed by government. For more information on the role of the NHRI, see What We Do.

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

― Eleanor Roosevelt (Member of the UN Commission on Human Rights that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and champion of the Declaration)