Introduction to the United Nations Human Rights System

Introduction to the United Nations
Human Rights System
Session overview
 Introduction to the United Nations
 Introduction to human rights
 Introduction to international human rights law
Introduction to the United Nations
 Formation and purpose
Established 1945 under Charter
Four broad purposes
Maintain international peace and security
 Develop friendly relations among nations
 Achieve international co-operation:
 In solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or
humanitarian character
 In promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental
 Centre for harmonising the actions of nations to attain these ends
 Membership
193 members
Every internationally recognised sovereign state, except Vatican City
Australia – a founding member
Introduction to United Nations
 Principal organs
 General assembly
Security council
Economic and Social Council
Regional commissions
Human Rights Council
Programmes and Funds
 United Nations Development Fund
 Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees
Specialised agencies
 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
 International Monetary Fund
 World Health Organisation
International Court of Justice
Introduction to human rights
 Fundamental values (fundamental law)
 Normative
Inherent to the person; can not be given nor taken away (except in
accordance with law)
Belong to every human being, irrespective of nationality, place of residence,
gender, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other
All human rights are of equal value and importance
Human rights cannot be realised in isolation from each other. The
improvement of one right facilitates the advancement of others; deprivation
of one right adversely affects other rights
Introduction to international human rights law
 Classes of rights
 Civil and political rights
‘First generation’; ‘Negative rights’; ‘Individual rights’
 Immediately attainable – must be fully realised on entry into force
Economic social and cultural rights
‘Second generation’; ‘positive rights’; ‘collective rights’
 Progressively attainable – (but not aspirational!)
 Must be pursued to full extent of available resources
 Obligation to take progressive action is immediate
 Regressive measures not permissible
 Implementation measures must be equitably distributed across
population with greatest emphasis on most disadvantaged
Introduction to international human rights law
 International Bill of Rights
 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)
 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966)
 Other ‘core’ human rights instruments
 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965)
 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against
Women (1979)
 Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or
Punishment (1984)
 Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)
 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and
Members of their Families (1990)
 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006)
 International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance
Introduction to international human rights law
 Hierarchy of international human rights instruments
 Core treaties
Binding upon parties
 Committee of experts
Declarations, Principles, Action Plans
 Provide policy guidance
 Enforcement of international human rights law
 Persuasive – based upon the solemn commitment of States Parties –
the State itself must commit to action to resolve violations (a kind of
‘ethical contract’ between States)
Levels of State Party obligation
 Recognition of the treaty – must enact laws and develop
policies and programmes to give effect to human rights
 Respect treaty rights – must refrain from action that
arbitrarily interferes with human rights
 Protect treaty rights – must prevent non-State actors
from arbitrarily interfering with human rights
 Fulfil treaty rights – must take positive action to ensure
that treaty rights are realised in fact
Interpreting international human rights law
 ‘Living tree doctrine’
 The text of a treaty is considered organic and it must be interpreted
in a broad and progressive manner so as to adapt to contemporary
 ‘Broad and purposive’ approach
 The text of a treaty is not to be interpreted narrowly or literally;
instead, it is to be interpreted broadly in light of its underlying
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