What are Human Rights?

Human rights are rights inherent in human beings and reflect the dignity and worth of every person. They apply equally without discrimination regardless of our nationality, place of residence, sex, sexual orientation, national or ethnic origin, birth, age, race, religion, language, or any other status. Human rights cover a broad range of rights, such as freedom from ill-treatment, the right to liberty, the freedoms of expression, thought, religion and assembly, the right to education and to an adequate standard of living. Human rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible. They are found both in the Irish Constitution and under international human rights treaties.

Human Rights in the Constitution

The Irish Constitution was adopted in 1937. It predates the birth of both the United Nations and the Council of Europe. It is strongly influenced by traditional liberal ideas, and a communitarian vision of society promoted by the Catholic Church in terms of social justice.

The term 'human rights' is not used in the Constitution. However, Articles 40 to 44 of the Constitution provide for 'Fundamental Rights'. The fundamental rights in the Constitution are, in effect, human rights principles by a different name.

European Convention on Human Rights

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is an international treaty to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in Europe. Through the European Convention on Human Rights Act, 2003, our Courts are now obliged to interpret Irish laws in a way that gives effect to Ireland's obligations under the ECHR. Organs of state (such as government ministers and state bodies) are also now obliged to act in compliance with the ECHR. The provisions of the ECHR do not directly come into Irish law by virtue of this legislation. Rather its provisions have only been partially or indirectly introduced in this jurisdiction.

The ECHR provides mainly for the protection of not only civil and political but also social and economic rights.

The European Court of Human Rights

The Convention established the European Court of Human Rights. Any person who feels his/her Convention rights have been violated by a member state can take a case to the Court. The Judgement of the Court are legally binding on the State Parties who must take measures to rectify the problem. The Court has the power to award damages/ compensation. The amounts awarded are usually small in comparison to Irish Court awards.

Certain criteria apply to applications to the European Court of Human Rights. Most importantly, you must first exhaust all domestic remedies available to you, such as through the Irish Courts.

Our Experts

Gus Cullen

Partner & Head of General Litigation

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