Human rights are “internationally agreed values, standards or rules regulating the conduct of states towards their citizens and towards non-citizens.” (Baehr, 1999).
Civil and political rights instruct states to refrain from specific actions (e.g. killing, torture). They protect citizens against unwarranted interference and abuse of power by the state; examples are rights to life, freedom of expression, assembly, and due process.
Social, economic and cultural rights impose obligations on the state to act in specific ways (e.g. provide equal access to health care). They are concerned with the welfare and well-being of human beings. They include the rights to work, an adequate standard of living, education, and the right to freely participate in the community’s cultural life. In developing countries, many people attribute great importance to socio-economic rights. In contrast, in more developed countries like in the West, individual liberty and civil and political rights are the most important ones.
Strictly speaking, only the state can violate human rights. This so since the State principally exist to protect people from political, legal and social abuses. Actions by non-state actors are formally referred to as abuses rather than violations, yet they have a state dimension in that they imply its failure to protect the rights of its citizens. Human rights are inherent, universal and inalienable, meaning that “everyone holds them by virtue of being human and cannot be given up or taken away.” (Thoms/Ron, 2007).