The rights of citizens are theoretically protected by the rule of law. In practical terms, the government protects these rights with violence and the threat of violence.
In most modern, democratic states, the government, subject to certain restrictions, has a monopoly on the use of violence. In return for this monopoly, it gives two guarantees. First, the government will protect its citizens from violence inflicted by others, whether foreign powers or private citizens. Second, it will not use violence against its own citizens unless they break the law, and then in a proportionate manner.
These guarantees are backed by the most vital principle of the rule of law: that it applies to everyone equally, including the highest officials of the administration. Even the president or king is not above the law and can be charged with a crime in the same way as anyone else.
When the state is functioning properly, the violence with which the government protects the rights of its citizens remains latent and invisible most of the time. It is seen principally in clashes between the police and individual criminals. However, in times of civil unrest, the picture becomes more complex. This is because a good government must protect its citizens from itself and its successors, as well as from third parties. When a government is seen by many citizens to be acting unreasonably and to be depriving citizens of their rights, this is when it becomes apparent how effective the checks and balances on government power really are and whether citizens rights are properly protected.