LGBTIQA+ International Human Rights

Under international law, you cannot be discriminated against because of your sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

Most international human rights are written down in ‘treaties’ and countries like Australia can agree to be bound by these human rights by 'ratifying the treaty'. When a country ratifies a human rights treaty, they accept legal obligations under international law and must protect the rights for all people within their jurisdiction according to the treaty.

This page may help you if you identify as LGBTIQA+ and want to know about international human rights.

What are international human rights?

International human rights are the rights and freedoms of all human beings, regardless of their race, religion, nationality, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation. The basis of all human rights is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations on 10 December 1948.

Some examples of international human rights include:

  • the right to life
  • the right to a fair trial
  • the right to freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment
  • the right to adequate housing
  • the right to education
  • the right to have a family, and many more.
What happens if a country breaches international human rights?

International human rights law is complex. Breaches can be dealt with in different ways and depend on many different factors, including:

  • what the human rights breach is, and
  • whether the country has agreed to be bound by the relevant international human rights treaty.

For example, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) can hear complaints about human rights breaches. If the UNHRC finds a country has breached these rights, it can do many things including asking the country to prevent similar breaches from happening.

How does Australia uphold and protect human rights?

Human rights are recognised and protected across Australia through:

  • a range of state and federal laws
  • the Australian Constitution, and
  • the common law (that is, cases about human rights that have been decided previously in courts in England and Australia).

The Australian Human Rights Commission also protects and promotes human rights in Australia and internationally.

Which international human rights are relevant to LGBTIQA+ people?

While all international human rights are relevant, some rights are particularly relevant to the LGBTIQA+ community.

The right to privacy

Under international law, everyone has the right to privacy and should be able to freely express their identity in their relationships with others or by themselves. Specific examples of the right to privacy include:

  • the right to legally engage in same-sex sexual activity, and
  • the right to have legal recognition of your gender reassignment without having to undergo excessive restrictive requirements.
The right to non-discrimination

Equality and freedom from discrimination are fundamental human rights that belong to all people. Under international law, you cannot be discriminated against because of your sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. These international human rights are the basis for state and federal discrimination laws.

Discrimination is a complex area of law. Not all unfair treatment is against the law and exemptions apply under state, federal and international discrimination law. The law is also constantly changing and there have been a number of international cases on LGBTIQA+ discrimination in recent years. You should get legal advice about your situation if you feel you have been discriminated against. There are many ways you can deal with discrimination and there are time limits for taking formal action.


Useful documents

lgbtiqa fact sheet header - scales of justice against rainbow background LGBTIQA+ International Human Rights Factsheet

More information


Reviewed: 4 March 2021


The information displayed on this page is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should see a lawyer. Legal Aid Western Australia aims to provide information that is accurate, however does not accept responsibility for any errors or omissions in the information provided on this page or incorporated into it by reference.