Substantive Human Rights

After introducing general aspects concerning human rights, the following part will deal with a number of substantive human rights in more detail. The question arises, which rights should be dealt with and in what order? A simple and transparent model was chosen, illustrating the interdependency and the interaction between human rights; stressing the indivisibility of substantive rights.

The traditional way of dealing with human rights would have meant discussing the civil and political rights, followed by a discussion on the economic, social and cultural rights. This kind of categorisation is problematic, however, as it suggests a hierarchy of human rights, placing civil and political rights over other human rights. Several attempts have been made in the past to come up with a simple and logical framework for human rights; the two best known are the liberté, egalité, fraternité slogan of the French revolution, and the four freedoms of President Roosevelt: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of belief, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

The human rights framework presented here is comprised of twelve groups of rights. The twelve rights are presented in a circular model (see below).

The circular model aims at illustrating the interdependency and non-hierarchical nature of the substantive rights. The right to cultural life, for example, cannot be enjoyed without the right to equality or the right to participation. Moreover, the right to property cannot be adequately protected if the rights to due process are not guaranteed. This interdependency of human rights is clearly demonstrated in the many individual complaints brought before international supervisory mechanisms referring not only to violation of one human right but to several, such as the right to fair trial and the right to non-discrimination.

The twelve rights included in the circular model are based on the rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The circle is made up of substantive rights essential for the protection of the individual. In defining these rights, care was taken to create a good balance between the various types of rights and the more closely related rights were grouped together.

Clearly, simplifying a complex interrelationship between rights is problematic. Instead of twelve rights, thirteen, fourteen or even forty rights could have been included. Nevertheless, the circular visualisation of the rights has the advantage of providing a better overview of how human rights interact. It underlines that human rights are interdependent and indivisible. The division is used here as an illustration and guidance in examining the rights discussed in the following chapter.


Each right is examined under two major topics: ‘standards’ and ‘supervision’. Under standards, the content of each right, as it has been recognised in the major human rights instruments at the universal and regional levels, is identified. Under supervision, we provide examples of the protection afforded to each of the rights in the case-law of the international supervisory bodies. In the case of some economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to adequate standard of living and the right to highest attainable standard of health, domestic case-law is also discussed. This is because only limited international case-law exists on certain aspects of these topics and discussion of landmark decisions at the domestic level may contribute to further promoting the justiciability of these rights.

  • The Right to Due Process
  • The Rights to Freedom of Expression and Religion
  • The Rights to Integrity
  • The Rights to Liberty
  • The Rights to Privacy and Family Life
  • The Rights to Property
  • The Right to an Adequate Standard of Living
  • The Right to Health
  • The Rights to Education and Culture
  • The Rights to Participate in Society
  • The Right to Equality and Non-Discrimination

Icelandic Human Rights Centre

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