Human rights restrictions

Most human rights can be restricted to protect important public interests or the rights of others. Restrictions on your rights must always be proportional and cannot go beyond what is absolutely necessary to protect those interests.

Every person enjoys human rights. These rights are based on the idea that all human beings are inherently valuable, and that they are born free and equal in their dignity and rights. 

Most basic rights such as the right to life, the right to liberty and security, freedom from torture, inhuman or degrading treatment and others are enjoyed by everyone regardless of their nationality, race, sexual orientation or other factors. 

Some rights are only afforded to specific people to give special protection for those in vulnerable situations. For example, human rights afford special protection to minorities, people with a disability, refugees, indigenous people, women, children and minors and other people. This does not mean that the rights of people outside of these groups are restricted just because some groups are given additional rights. It only means that some people require special protection to be able to enjoy life in society safely and on equal terms with everybody else.

Human rights restrictions

Most human rights can be restricted to protect other people or important interests of society. Although human rights are the most important and basic rights of a person, they may sometimes clash with the rights of other people or society more generally.

example Your freedom to take pictures and publish them may sometimes clash with other people’s right to privacy. Similarly, to protect society from harm, some people’s right to work as doctors may be restricted by a requirement to obtain special education and a licence.

Human rights may only be restricted where the law allows for such restrictions. Whenever human rights are restricted, there must be an effective remedy – a process before an independent body to challenge the restriction, to stop it or to receive compensation if your rights have already been violated.

Some human rights are absolute and can never be restricted. This means that the state can never breach these rights under any circumstances, even in a case of emergency. These rights are, for example, the prohibition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment or the prohibition of slavery.

About this Guide

This Guide explains what human rights can be restricted and what the legal requirements are for such restrictions to be lawful.

This Guide also explains the ways in which human rights can be restricted and the remedy that should be available to challenge such restrictions. It also provides information on the derogation from human rights that is allowed in times of emergency such as war, a terrorist threat or a pandemic.

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Last updated 16/08/2023