The Ethical Dimensions of

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These are just some examples of the complexity of the debate, and of the need for re-examining the whole subject of human rights in a mature fashion. It is obviously not a simple division between the good “us” and the bad “them” of the world.

If all of us are guilty, then all of us must make the maximum effort to move up higher along the ladder of human rights. This is not a desirable option, but an essential program.

In actual fact, all of us have been making credible efforts to improve the respect for human rights throughout history. That has been part of the fundamental motivation of all individuals and peoples and nations, and that is why the human rights record has generally moved forwards and not backwards, despite the snags that have slowed it down at different times and places.

Human rights thus represent the best of human endeavour, of a process that begins with the search for a spiritual focus, for a meaning to life, and for a respect for fellow-men as agents of a common human society.

That search is a crusade, in which there are no winners and no losers. All are participants, all are moving in the same direction, and all will be judged in the higher courts of their own conscience about their achievements or shortcomings.

That is why the essence of the problem lies in self-examination on the one side, and in empathy on the other. That is why dialogue and debate and tolerance must replace the intellectual arrogance and missionary zeal that characterizes our judgments about others. That is why we must all espouse modesty while continuing to entertain hope and confidence.

The term “human rights” refers to the "basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled”. Examples of rights and freedoms, which are often thought of as human rights, include civil and political rights, such as the right to life and liberty, freedom of expression, and equality before the law; and social, cultural and economic rights, including the right to participate in culture, the right to food, the right to work, and the right to education.

The promotion and protection of human rights has been a major preoccupation for the United Nations since 1945, when the organization's founding nations resolved that the horrors of The Second World War should never be allowed to recur. Respect for human rights and human dignity "is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world", the General Assembly declared three years later in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Over the years, a network of human rights instruments and mechanisms has been developed to ensure the primacy of human rights and to confront human rights violations wherever they occur.

The International Bill of Human of Rights consists of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its two Optional Protocols. In 1966 the General Assembly adopted the two detailed covenants which complete the International Bill of Human Rights; and in 1976, after the Covenants had been ratified by a sufficient number of individual nations, the Bill took on the force of international law.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has thus been given concrete legal force through these two covenants: The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR. These are two of six core human rights treaties, together they form the bedrock of the international legal protection of human rights

Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the two covenants are considered to be turning points in human rights field, they have many loopholes.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights


The UDHR was framed by members of the Human Rights Commission, who began to discuss an International Bill of Rights in 1947, with former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in the Chair,. The members of the Commission did not immediately agree on the form of such a bill of rights, and whether, or how, it should be enforced. The Commission proceeded to frame the UDHR and other accompanying treaties, but the UDHR itself quickly became the priority.

Canadian law professor John Humphrey and French lawyer René Cassin were responsible for much of the cross-national research and the structure of the document respectively, where the Articles of the declaration were interpretative of the general principle of the preamble. The document was structured by Cassin to include the basic principles of dignity, liberty, equality and brotherhood in the first two Articles, followed successively by rights pertaining to individuals; rights of individuals in relation to each other and to groups; spiritual, public and political rights; and economic, social and cultural rights. The final three Articles place, according to Cassin, rights in the context of limits, duties and the social and political order in which they are to be realized. Humphrey and Cassin intended the rights in the UDHR to be legally enforceable through some means, as is reflected in the third clause of the preamble.

Some of the UDHR was researched and written by a committee of international experts on human rights, which included representatives from all continents and all major religions, and consulted with leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi. The inclusion of both civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights was predicated on the assumption that basic human rights are indivisible and that the different types of rights listed are inextricably linked. This principle was not then opposed by any member state (the declaration was adopted unanimously, with the abstention of the Eastern Bloc, the apartheid regime of South Africa and Saudi Arabia), however this principle was later subject to significant challenges. The Universal Declaration was bifurcated into two distinct and different covenants, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and another, the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Over the objection of the more developed states, which questioned the relevance and propriety of such provisions in covenants on human rights, both covenants begin with the right of people to self-determination and to sovereignty over their natural resources. Then the two covenants go different ways.1

The drafters of the Covenants initially intended only one instrument. The original drafts included only political and civil rights, but economic and social rights were added soon there after. Western states then fought for, and obtained, a division into two covenants. They insisted that economic and social right were essentially aspirations or plans, not rights, since their realization depended on availability of resources and on controversial economic theory and ideology. These, they said, were not appropriate subjects for binding obligations and should not be allowed to dilute the legal character of provisions honoring political-civil rights; states prepared to assume obligations to respect political-civil rights should not be commitments. There was wide agreement and clear recognition that the means required to enforce or induce compliance with socio-economic undertakings were different from the means required for civil-political rights.2 Despite the divisions over which rights to include, the fact that some states declined to ratify any treaties including certain specific interpretations of human rights, and the opposition of the Soviet bloc and a number of developing countries who argued strongly for the inclusion of all rights in a so-called Unity Resolution, the rights enshrined in the UDHR were split into two separate covenants, allowing states to adopt some rights and derogate others. Though this allowed the covenants to be created, one commentator has written that it denied the proposed principle that all rights are linked which was central to some interpretations of the UDHR.3

Declaration provisions

The Declaration consists of a preamble and 30 Articles, setting forth the human rights and fundamental freedoms to which all men and women, everywhere in the world, are entitled, without any discrimination. Article 1, which lays down the philosophy on which the Declaration is based, reads: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”. The Article thus defines the basic assumptions of the Declaration: that the right to liberty and equality is a man’s birthright and cannot be alienated: and that, because man is a rational and moral being, he is different from other creatures on earth and therefore entitled to certain rights and freedoms which other creatures do not enjoy.

Article 2, which sets out the basic principle of equality and non discrimination with regard to the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, forbids "distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”.

Article 3, the first cornerstone of the Declaration, proclaims the right to life, liberty and security of person -a right essential to the enjoyment of all other rights. This Article introduces Articles 4 to 21, in which other civil and political rights are set out, these rights include: freedom from slavery and servitude; from torture and cruelty, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law; the right to an effective judicial remedy; freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention or exile; the right to a fair trial and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal; the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty; freedom from arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home or correspondence; freedom of movement and residence; the right of asylum; the right to a nationality; the right to marry and to found a family; the right to own property; freedom of thought, conscience and religion; freedom of opinion and expression; the right to peaceful assembly and association; and the right to take part in the government of one’s country and to equal access to public service in one’s country.

Article 22, the second cornerstone of the Declaration, introduces Articles 23 to 27, in which economic, social and cultural rights -the rights to which everyone is entitled "as a member of society" -are set out. The Article characterizes these rights as indispensable for human dignity and the free development of personality, and indicates that they are to be realized "through national effort and international cooperation". At the same time, it points out the limitations of realization, the extent of which depends on the resources of each State.

The economic, social and cultural rights recognized in Articles 22 to 27 include the right to social security; the right to work; the right to equal pay for equal work; the right to rest and leisure; the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being; the right to education; and the right to participate in the cultural life of the community.

The concluding Articles, Articles 28 to 30, recognize that everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the human rights and fundamental freedoms set forth in the Declaration may be fully realized, and stress the duties and responsibilities that each individual owes to his community. Article 29 states that "in the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society". It adds that in no case may human rights and fundamental freedoms be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations. Article 30 emphasizes that no State, group or person may claim any right, under the Declaration, "to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth" in the Declaration.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights


The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is a United Nations treaty based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, created in 1966 and entered into force in March 1976. Nations that have signed this treaty are bound by it.

The Covenant contains two Optional Protocols. The first Optional Protocol creates an individual complaint mechanism whereby individuals in member states can submit complaints, known as communications, to be reviewed by the Human Rights Committee. Its rulings under the first Optional Protocol have created the most complex jurisprudence in the UN international human rights law system.

The second Optional Protocol abolishes the death penalty. Countries were permitted, however, to make a reservation allowing for the use of death penalty for the most serious crimes of a military nature, committed during wartime.4

Covenant Provisions

We can divide the provisions of the Covenant into five categories:

  • Protection of an individual’s physical integrity (against things such as execution, torture, and arbitrary arrest).

  • Procedural fairness in law (rule of law, rights upon arrest, trial, basic conditions must be met when imprisoned, rights to a lawyer, impartial process in trial).

  • Protection based on gender, religious, racial or other forms of discrimination.

  • Individual freedom of belief, speech, association, freedom of press, right to hold assembly.

  • Right to political participation (organize a political party, vote, voice contempt for current political authority).

The Covenant has two Optional Protocols:

  • Mechanism by which individuals can launch complaints against member states.

  • Abolition of the death penalty.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights addresses the state’s traditional responsibilities for administering justice and maintaining the rule of law. Many of the provisions in the Covenant address the relationship between the individual and the state. In discharging these responsibilities, states must ensure that human rights are respected, not only those of the victim but also those of the accused. The civil and political rights defined in the Covenant include: inter alia, the right of self-determination; the right to life, liberty, and security; freedom of movement, including freedom to choose a place of residence and the right to leave the country; freedom of thought, conscience, religion, peaceful assembly, and association; freedom from torture and other cruel and degrading treatment or punishment; freedom from slavery, forced labour, and arbitrary arrest or detention; the right to a fair and prompt trial; and the right to privacy. There are also other provisions which protect members of ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities. Under Article 2, all states parties undertake to respect and take the necessary steps to ensure the rights recognized in the Covenant without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status.

Unlike the Universal Declaration and the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights authorizes a state to derogate from, or in other words restrict, the enjoyment of certain rights in times of an official public emergency which threatens the life of a nation. Such limitations are permitted only to the extent strictly required under the circumstances and must be reported to the United Nations. Even so, some provisions such as the right to life and freedom from torture and slavery may never be suspended.5

Unlike the Universal Declaration and the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights authorizes a state to derogate from, or in other words restrict, the enjoyment of certain rights in times of an official public emergency which threatens the life of a nation. Such limitations are permitted only to the extent strictly required under the circumstances and must be reported to the United Nations. Even so, some provisions such as the right to life and freedom from torture and slavery may never be suspended.

The Optional Protocols

As mentioned above, the Covenant contains two Optional Protocols. The first Optional Protocol creates an individual complaints mechanism whereby individuals in member States can submit complaints, known as communications, to be reviewed by the Human Rights Committee. Its rulings under the first Optional Protocol have created the most complex jurisprudence in the UN international human rights law system.

The Second Optional Protocol, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty is a side agreement to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Optional Protocol commits its members to the abolition of the death penalty within their borders, though Article 2.1 allows parties to make a reservation allowing execution for grave crimes in times of war. Cyprus, Malta and Spain initially made such reservations, and subsequently withdrew them. Azerbaijan and Greece still retain this reservation on their implementation of the protocol, despite having banned the death penalty in all circumstances.6

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights


In many respects, greater international attention has been given to the promotion and protection of civil and political rights rather than to social, economic, and cultural rights. This leads to the erroneous presumption that violations of economic, social, and cultural rights were not subject to the same degree of legal scrutiny and measures of redress. This view neglected the underlying principles of human rights - that rights are indivisible and interdependent and therefore the violation of one right may well lead to the violation of another. Economic, social, and cultural rights are not quite fully recognized by the international community and in international law, though they are progressively gaining attention. These rights are designed to ensure the protection of people, based on the expectation that people can enjoy rights, freedoms, and social justice simultaneously.

Drafting continued on the convention, but there remained significant disagreements between UN members on the relative importance of negative Civil and Political versus positive Economic, Social and Cultural rights. These eventually caused the convention to be split into two separate covenants, "one to contain civil and political rights and the other to contain economic, social and cultural rights”. The two Covenants were to contain as many similar provisions as possible, and be opened for signature simultaneously Each would also contain an article on the right of all peoples to self-determination.

The first document became the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the second the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The drafts were presented to the UN General Assembly for discussion in 1954, and were adopted twelve years later in 1966.

Although economic, social and cultural rights have received less attention than civil and political rights, far more serious consideration than ever before are currently being devoted to them. The question is not whether these rights are basic human rights, but rather what entitlements they imply and the legal nature of the obligations of states to recognize them.

Economic, social and cultural rights are designed to ensure the protection of people as full persons, based on a perspective in which people can enjoy rights, freedoms and social justice simultaneously. In a world where, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), "a fifth of the developing world’s population goes hungry every night, a quarter lacks access to even a basic necessity like safe drinking-water, and a third lives in a state of abject poverty-at such a margin of human existence that words simply fail to describe it” the importance of renewed attention and commitment to the full realization of economic, social and cultural rights is self-evident.

Despite significant progress since the establishment of the United Nations in addressing problems of human deprivation, well over one billion people live in circumstances of extreme poverty, homelessness, hunger and malnutrition, unemployment, illiteracy and chronic ill health. More than 1.5 billion people lack access to clean drinking-water and sanitation, some 500 million children do not have access to even primary education; and more than one billion adults cannot read and write. This massive scale of marginalization, in spite of continued global economic growth and development, raises serious questions, not only about development, but also about basic human rights.

Covenant Provisions

The Covenant follows the structure of the UDHR and ICCPR, with a preamble and thirty one Articles, divided into five parts.

Part 1 (Article 1) recognizes the right of all peoples to self-determination, including the right to "freely determine their political status”, pursue their economic, social and cultural goals, and manage and dispose of their own resources. It recognizes a negative right of a people not to be deprived of its means of subsistence, and imposes an obligation on those parties still responsible for non-self governing and trust territories (colonies) to encourage and respect their self-determination.

Part 2 (Articles 2-5) establishes the principle of "progressive realization" (see below). It also requires that the rights be recognized "without discrimination of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”. The rights can only be limited by law, in a manner compatible with the nature of the rights, and only for the purpose of "promoting the general welfare in a democratic society".7

Part 3 (Articles 6 - 15) lists the rights themselves as rights to:

  • work, under "just and favorable conditions”, with the right to form and join trade unions (Articles 6, 7, and 8);

  • social security, including social insurance (Article 9);

  • family life, including paid parental leave and the protection of children (Article 10);

  • an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and the "continuous improvement of living conditions’ (Article 11);

  • health, specifically "the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health"(Article 12);

  • education, including free universal primary education, generally available secondary education, and equally accessible higher education. This should be directed to "the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity", and enable all persons to participate effectively in society (Articles 13 and 14);

  • participation in cultural life (Article 15).

Many of these rights include the specific actions that must be undertaken to realize them.

Part 4 (Articles 16 - 25) governs reporting and monitoring of the Covenant and the steps taken by the parties to implement it. It also allows the monitoring body (originally the United Nations Economic and Social Council, but now the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; see below) to make general recommendations to the UN General Assembly on appropriate measures to realize the rights (Article 21)

Part 5 (Articles 26 - 31) governs ratification, entry into force, and amendments of the Covenant.

Draft Optional Protocol

Many other UN human rights instruments, such as the ICCPR, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention Against Torture have Optional Protocols which allow individuals to make complaints directly to the relevant monitoring body. Currently the ICESCR does not have such a Protocol, but has been working towards one for many years. Currently an “open-ended working group” is in the process of producing a draft Optional Protocol for discussion. In the meantime, other monitoring bodies may be able to consider complaints related to economic, social and cultural rights in the context of its treaty.

Critical Review of the Three Documents

Praise for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The United Nations” document Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is a product of its time. There are notable omissions, such as indigenous peoples and children, and the language used is full of gender bias. Notwithstanding these, the Declaration is one of the most important international documents because it has influenced lawmaking, how organizations and institutions operate, personal and collective actions, values, and attitudes and beliefs about human rights.

Conceived as "a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has become just that: a yardstick by which to measure the degree of respect for, and compliance with, international human rights standards. Since 1948 it has been, and rightly continues to be, the most important and far-reaching of all United Nations declarations, and a fundamental source of inspiration for national and international efforts to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. It has set the direction for all subsequent work in the field of human rights and has provided the basic philosophy for many legally binding international instruments designed to protect the rights and freedoms which it proclaims. In the Proclamation of Teheran, adopted by the International Conference on Human Rights held in Iran in 1968, the Conference agreed that "the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states a common understanding of the peoples of the world concerning the inalienable and inviolable rights of all members of the human family and constitutes an obligation for the members of the international community". The Conference affirmed its faith in the principles set forth in the Declaration, and urged all peoples and governments "to dedicate themselves to [those] principles, and to redouble their efforts to provide for all human beings a life consonant with freedom and dignity and conducive to physical, mental, social and spiritual welfare".8

Eleanor Roosevelt stated that, "Taken as a whole, the Delegation of the United States believes that this is a good document – even a great document – and we propose to give it our full support. [...] In giving our approval to the Declaration today it is of primary importance that we keep clearly in mind the basic character of the document. It is not a treaty; it is not an international agreement. It is not and does not purport to be a statement of law or of legal obligation. It is a Declaration of basic principles of human rights and freedoms[....] This Universal Declaration of Human Rights may well become the international Magna Carta of all men everywhere”.9

President Ronald Reagan later stated that, "For people of good will around the world, that document is more than just words: It’s a global testament of humanity, a standard by which any humble person on Earth can stand in judgment of any government on Earth”.10

In a speech in October 1995, Pope John Paul II called the UDHR "one of the highest expressions of the human conscience of our time".

Criticism of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

    • Developing countries criticism

The strongest reservations about the Universal Declaration come from the vast majority of Developing Countries, who constitute the vast majority of the membership of the United Nations. Most got their independence in the late 1950s and early 1960s as a result of the strong decolonization movement of the period. Their reservations are based on the fact that they did not even exist in the late 1940s, that they did not consequently participate in the negotiation and drafting of the Declaration, and that their points of view are thus not duly reflected in the final document. Much of the continuing debate on the relative importance of economic rights vis-à-vis political rights is a fall-out of that widely held position.

    • Islamic criticism

Predominantly Islamic countries, like Sudan, Pakistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, frequently criticize the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for its perceived failure to take into the account the cultural and religious context of non-Western countries. In 1981, the Iranian representative to the United Nations, Said Rajaie-Khorassani, articulated the position of his country regarding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by saying that the UDHR was "a secular understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition", which could not be implemented by Muslims without trespassing Islamic law.

There are more than sixty Muslim nations who are members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. In June 2000, the OIC officially resolved to support the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, an alternative document that says people have "freedom and right to a dignified life in accordance with the Islamic Sharia".

    • Libertarian Criticism

Libertarians and some conservatives believe the so-called economic rights that must be provided by others through forceful extraction (e.g. taxation) negate other peoples’ inalienable rights. In reference to Article 25’s declaration of a right to medical care, Andrew Bissell (spokesperson for Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand) argued, "Health care does not simply grow on trees; if it is to be made a right for some, the means to provide that right must be confiscated from one will want to enter the medical profession when the reward for years of careful schooling and study is not fair remuneration, but rather, patients who feel entitled to one’s efforts, and a government that enslaves the very minds upon which patients’ lives depend”.

Praise for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

The Covenant on Civil and Political Rights echoed many of the declaration’s original provisions. As with its sister document, the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, states that ratified the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights obligated themselves to implement a long list of rights provisions. These included: the right to life, liberty, and security of person; the right to seek compensation or relief before a court or competent tribunal; the right to liberty of movement, including the liberty to leave one’s country; the right to privacy; the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; and the right of peaceful assembly.

The Covenant went even further in some cases, outlawing torture and degrading punishment for all ratifying states, and establishing a committee to whom parties of the treaty would have to report. Furthermore, the Covenant lists specific activities that states must undertake as a means of safeguarding civil and political rights.

Criticism of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

The United States long resisted ratification. This was motivated by popular American dislike for the UN, but also out of a fear that the covenant’s anti-death-penalty language could be used by domestic anti-death-penalty activists to litigate against capital punishment.

The United States Senate ratified the ICCPR in 1992, with a number of reservations, understandings, and declarations; with so many, in fact, that its implementation has little domestic effect.

In particular, the Senate declared in 138 Cong. Rec. S4781-84 (1992) that "the provisions of Article 1 through 27 of the Covenant are not self-executing". Where a treaty or covenant is not self-executing, and where Congress has not acted to implement the agreement with legislation, no private right of action is created by ratification.11

Thus while the ICCPR is ostensibly binding upon the United States as a matter of international law, it does not form part of the domestic law of the nation.

Praise for the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The Covenant contains some of the most significant international legal provisions establishing economic, social and cultural rights, including rights relating to work in just and favorable conditions, to social protection, to an adequate standard of living, to the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health, to education and to enjoyment of the benefits of cultural freedom and scientific progress.

Criticism of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Article 26 is not the only provision in the Covenant concerned with equality and non-discrimination. Article 2(1) creates an obligation on state parties to ensure the rights of the Covenant to all individuals within their territory and subject to their jurisdiction without distinctions of any kind. The use of the word distinction rather than discrimination does not indicate a difference in meaning by the drafters. Article 3 guarantees equal rights of men and women in enjoyment of all rights of the Covenant. Several Articles contain specific obligations regarding non-discrimination, equality and arbitrariness.

The number of provisions in the Covenant addressing equality and non-discrimination indicate the central place they hold in the scheme for human rights protection. Translating this fundamental value into a workable Article that could attract broad consensus in debate proved a difficult task. The task was achieved by leaving important issues unresolved, the meaning of key terms uncertain, including the definition of discrimination, the scope of the Article, and the relationship between Article 26 and the other non-discrimination provisions of the Covenant.

A number of parties have made reservations and interpretative declarations to their application of the Covenant. For example, Algeria interprets parts of Article 13, protecting the liberty of parents to freely choose or establish suitable educational institutions, so as not to "impair its right freely to organize its educational system”. Bangladesh interprets the self-determination clause in Article 1 as applying in the historical context of colonialism only. Belgium interprets non-discrimination as to national origin as "not necessarily implying an obligation on States automatically to guarantee to foreigners the same rights as to their nationals. The term should be understood to refer to the elimination of any arbitrary behaviour but not of differences in treatment based on objective and reasonable considerations, in conformity with the principles prevailing in democratic societies”. China interprets the labour rights in Article 8 in a manner consistent with its constitution and domestic law. Egypt accepts the Covenant only to the extent it does not conflict with Islamic Sharia law. France views the Covenant as subservient to the UN Charter.


Human rights are not separate parts, but dependent on one another, so that each of these rights that constitute the main parts work together in the system; for example, the right to participate in public life of society is directly linked to the right of self-expression and the right to education, as well as the right to access to information or the enjoyment of the necessities of life.

Human rights are a set of principles that may seem ideal, but constitute realistic objectives. They inspire principles for the pursuit of the vision of a better world in which everyone enjoys freedom, justice and peace, and the minimum standards that must be incumbent for individuals and institutions. Human rights are those basic standards without which no human can live in dignity. And defending human rights is to demand respect for the dignity of all people.

International human rights law has been designed to protect the full range of human rights required for people to have a full, free, safe, secure and healthy life. The right to live a dignified life can never be attained unless all basic necessities of life-work, food, housing, health care, education and culture-are adequately and equally available to everyone. Based squarely on this fundamental principle of the global human rights system, international human rights law has established individual and group rights relating to the civil, cultural, economic, political and social spheres.

These instruments enshrine global human rights standards and have been the inspiration for more than 50 supplemental United Nations human rights conventions, declarations and bodies of international minimum rules and other universally recognized principles. These additional standards have further refined international legal norms relating to a very wide range of issues, including women’s rights, protection against racial discrimination, protection of migrant workers, the rights of children, and many others.

The two Covenants are international legal instruments. Thus, when member and non-member States of the United Nations ratify a Covenant and become a “state party" to it, they are willfully accepting a series of legal obligations to uphold the rights and provisions established under the text in question

The Universal Declaration has come to be recognized as a historic document articulating a common definition of human dignity and values. The Declaration is a yardstick by which to measure the degree of respect for, and compliance with, international human rights standards everywhere on earth.

The coming into force of the Covenants, by which States parties accepted a legal as well as a moral obligation to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, did not in any way diminish the widespread influence of the Universal Declaration. On the contrary, the very existence of the Covenants, and the fact that they contain the measures of implementation required to ensure the realization of the rights and freedoms set out in the Declaration, gives greater strength to the Declaration.

Moreover, the Universal Declaration is truly universal in scope, as it preserves its validity for every member of the human family, everywhere, regardless of whether or not Governments have formally accepted its principles or ratified the Covenants. On the other hand, the Covenants, by their nature as multilateral conventions, are legally binding only on those States which have accepted them by ratification or accession.

We can safely say that there is not one single country in this world where human rights violations do not occur. It is a sad fact that human rights violations against human beings take place everyday in every country of this world, be it developed or developing, be it in the North or in the South, the East or the West. The types of violations that are committed may differ, depending whether the country is at war or at peace, for example, but they are human rights violations nevertheless.

Finally, no country in the world should view itself as the incarnation of human rights, and use human rights as a tool to interfere in affairs of and to exert pressure on other countries to realize its own strategic interests.
BASIC International Mechanisms

Human rights are inherent to all human beings, without distinction of gender, race, color, religion, political views, language, national or social origin, economic status, birth or any other differences that humans share. All human rights, whether they are civil or political rights such as the right to life, equality before the law, and freedom of expression, economic or social and cultural rights such as the rights to work, social security and education, or collective rights (such as the rights to development and self-determination) are indivisible, interrelated and interdependent. The improvement of one right facilitates the advancement of the others.

These rights are guaranteed by international law as of 1948 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and later on in the form of treaties, customary international law, general principles, and other sources of international law. International human rights laws lay down obligations of Governments to take positive action in certain ways or to refrain from particular acts in others in order to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups.

The international human rights system also creates a number of charter-based bodies and treaty-based bodies which are charged with the implementation of the agreed laws.

Charter-Based Bodies

Charter bodies include the former Commission on Human Rights, the new Human Rights Council, and Special Procedures. In the margins of these charter-based bodies is the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR).

The Human Rights Council, which replaced the Commission on Human Rights, held its first meeting in 2006. This intergovernmental body, which meets in Geneva 10 weeks a year, is composed of 47 elected United Nations Member States who serve for 3 year terms, and cannot be elected for more than two consecutive terms. The Human Rights Council is a forum empowered to prevent abuses, inequity, discrimination, protect the most vulnerable, and expose perpetrators.12

The Human Rights Council is a separate entity from Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights. This distinction originates from the separate mandates they were given by the General Assembly. Nevertheless, OHCHR provides substantial support for the meetings of the Human Rights Council, and follow-up to the Council’s deliberations.

Special Procedures is the general name given to the mechanisms established by the Commission on Human Rights to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special procedures for observing human rights are carried out through a rapporteur (representative), an independent expert, or a working group. Special Procedures usually call on mandate-holders to examine, monitor, advise, and publicly report on human rights situations in specific countries or territories. These are known as country mandates. Mandate-holders can also report on cases of major human rights violations worldwide (known as thematic mandates).

There are 28 thematic mandates and 10 country mandates worldwide. All of these groups report to the Human Rights Council on their findings and offer their recommendations.13

Treaty-Based Bodies

There are nine core international human rights treaties, two of which cover persons with disabilities and enforced disappearance, which have not yet entered into force. Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, all UN Member States have ratified at least one core international human rights treaty, and 80 percent of all international human rights treaties have been ratified.

There are seven human rights treaty bodies, which are committees of independent experts that monitor implementation of the core international human rights treaties. They include the Committee against Torture, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and their Families, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and the Human Rights Committee. They are all created in accordance with the provisions of the treaties that they monitor. OHCHR assists these treaty bodies in harmonizing their working methods and reporting requirements through their secretariats.

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