Defining Human Rights – Treaties and Explanations

We hear a lot about “Human Rights” and “Human Rights Violations”. What exactly does that mean?

Following the atrocities of World War II, there was a strong push for an international standard of human rights. These agreements between nations mark the first time that protection of individuals moved from being an issue reserved to the jurisdiction of sovereign states to one of international concern. Below is a brief summary of some of the major treaties regarding human rights. These treaties are complex, this is just a brief overview of what is covered in each.

The UN Charter

The United Nations charter mentions human rights in Article 55, it mentions “…reaffirm faith in the fundamental human rights and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.” It also mandates respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

UDHR (1948)

The Universal Deceleration of Human Rights is a United Nations resolution. This resolution does not carry the force of law but did serve to create accepted international norms of human rights. The UDHR covers basic social, political, and civil rights such as prohibiting torture, slavery, and murder.

International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (1976)

This treaty gives individuals certain protections from government actions. In addition, it establishes the UN Human Rights Committee to examine human rights issues. Among the rights covered in this treaty are:

Right to be equal under the law
Presumption of innocence
Freedom of Expression
Right to privacy
Freedom of religion
Ban slavery
Ban on torture or inhumane treatment

International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1976)

This treaty prescribes certain actions that governments must perform for the people. The previously mentioned treaty only bars the government from certain actions. Some of the rights granted to individuals under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights are:
Right to a minimum economic and social standard of living
Right to pursue education
Right to employment and employment opportunities
Right to certain levels of physical and mental health

Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984)

According to Article I of this agreement, torture is defined as:
“… any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”
In Article II, it states that “exceptional circumstances”, and other “public emergency” cannot be used to justify torture.

Article III prohibits extraditing a person to a jurisdiction where there is reason to believe that the person will be tortured.

Untied Nations Website: visited 08/18/2006

Joyner, Christopher C. International Law in the 21st Century Rules for Global Governance. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers inc. 2005. (pp.69-75)

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