Human Rights Instruments

More than a hundred instruments are included in this edition of the Human Rights Instruments. The compilation includes the most important general standards such as the International Bill of Human Rights, the main regional conventions and the eight major ILO conventions. But other instruments are also included and it is warranted, in light of the selection made, to ask why these instruments were chosen. Some explanation is required and may aid in understanding and the use of this reference book.

This compilation is mainly aimed at two different groups of readers. The first group consists of academics and students who need a good overview of existing standards on substantive rights and on the functioning of the supervisory mechanisms. The second group includes experts and civil servants who work regularly in the field of human rights and need a compact and easy-to-carry compilation for consultation.

With these two groups in mind, a serious attempt has been made to present readers not only with insights, but also with the possibility of comparison, notably with regard to substantive rights. Of the substantive rights, or issues related to substantive rights, at least six references for each of the following keywords were included in the index: arbitrary arrest, assembly, association, children, culture, death penalty, detention, education, discrimination, equality before the law, fair trial, family, health, minorities, life, participation, privacy, property, social security, women, work, thought and torture.

A balance was sought between global instruments and regional instruments. In previous editions more space was given to European texts than to other regional instruments. In this edition, the number of Inter-American and African instruments has been substantially expanded, allowing for a more in-depth comparison.

As decreed by international law, instruments that have been adopted or treaties that have been ratified have to be complied with (Pacta sunt servanda). To ensure compliance, a degree of supervision is necessary. Many of the standards governing the supervisory mechanisms are included in treaties, these are known under the United Nations system as treaty-based supervisory mechanisms. Examples of treaties establishing supervisory mechanisms include the American Convention on Human Rights (Articles 33-69) and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights (Articles 19-51). Some treaties only deal with supervision, such as the First Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, and the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture.

Several supervisory mechanisms are the result of decisions or resolutions of representative bodies supervising compliance with human rights. Examples of such decision-making bodies are the Commission on Human Rights of the United Nations or the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Supervisory mechanisms based on decisions or resolutions, which do not have the character of a treaty, are commonly known as non-treaty-based or charter-based supervisory mechanisms. Typical examples of such supervisory mechanisms are the UN procedures based on resolution 1235 and resolution 1503. At the regional level, typical examples of non-treaty-based mechanisms are the Declaration of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe establishing the Committee against Racism and Intolerance, and the procedure included in the Vienna document on the Human Dimension.

Supervisory mechanisms are extremely important and receive much attention in this book. These are commonly divided into four groups:

The first, and according to some experts the most important, is the individual complaints mechanism. An example is the procedure before the European Court of Human Rights (Articles 19-51). Another example is the mechanism established by the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The second supervisory mechanism is the reporting mechanism. Leading at the global level are the reporting mechanisms of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other major UN Human Rights Conventions. A good example at the regional level is the mechanism of the European Framework Convention on Minorities.

The third group of supervisory mechanisms is the Inter-State complaints mechanism. This mechanism has been included in several major conventions such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 41) and the Genocide Convention (Articles 8 and 9). In practice this mechanism is of limited importance. It is very seldom used.

Finally, the fourth group consists of a system of inquiries, field visits and other forms of fact-finding or advisory missions. This group is referred to in this book as ‘inquiries and other procedures’ and comprises all mechanisms not included in the other groups. This procedure is important in establishing facts, preventing violations and promoting human rights. At the global level, procedures such as fact-finding missions have been included,inter alia, in the First Protocol to the Convention against Torture and in the First Protocol to the Geneva Conventions. At the regional level, a system of inquiries is found in the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture.

In human rights the process of development of standards is important. For this reason, several documents on the CSCE/OSCE process, demonstrating the gradual development of standards, have been included. In order to illustrate the process of development of human rights norms in the UN system, the UNGA resolution on human rights standard setting, has been included.

Principles for the administration of justice are found in all major treaties, including the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. In addition, several instruments on the administration of justice and due process have been included in a separate chapter. Many of these instruments do not have the status of treaties, but do contribute, as important sources of law, to better compliance with due process principles.

Several instruments, not normally classified as human rights instruments, contain important provisions relevant to human rights; such as, the sources of international law as laid out in the Statute of the International Court of Justice. Moreover, the interpretation of reservations as found in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties is also relevant to the human rights field. In the case of civilians, vulnerable in times of war, the First Protocol to the Geneva Conventions is important.

It should be kept in mind that the establishment of human rights and standard setting is a political process. Many documents relevant to human rights contain political under- or overtones but can nevertheless be important and useful in promoting compliance with human rights standards. Examples of such documents are the CSCE/OSCE declarations of Vienna and Copenhagen, the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the Charter of Nice. Moreover, Article 98 of the International Criminal Court has also given rise to much acrimonious political discourse in recent years. The political and religious influences are also clear in the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam

Finally, substantial attention is given to the protection of so-called vulnerable groups; including Women, Children and Refugees, as well as groups that more recently have been given special or renewed attention such as Disabled Persons and Minorities.

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