Human Rights vs. Civil Rights: What's the difference?

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Difference between Human Right and Civil Right

The rights of the individual can be considered either natural human rights or legal and political civil rights. Civil rights are a form of human rights, but human rights can also cover other aspects of life, such as education, work and culture. Many people believe that everyone should have equal human and civil rights, but in many places and times, this has not been the case.

Human Right
Civil Right


Civil rights are the rights that an individual has to participate in the civil and political life of their country. They also protect people from state repression and discrimination. Civil rights can protect people against discrimination on the grounds of characteristics such as race, gender, sexual orientation, age or disability. They can confer individual rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of movement and of religion. They also provide legal rights such as the right to a fair trial and political rights such as the right to participate in the political system, to assemble, petition and vote.

Human rights are the rights to which all human beings are entitled. They include civil rights, but they also include rights that cover areas such as social, cultural and economic rights, rather than just political rights. For example, human rights give everyone the right to participate in their community and culture, the right to an education and the right to reasonable working conditions.


Civil rights tend to be rights that are given to the citizens or residents of a particular country through the political and legal system of that country. The rights of a person will therefore depend upon the country in which they are living, so the civil rights of an individual living in the US, in Europe or in the Middle East may differ. Some human rights are also civil rights, so they may be provided by law. However, human rights are often less tangible rights. Even in countries where people enjoy these rights, they may do so more through cultural convention than through any legal right. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other agreements such as the Geneva Convention help to ensure that human rights are respected internationally. Key documents in the development of civil rights includes the Magna Carta, which conferred rights to those accused of crimes, and the US Bill of Rights which gave everyone equal political rights.

Natural Rights

Human rights are often held to be those rights that people are believed to be eligible for because they are natural rights or because of basic morality. Although some civil rights are also considered to be human rights, civil rights are the rights conferred by a particular political and legal system. Human rights are often held to be universal and therefore not to be bounded by the borders between countries. They are more likely to be covered by international legislation, while civil rights are conferred by national legislation.

Similarities and Differences

  • The boundary between civil and human rights is not clear. Some rights can be considered to be both human rights and civil rights, but the concept of human rights is generally broader, covering more types of rights than are included in civil rights.
  • Civil rights are legal and political rights.
  • Human rights include legal and political rights, together with other social, cultural and economic rights.
  • Civil rights are specified by the government and legal system.
  • Human rights are described in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but they are held to be natural or moral rights, which should apply even without the need for legal specification.
  • Opinions on what civil and human rights should be and to whom they should be conferred can differ.


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