Preventing human rights violations (2023)

The goal that every human being should have full enjoyment of their human rights implies that nobody should suffer violations of those rights. The prevention of human rights violations is therefore a key part of the United Nations’ efforts to protect and promote human rights for all.

The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action says that “the international community should devise ways and means to remove the current obstacles and meet challenges to the full realization of all human rights and to prevent the continuation of human rights violations resulting therefrom throughout the world”. This objective is set into OHCHR’s core mandate in General Assembly resolution 48/141.

Similarly, the mandate of the Human Rights Council includes to “contribute, through dialogue and cooperation, towards the prevention of human rights violations and respond promptly to human rights emergencies” (A/RES/60/251, para. 5 (f)).

The contribution of the Human Rights Council to preventing human rights violations

The Human Rights Council has highlighted the importance of prevention since its creation in 2006 through regular resolutions on “the role of prevention in the promotion and protection of human rights” (see below). In 2014, the Council mandated OHCHR to produce a study on the prevention of human rights violations and its practical implementation, following a process of consultations and seminars.

The Human Rights Council has in recent years been looking at ways to strengthen its contribution to the prevention of human rights violations. In 2018, it adopted resolution 38/18, which mandated three rapporteurs “to present… proposals on how the Council could effectively contribute in the future to the prevention of human rights violations”. The rapporteurs organized a series of intersessional seminars and other meetings in Geneva and New York. Their subsequent report formed the basis for resolution 45/31, which makes a general call for “all mechanisms of the Human Rights Council to integrate prevention into their work and, where appropriate, into their reporting, in accordance with their respective mandates” and puts in place some concrete measures to strengthen the Council’s prevention work, in conjunction with OHCHR. This work is ongoing.

Human rights mechanisms, including the Human Rights Council’s special procedures and its Universal Periodic Review as well as the treaty bodies can serve to provide early warning of human rights violations and support prevention work. Some mechanisms have adopted specific prevention approaches to their mandates. For example, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has developed early warning and urgent action procedures aimed at preventing violations of the Convention. The Commission of Inquiry on Burundi has adopted a preventive approach to its work, seeking “to determine whether there are any risk factors pointing to a possible deterioration in the human rights situation […] in keeping with the principles of early warning and prevention.” (A/HRC/42/49)

How to prevent human rights violations

The United Nations human rights system – the treaties, bodies and mechanisms that have been created over the years to promote human rights – aims wherever possible to prevent human rights violations from occurring in the first place or, when violations do occur, to address their causes so that they do not reoccur in the future. The system is based on three interdependent components that form the core of the United Nations’ approach to human rights:

  1. Norms or standards: International human rights standards, in the form of international treaties and other legal instruments, which set out the minimum standards that each State should aim for in terms of human rights protection;
  2. Monitoring and reporting: the impartial gathering of verifiable information to assess the situation on the ground, ascertain whether the minimum standards are being met or measure progress in realizing human rights for all; and
  3. Technical cooperation: designing solutions to address the issues and concerns identified through human rights monitoring and put in place measures to ensure that human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.

All three components help States to ensure that human rights violations do not occur or, when they do, that they are halted, and future violations cannot reoccur.

Monitoring and reporting are central to early warning which is a key part of effective prevention. OHCHR has been developing its early warning capacities to ensure that human rights information and analysis informs early warning, planning and preparedness across the United Nations system. Read more about OHCHR’s work on early warning.

The human rights system has created targeted mechanisms and approaches to prevention specific violations of human rights. Perhaps the most sophisticated example is the Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture (OPCAT), which requires States parties to take measures to prevention torture and other ill-treatment through the creation of a National Preventive Mechanism and by allowing the Sub-Committee on Prevention of Torture to access to places of detention. A notable feature of the preventive approach promoted by OPCAT is the “confidential report”, which creates space in which to address concerns away from the immediate glare of publicity.

Accountability is a key tool in helping to prevent new violations of human rights from occurring. If the perpetrators of human rights violations get away with impunity, they will not fear to commit violations again in the future – and others will be encouraged to commit similar violations themselves.

The right to remedy contains the concept of guarantees of non-repetition or non-recurrence which contributes to the prevention of human rights violations. The Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation lists a range of suggested measures that have preventive effect, including:

  • ensuring civilian control of military and security forces;
  • ensuring due process, fairness and impartiality in legal proceedings;
  • strengthening judicial independence;
  • protecting legal, medical and healthcare professionals, journalists, and human rights defenders;
  • human rights education; codes of conduct and ethical norms for public servants and business;
  • promoting mechanisms for preventing and monitoring social conflicts and their resolution; and
  • reviewing and reforming laws contributing to violations.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence includes working to “prevent the recurrence of crises and future violations of human rights”. In 2018, the Special Rapporteur issued a report looking specifically at the issue of prevention and proposing a framework approach to prevention. In the same year, the mandate-holder also undertook a joint study with the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide on the contribution of transitional justice to the prevention of gross violations and abuses of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law.

The concept of human rights due diligence has also proved to be a powerful tool in preventing human rights violations. For example, the United Nations Due Diligence Policy on United Nations support to non-UN security forces works by ensuring that the United Nations does not work with those responsible for human rights violations and support from the United Nations does not contribute to or increase the risk of human rights violations through the implementation of mitigation measures.

The prevention role of National Human Rights Institutions

In the same way that prevention forms a core part of human rights protection and promotion at the international level, national human rights institutions (NHRIs) play an important role in preventing human rights violations domestically as part of their mandate to promote and protect human rights. Some NHRIs have specific prevention mandates, such as the national preventive mechanisms established under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. But all NHRIs have a role in general efforts to prevent human rights violations from occurring or reoccurring within their jurisdiction. Their special character as a bridge between government and civil society can be especially important in prevention efforts by opening the space to address underlying structural causes of violations. Read more about NHRIs.

Human rights and the prevention of genocide and atrocity crimes

Human rights violations, especially when widespread and systematic, can be the precursors for ever more serious escalations in which atrocity crimes and genocide can take place. The prevention mandate of the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide complements that of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and OHCHR works closely with the Office on Genocide Prevention and Responsibility to Protect.

The Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes includes amongst the requirements for atrocity crime prevention “ensuring that the rule of law is respected and that all human rights are protected, without discrimination”. It includes, amongst the risk factors to watch, a record of “past or current serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, […] that have not been prevented, punished or adequately addressed and, as a result, create a risk of further violations.”

The Human Rights Council regularly interacts with the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide at its regular sessions and adopts resolutions on prevention of genocide.


  • OHCHR Study on the role of prevention in the promotion and protection of human rights (A/HRC/43/37)

Related documents

  • Preventing Torture: The role of national prevention mechanisms. A practical guide. (OHCHR Professional Training Series No. 21)


Preventing human rights violations? ›

Abductions, arbitrary arrests, detentions without trial, political executions, assassinations, and torture often follow. In cases where extreme violations of human rights have occurred, reconciliation and peacebuilding become much more difficult.

What are the ways of protecting human rights? ›

How To Promote Human Rights: 10 Examples
  • Research human rights issues. ...
  • Donate to good organizations. ...
  • Change your shopping habits. ...
  • Connect to human rights movements. ...
  • Vote in every election. ...
  • Put pressure on those responsible for upholding human rights. ...
  • Protest inequalities. ...
  • Support mothers and parents.

What are the top 5 common human rights violations? ›

Abductions, arbitrary arrests, detentions without trial, political executions, assassinations, and torture often follow. In cases where extreme violations of human rights have occurred, reconciliation and peacebuilding become much more difficult.

What are 3 factors that lead to human rights violations? ›

  • Poor socio-economic conditions. Social and political exclusion.
  • Conflict relating to changing power dynamics. Gender-based discrimination and violence.
  • The presence of non-state armed actors. The presence of organized crime.
  • Grievances relating to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. ...
  • Environmental hazards.

What are the 5 basic human rights? ›

Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.

Why should human rights be protected? ›

Human rights speak to every person on the planet: your life is equally valued, recognised and must be defended. Without rights, there would be no lasting peace, justice for the oppressed, or hope for a better, fairer and more prosperous world. Human rights are the basis of our shared humanity.

What are the most important rights to protect? ›

The First and Second Amendments. The First Amendment is widely considered to be the most important part of the Bill of Rights. It protects the fundamental rights of conscience—the freedom to believe and express different ideas—in a variety of ways.

What is the biggest human rights violation? ›

Discriminating at work based on traits like race, gender, and sexual orientation (The right to work) Failing to provide maternity leave (protection of and assistance to the family) Not paying a sufficient minimum wage (rights at work) Segregating students based on disabilities (the right to education)

Which human right is violated the most? ›

Right to equality most violated human right - Human Rights Commission.

What is the main cause of human rights violations? ›

Armed Conflict; (C) Economic Factors; and (D) Psychological Factors.

What are some major threats to human rights? ›

10 Human Rights Issues Of The Future
  • Human trafficking. Human trafficking is growing around the world. ...
  • Refugee crises. ...
  • Worker rights. ...
  • Gender equality. ...
  • LGBTQ+ rights. ...
  • Human rights and technology. ...
  • Nationalism. ...
  • Attacks on journalists and the spread of misinformation.

What are the six factors that hinder human rights? ›

  • Economic factors.
  • Social factors.
  • Political factors. Level of education. National security.
Dec 28, 2020

What are the three most basic human rights? ›

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

What are the 7 basic principles of human rights? ›

these are the rights to life, to freedom from torture, to freedom from enslavement or servitude, to protection from imprisonment for debt, to freedom from retroactive penal laws, to recognition as a person before the law, and to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Who is responsible for protecting human rights? ›

Each State has a prime responsibility and duty to protect, promote and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms, inter alia , by adopting such steps as may be necessary to create all conditions necessary in the social, economic, political and other fields, as well as the legal guarantees required to ensure ...

What are the most important human rights? ›

They range from the most fundamental - the right to life - to those that make life worth living, such as the rights to food, education, work, health, and liberty.

What do human rights protect us from? ›

Human rights are norms that aspire to protect all people everywhere from severe political, legal, and social abuses. Examples of human rights are the right to freedom of religion, the right to a fair trial when charged with a crime, the right not to be tortured, and the right to education.

What is human right abuse? ›

A human rights abuse is anything that harms someone's human rights. They include harm to people, communities, and the environment.

Who defines human rights? ›

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The United Nations was founded in 1945. The United Nations allowed more than 50 Member States to contribute to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948.

What are my rights as a citizen? ›

Right to a prompt, fair trial by jury. Right to vote in elections for public officials. Right to apply for federal employment requiring U.S. citizenship. Right to run for elected office.

What are two rights of everyone living in the United States? ›

Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are examples of 2 rights of everyone living in the United States.

Does the US have human rights violations? ›

The United States leads the world in gun ownership, gun homicide and mass shootings, with more than 80,000 people killed or injured by gun violence in 2022, the third consecutive year on record that the United States experiences more than 600 mass shootings.

Where are human rights being violated? ›

In 2018, the 10 countries with the highest prevalence of modern slavery are North Korea, Eritrea, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Mauritania, South Sudan, Pakistan, Cambodia and Iran.

What are basic human rights in America? ›

Every human being has the right to life, liberty and the security of his person. Right to life, liberty and personal security. Article II. All persons are equal before the law and have the rights and duties established in this Declaration, without distinction as to race, sex, language, creed or any other factor.

What is an example of a freedom from discrimination violation? ›

The following are all examples of civil rights violations: Sex and gender discrimination in education. Housing discrimination based on race or national origin. Workplace sexual harassment.

Is hunger a human rights violation? ›

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which is part of the International Bill of Human Rights, recognizes the right to adequate food as an essential part of the right to an adequate standard of living (art.

What are the psychological effects of human rights violations? ›

Human rights violations not only affect the physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual well-being of service and nonservice recipients with mental disorders but also significantly influence potential service recipients' access to mental health services, thereby creating a dynamic where not receiving any form of ...

How do human rights violations cause conflict? ›

Discrimination and violations of social and economic rights function as underlying causes, creating grievances and group identities that may lead to violence.

What is the greatest threat facing humanity today? ›

Climate change: The biggest threat facing humanity today.

What are the ethical issues in human rights? ›

Human Rights Ethics
  • #1 Universality. Arguably the most significant piece to come out of the UDHR's creation is the universality of human rights. ...
  • #2 Equality. Equality is an essential part of human rights ethics and the foundation of all human rights. ...
  • #3 Participation. ...
  • #4 Interdependence. ...
  • #5 The rule of law.

What is the greatest challenge to the future of human rights? ›

When considering the future of human rights and whether they will be viewed as more, or less important in the years to come, many potential challenges come to mind: climate change, nationalism, inequality, growing authoritarianism.

What is an example of lack of human rights? ›

For those living in poverty, many human rights are out of reach. Among many other deprivations, they often lack access to education, health services, safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

What are denied human rights? ›

Human societies are so organized that in practice they tend to deny at least some of man's inalienable rights to some of its members on the grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

What are the four 4 components of human rights? ›

Overarching Human Rights Principles

These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible. The principles are: Universal and inalienable, Interdependent and indivisible, Equal and non-discriminatory, and Both Rights and Obligations.

What are the two types of basic human rights? ›

First generation rights are related to liberty and refer fundamentally to civil and political rights. The second generation rights are related to equality, including economic, social and cultural rights.

What is the difference between fundamental rights and human rights? ›

Fundamental rights are the rights of a country's citizens that are stated in the constitution and enforced by the law. Human rights, on the other hand, are the safeguards that a human being seeks in order to live in dignity and equality.

What is an example of a human rights defender? ›

A human rights defender is any person who, individually or with others, acts to promote and protect human rights. Examples of human rights defenders (HRD) include journalists, bloggers, members of human rights NGOs, academics, lawyers, trade unionists, representatives of indigenous communities.

Do states have a responsibility to protect human rights? ›

Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means.

What is the main aim of human right? ›

Human rights are a set of principles concerned with equality and fairness. They recognise our freedom to make choices about our lives and to develop our potential as human beings. They are about living a life free from fear, harassment or discrimination.

Where has the best human rights? ›

Top 10 Countries with the Highest Human Freedom Indexes (2021):
  • Switzerland — 9.11.
  • New Zealand — 9.01.
  • Denmark — 8.98.
  • Estonia — 8.91.
  • Ireland — 8.90.
  • Canada — 8.85.
  • Finland — 8.85.
  • Australia — 8.84.

What are 3 ways the Bill of Rights protects citizens? ›

It guarantees civil rights and liberties to the individual—like freedom of speech, press, and religion. It sets rules for due process of law and reserves all powers not delegated to the Federal Government to the people or the States.

How does the United Nations protect human rights? ›

There are two types of human rights monitoring mechanisms within the United Nations system: treaty-based bodies and charter-based bodies. The ten human rights Treaty Bodies, made up of committees of independent experts, monitor implementation of the core international human rights treaties.

How does the government protect the rights of citizens? ›

The Bill of Rights of the US Constitution protects basic freedoms of United States citizens. Written during the summer of 1787 in Philadelphia, the Constitution of the United States of America is the fundamental law of the US federal system of government and the landmark document of the Western world.

What can the youth do to promote human rights? ›

As youth, we should convey the message of human rights to society. We should give more opportunities to the marginalized groups in society respecting human right values and showing the value of equality.

What are 3 examples of rights that need protection from the government? ›

First Amendment: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly. Second Amendment: the right of the people to keep and bear arms. Third Amendment: restricts housing soldiers in private homes. Fourth Amendment: protects against unreasonable search and seizure.

What rights are not protected by the Constitution? ›

The Supreme Court has found that unenumerated rights include such important rights as the right to travel, the right to vote, and the right to keep personal matters private.

What does the Constitution say about protecting its citizens? ›

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

What country protects human rights? ›

In the first global Human Rights Report Card issued by the CIRIGHTS Data Project, Canada and Sweden were at the head of the class with a 96, followed by New Zealand, Norway and Portugal at 94.

Can you sue if you just believe someone has violated your constitutional rights? ›

United States law allows an individual who believes that his or her constitutional rights have been violated to bring a civil action against the government to recover the damages sustained as a result of that violation.

Are human rights protected by law? ›

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, was the first legal document to set out the fundamental human rights to be universally protected. The UDHR, which turned 70 in 2018, continues to be the foundation of all international human rights law.

What term is used to protect the rights of individuals? ›

Human rights defender” is a term used to describe people who, individually or with others, act to promote or protect human rights in a peaceful manner.

What is an example of advocacy about human rights? ›

Refusing to let Jenny leave meant informally detaining her without any safeguards. Advocates raised Jenny's rights to liberty with staff and arranged for Jenny to leave to get coffee. This reassured staff about safety. Respecting Jenny's right to liberty helped her gain control over her life.

How does social media promote human rights? ›

Social media as a tool to uphold human rights

Social media platforms have also helped advocacy efforts to monitor and document human rights violations, draw attention to human rights issues, communicate human rights messages and broaden access to knowledge and information.

What are the threats to human rights? ›

They have been the target of executions, torture, beatings, arbitrary arrest and detention, death threats, harassment and defamation, as well as restrictions on their freedoms of movement, expression, association and assembly.


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