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close this bookRealizing Human Rights for Poor People - Strategies for achieving the international development targets (DFID, 2000, 34 p.)
close this folder2. The challenge: integrating human rights into development
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Human rights

2.1 Human rights are commonly understood as being those rights which are inherent to the human being. Human rights are legally guaranteed by human rights law, which consists of the treaties as well as declarations, guidelines and principles that have been agreed under the auspices of the United Nations since 1945. A treaty is an agreement by states to be bound by particular rules. General principles of human rights law, to which most states would agree, are often stated in declarations, proclamations, standard rules, guidelines, recommendations and principles. These documents include the Declarations and the Programmes of Action agreed at major UN World Conferences. They represent a broad consensus on the part of the international community on actions required to implement those rights and have a strong moral force on the practice of states. The human rights framework provides a basis for both legal measures to promote institutional change and interventions to create consensus around the values and norms they represent.

2.2 UN human rights instruments have been developed on the basis of international government and civil society debate and agreement. The increasing openness of the UN system to civil society perspectives means that human rights law responds to the views, interests and needs of many different groups of people around the world. The UN human rights institutions continue to evolve and this is reflected in the development of new guidelines on issues such as reproductive rights and child labour. The interpretation and application of these instruments change and develop, over time and are subject to political controversy and debate, globally and within countries, communities and families. The international human rights framework reflects the consensus of the international community at any one time and provides the basis for establishing rights at the national level.

Box 3. The international human rights framework

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the starting point for the development of legally binding international human rights treaties. The consequent International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights came into force in 1976. Currently there are some 140 States Parties to the former and 137 to the latter. In addition to the two covenants, there are four core thematic human rights treaties: The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. There are a number of other UN instruments setting accepted human rights standards in particular areas e.g. aspects of the treatment of prisoners, rights of persons belonging to minorities, right to development, the ILO Conventions on workers' rights as well as international humanitarian law and refugee law.

2.3 The end of the Cold War has removed many of the ideological barriers to governments' acceptance of the human rights principles of the interdependence of all rights and the equality of all people. Every country in the world has ratified at least one of the six principal UN human rights treaties. Ratification of a convention means that the state has committed itself legally to do everything within its capacity to meet a variety of human rights standards. Not all governments, however, have taken these obligations seriously.

Box 4. Regional Human Rights Charters,

Regional Human Rights Charters are based on the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other Conventions. They provide a means of bringing international law and standards closer to people in different parts of the different parts of the world. Regional charters include the African Charter ion Human and Peoples' Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights was adopted by the Organization of African Unity (OAHU) in 1981 and entered into force in 1986. It is a legally binding treaty to which, by August 1997, there were 51 State Parties. It contains civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. It also includes various peoples' rights, such as the right to a healthy environment, which are not reflected in other international or legally binding instruments. Implementation of the African Charter is supervised by the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights which was established in November 1987. An African Court of Human Rights has yet to be established. ' The American Convention on Human Rights was adopted by the Organisation of American States (OAS) in 1969 and has been ratified by 25 countries. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, one of the principal organs of the OAS, reviews complaints and communications relating to the Convention. Governments and the Inter-American Commission may submit cases to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The European Convention on Human Rights was adopted on 4 November 1950. The Human Rights Act of 1998 committed the UK Government to incorporate the Convention into domestic law. Asia does not currently have either a regional charter or a court of human rights. Many Asian states, however, are parties to a broad range of global human rights instruments and mechanisms.