What are fundamental rights?

'Fundamental rights’ expresses the concept of ‘human rights’ within a specific European Union (EU) context.

Traditionally, the term fundamental rights is used in a constitutional context whereas the term ‘human rights’ is used in international law. The two terms refer largely to the same substance as can be seen, for instance, by the many similarities between the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU and the European Convention on Human Rights.

The EU has come to use fundamental rights to describe the obligations of the EU and its Member States towards everyone in the EU. To keep it simple, the toolkit uses the expression ‘fundamental rights’ throughout.

Human rights are inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible. Universal human rights are often expressed and guaranteed by law, in the forms of treaties, customary international law, general principles and other sources of international law. International human rights law lays down obligations of governments to act in certain ways or to refrain from certain acts, in order to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups.