Human Rights and Peace Law Docket
HUMAN RIGHTS LAW DEFINED
Human rights law encompasses economic, social and cultural rights of each person and group in society, political and civil rights of each individual and group, and the duty of governments and individuals to ensure and enforce these rights.
Human rights law is set forth most broadly at the international level in the United Nations Charter articles 55 and 56, with many specifics in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in the two International Covenants: on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and on Civil and Political Rights. The Covenants and the Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provide workable mechanisms for enforcing these rights in signatory nations.
The United Nations has proceeded to adopt Conventions on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination and discrimination against women, as well as a narrower convention on the political rights of women. The UN has adopted conventions on the suppression of the crimes of apartheid and genocide, on the suppression of slavery and prostitution, and against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Now the UN has adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and UNESCO has adopted the Convention against Discrimination in Education. The regional Conventions on Human Rights provide additional standards. All of these are good sources of human rights law as they become the common law of human rights internationally.
While the United States had only ratified the UN Charter, the Convention on the Political Rights of Women, and the Genocide Convention by June 1991, in April 1992 it ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is now part of "the supreme law of the land" (although the U.S. President and Senate have declared it is "non-self-executing", i.e., it cannot be the sole basis for a lawsuit). It is ironic that the nation that cut through the forest and charted the path for human rights in the first ten amendments to its national constitution still lags far behind in debating and ratifying human rights treaties.
The rights in the Charter and treaties are now commonly understood throughout the world as individual rights, collective rights, and individual and collective rights.
The peoples of the United States and of all nations are demanding that their governments publicize the text of this law, report on enforcement and failures of enforcement, and step up education on human rights law at all levels of government, and among transnationals and nongovernmental organizations.
Litigants and lawyers are learning to take decisions of the International Court of Justice seriously and to consult and follow the General Comments of the UN Human Rights Committee and authoritative documents of other UN Committees, Commissions, Rapporteurs, and specialized agencies.