Human Rights - Regional human rights instruments
The work of the UN in the human rights field, for which the provisions of the Charter have been the point of departure, has also inspired important developments in the protection of human rights on the regional level by the Council of Europe, the Organization of American States, and the Organization of African Unity.
The European Convention on Human Rights
Under the auspices of the Council of Europe, the European Convention on Human Rights was signed in 1950 and entered into force in 1953. The convention is based on an early draft of what is now the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It was concluded by the governments of European countries "to take the first steps for the collective enforcement of certain of the rights stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights." It was subsequently supplemented by five additional protocols. As far as the substantive provisions are concerned, the European Convention and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights cover, more or less, the same ground, although there are a number of important differences between the two instruments.
The European Convention established two internal organs "to ensure the observance of the engagements undertaken by the High Contracting Parties in the present Convention"—that is, the European Commission on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights. Any party to the convention has the right to refer to the commission any alleged breach of the convention by another party. The commission may also receive petitions from any person, nongovernmental organization, or group of individuals claiming to be the victim of a violation, by one of the parties, of the rights set forth in the convention and in the relevant protocols. The exercise of this power by the commission is subject to the condition that the state against which the complaint is directed has recognized this competence of the commission.
If the commission does not succeed in securing a friendly settlement on the basis of respect for human rights as defined in the convention, it draws up a report on the facts and states its opinion as to whether the facts found disclose a breach by the state concerned of its obligations under the convention. The final decision is taken either by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, a political organ, or, if it has jurisdiction and the matter is referred to it, by the European Court of Human Rights.
The European Social Charter
The European Social Charter is the European counterpart to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The provisions of the European Social Charter, however, are more specific and detailed. It has established a reporting procedure. The reports are examined by a committee of independent experts, which submits its conclusions to a governmental social subcommittee. The Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe is consulted. In the final stage, the Committee of Ministers may make any recommendation that it considers necessary to any contracting party in the areas of economic, social, and cultural rights.
The American Convention on Human Rights
In 1948, several months before the adoption by the General Assembly of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Ninth International Conference of American States, meeting in Bogotá, adopted the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. This declaration was followed in 1969 by the signing in San José, Costa Rica, of the American Convention on Human Rights. The convention, in force since 1978, is a very comprehensive instrument, similar to both the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The organs of implementation of the Pact of San José are the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (corresponding to the European Commission and to the Human Rights Committee under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. While the right of petition of individuals is optional under the European Convention and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in the inter-American system, every state party accepts the right of petition automatically.
The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights
In 1981, the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the Organization of African Unity, meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, adopted the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. The charter, which came into force on 21 October 1986, provides for an African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, composed of 11 members elected by the assembly, to promote and protect the rights set forth in the charter. The provisions of the charter are similar to those of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but with special reference to African traditions of rights and freedoms, including the right to self-determination and the right of peoples to dispose of their wealth and natural resources.
THE FIGHT AGAINST RACIAL DISCRIMINATION The idea of the equality of races emerged as the one that, more than any other, has dominated the thoughts and actions of the post–World War II period. The aim of racial equality has permeated the lawmaking and the standard-setting activities of the UN family of organizations and also the day-to-day work of many of its organs. The Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the two International Covenants on Human Rights prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race or color, as do the conventions against discrimination in employment and occupation and in education that have already been described.
The Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination In 1963, the General Assembly proclaimed the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which affirms that discrimination between human beings on the grounds of race, color, or ethnic origin is an offense to human dignity, a denial of Charter principles, a violation of the rights proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and an obstacle to friendly and peaceful relations among peoples.
The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination In 1965, the General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination which entered into force in January 1969. As of August 2002, it had been acceded to or ratified by 162 states. Under the convention, states parties undertake not only to condemn racial discrimination and pursue a policy of eliminating it in all its forms but also to prohibit and bring to an end, by all appropriate means, including legislation as required by circumstances, racial discrimination by any individual, group, or organization. States parties undertake to declare it an offense punishable by law to disseminate ideas based on racial superiority or hatred or that are an incitement to racial discrimination. They also commit themselves to declare illegal and prohibit organizations that promote and incite racial discrimination and to recognize participation in such organizations as an offense punishable by law. The convention provides for the establishment of international supervisory machinery similar to that laid down in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights but contains tighter provisions.
Under the convention, an 18-member Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was established, which, like the Human Rights Committee provided for in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has the function of considering reports by states and allegations by a state party that another state party is not giving effect to the provisions of the convention. States parties to the convention also may recognize the competence of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to receive and consider petitions (communications) from individuals or groups of individuals. In the last instance, the International Court of Justice can be apprised of disputes with respect to the interpretation and application of the convention.
The International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid
In 1973, the General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid which entered into force in July 1976. By February 2002, it had been acceded to or ratified by 101 states. The convention provides that international responsibility for the crime of apartheid shall apply to individuals, members of organizations and institutions, and representatives of a state, whether residing in the state in which the acts are perpetrated or elsewhere. Persons charged can be tried by any state party to the convention. A three-member group of the Commission on Human Rights meets each year to review progress in implementing the convention.
The International Declaration and the International Convention Against Apartheid in Sports The International Declaration Against Apartheid in Sports, adopted by the General Assembly in 1977, calls on states to take all appropriate action to cease sporting contacts with any country practicing apartheid and to exclude or expel any such country from international and regional sports bodies.
The International Convention Against Apartheid in Sports, adopted by the General Assembly in 1985, gave the provisions of the declaration a binding legal form. It entered into force in April 1988. As of February 2002, it had been acceded to or ratified by 58 states.
Other Action to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination
In 1972, the General Assembly decided to launch a Decade for Action to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination, to begin on 10 December 1973, the 25th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in 1973, the General Assembly approved a comprehensive and ambitious program for the decade. Among its goals were the following: to promote human rights for all without distinction of any kind on grounds of race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin, especially by eradicating racial prejudice, racism, and racial discrimination; to arrest any expansion of racist policies; to identify, isolate, and dispel the fallacious and mythical beliefs, policies, and practices that contribute to racism and racial discrimination; and to put an end to racist regimes.
While there was not necessarily complete unanimity in the General Assembly on every phrase and formulation of the relevant decisions on the decade adopted in 1972, 1973, and 1974, there was a general consensus in support of its goals. However, at the 1975 session of the General Assembly, a resolution was adopted by which the General Assembly determined that "Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination." The resolution was adopted by 72 votes to 35, with 32 abstentions. Among those strongly opposed were the nine members of the European Economic Community, as well as the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and other states of Western Europe, Latin America, and Africa. Many of these states declared that the resolution radically changed the concept of the decade and would therefore change their attitude toward it.
The midpoint of the decade was marked by a world conference held in Geneva in August 1978. The conference adopted recommendations for comprehensive mandatory sanctions against the racist regimes of southern Africa, elimination of all discriminatory laws and practices, adoption of laws to punish dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred, and promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples and migrant workers. In 1979, the General Assembly adopted a program for the remaining four years of the decade, and in 1982, it decided that a second conference would be held in 1983.
The Second World Conference to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination, held in Geneva in August 1983, was attended by representatives of 128 states, as well as of UN organs and specialized agencies and of intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations. The conference adopted a declaration and a program of action in which it noted that "in spite of the efforts of the international community during the Decade, at the national, regional and international levels, racism, racial discrimination and apartheid continue unabated and have shown no sign of diminishing." The program of action contained practical suggestions on matters such as action to combat apartheid; education, teaching, and training; dissemination of information and the role of the mass media in combating racism and racial discrimination; measures for the promotion and protection of the human rights of minority groups, indigenous peoples, and migrant workers who are subject to racial discrimination; recourse procedures for victims of racial discrimination; implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and other related international instruments; national legislation and institutions; seminars and studies; action by nongovernmental organizations; and international cooperation.
On the recommendation of the conference, the General Assembly proclaimed the Second Decade to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination, on 22 November 1983, and called for renewed and intensified efforts and for implementation of the program of action approved by the conference.
On 20 December 1993, the General Assembly proclaimed the Third Decade to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination (1994–2003). Also in 1993, the Commission on Human Rights appointed a special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. The special rapporteur reports on institutionalized and indirect forms of racism and racial discrimination against national, racial, ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities and migrant workers. The rapporteur's mandate also emphasizes new manifestations of racism and xenophobia in developed countries. As of 2002, the Third Decade had taken a broad view of racism, noting that all societies in the world are afflicted by racial discrimination. The roots of racism were addressed, as were changes necessary to prevent eruption of conflicts caused by racial discrimination. Ethnic cleansing and genocide came under consideration, as well as the institutionalization of xenophobia.
In 1997, the General Assembly decided to convene the Third World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance, which took place from 31 August to 8 September 2001 in South Africa. The UN slogan for the World Conference was "United to Combat Racism: Equality, Dignity, Justice." Five themes were identified for the conference:(1) the sources, causes, forms and contemporary manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; (2) victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; (3) measures of prevention, education and protection aimed at the eradication of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance at the national, regional, and international levels; (4) provision of effective remedies, recourses, redress and other measures, at the national, regional and international levels; and (5) strategies to achieve full and effective equality, including international co-operation and enhancement of the UN and other international mechanisms in combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
THE WORK OF THE UN RELATING TO THE STATUS OF WOMEN The work of the UN relating to the status of women, aimed at achieving equal rights for men and women, is an important part of the UN's efforts to promote and to encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. The organ given the main responsibility in this field is the Commission on the Status of Women, a functional commission of the Economic and Social Council, established in 1946. Almost all the achievements of the UN in this matter are due to the initiative and work of the commission.
The Convention on the Political Rights of Women
The Convention on the Political Rights of Women, adopted in 1952 and in force since 1954, represented the culmination of the endeavors of generations of fighters for women's rights. It provides that women shall be entitled to vote in all elections, that they shall be eligible for election to all publicly elected bodies, and that they shall be entitled to hold public office and to exercise all public functions on equal terms with men and without any discrimination.
The Convention on the Nationality of Married Women
The Convention on the Nationality of Married Women, adopted in 1957 and in force since 1958, provides that neither the celebration nor the dissolution of marriage between a national and an alien, nor the change of nationality by the husband during marriage, shall automatically affect the nationality of the wife.
The Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage, and Registration of Marriages The Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage, and Registration of Marriages, adopted in 1962 and in force since 1964, provides that no marriage shall be legally entered into without the full and free consent of both parties, such consent to be expressed by them in person after due publicity and in the presence of the authority competent to solemnize the marriage. States parties to the convention are committed to take legislative action to specify a minimum age for marriage. All marriages shall be registered in an official register by a competent authority.
In a recommendation on the same subjects as those of this convention, adopted in 1965, the General Assembly stated that the minimum age shall be not less than 15 years.
The Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women In 1967, the General Assembly solemnly proclaimed the Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. The declaration states that discrimination against women, denying or limiting as it does their equality of rights with men, is fundamentally unjust and constitutes an offense against human dignity. Work was started on a convention to put the principles of the declaration into binding legal form.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women On 18 December 1979, the General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The convention came into force in September 1981; as of August 2002, 170 states had ratified the convention.
Under the convention, states parties undertake to adopt all appropriate measures to abolish existing laws, regulations, customs, and practices that are discriminatory against women and to establish legal protection of the rights of women on an equal basis with men. The convention contains detailed provisions concerning equal rights for women in voting and holding public office and in education, employment, and health care. It provides for equality before the law and for the elimination of discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations.
The convention established a Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women to periodically examine reports by states parties on measures that they have taken to implement the convention. The 23-member committee meets annually to consider the reports, which are due within one year of ratification or accession to the convention and every four years thereafter. The committee makes recommendations and observations to states parties on the basis of its consideration of the reports.
International Women's Year
In 1972, the General Assembly proclaimed the year 1975 as the International Women's Year. In 1974, the Economic and Social Council decided to convene an international conference to examine to what extent the organizations of the UN system had implemented the recommendations for the elimination of discrimination against women made by the Commission on the Status of Women since its establishment and to launch an international action program aimed at achieving the integration of women as full and equal partners with men in the total development effort, eliminating discrimination on grounds of sex, and achieving the widest possible involvement of women in strengthening international peace and eliminating racism and racial discrimination.
The World Conference of the International Women's Year took place in June/July 1975 in Mexico City. It was the most representative meeting on women's issues held to date, bringing together more than a thousand representatives, about 70% of them women, from more than 130 countries. The conference adopted the "Declaration of Mexico on the Equality of Women and Their Contribution to Development and Peace, 1975"; a world plan of action for implementation of the objectives of the International Women's Year; regional plans of action; and a great number of decisions on concrete problems. In the Declaration of Mexico, the conference affirmed its faith in the objectives of the International Women's Year—equality, development, and peace.
UN Decade for Women
Later in 1975, the General Assembly endorsed the proposals of the Mexico conference and proclaimed the period 1976–85 as the UN Decade for Women: Equality, Development, and Peace. The General Assembly called for the decade to be devoted to effective and sustained action to implement the world plan of action, and it decided to convene in 1980, at the midpoint of the decade, another world conference to review and evaluate the progress made.
The second world conference, held in Copenhagen in July 1980, adopted a program of action for the second half of the decade, 1980–85, to promote the three objectives of equality, development, and peace, with special emphasis on the subtheme—employment, health, and education. It called for specific action to ensure that the objectives of the world plan were met by the end of the decade.
The program of action was endorsed later in 1980 by the General Assembly, which decided to convene in 1985 a world conference to review and appraise the achievements of the decade.
1995 Fourth World Conference on Women
The Fourth World Conference on Women was held in Beijing, from 4–15 September 1995, subtitled "Action for Equality, Development and Peace." At preparatory meetings in 1994, the Secretary-General said a turning point had been reached in the cause of women worldwide. The conference represented a vital continuation of the work on development issues begun during the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED) in June 1992 and the World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna in June 1993, and tied in with the International Conference on Population and Development, held in Cairo (5–13 September 1994) and the World Summit for Social Development, held in Copenhagen (11–12 March 1995).
Besides receiving reports from virtually all UN organizations on their programs relating to the status of women, the conference addressed gender issues in the context of a new vision of the 21st century as one in which gender equality would be achieved. It also focused on the problems of rural women and the need to facilitate access to resources so that they can improve their lives and, in turn, the lives of their families and communities.
2000 Beijing + 5 Conference
The twenty-third special session of the General Assembly on "Women 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the 21st century" took place at UN Headquarters in New York from 5–9 June 2000. Also referred to as "Beijing + 5," it was a special session to review progress made since the Fourth World Conference on Women (FWCW) held in Beijing in 1995. The Beijing + 5 session adopted a document and political declaration that would take further actions and initiatives to implement the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action emerging from the FWCW. The special session was addressed by representatives of 148 member states, including two prime ministers, four vice-presidents, ministers and vice-ministers. Certain areas received focused attention. These included; education; social services and health, including sexual and reproductive health; the HIV/AIDS pandemic; violence against women and girls; the burden of poverty on women; vulnerability of migrant women including exploitation and trafficking; natural disaster and environmental management; the development of strong, effective and accessible national machineries for the advancement of women; and the formulation of strategies to enable women and men to reconcile and share equally work and family responsibilities.
The Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies
The World Conference to Review and Appraise the Achievements of the UN Decade for Women was held in Nairobi, Kenya, in July 1985, attended by representatives of 157 states, as well as observers from specialized agencies and other organizations. The major achievement of the conference was the adoption, by consensus, of the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women to the Year 2000. Measures recommended included technical cooperation, training and advisory services, institutional coordination, research and policy analysis, participation of women in activities at the international and regional levels, and dissemination of information on goals and objectives for the advancement of women.
The Declaration on the Participation of Women in Promoting International Peace and Cooperation The Declaration on the Participation of Women in Promoting International Peace and Cooperation was adopted by the General Assembly in 1982. It states that women and men have an equal and vital interest in contributing to international peace and cooperation and that, to this end, women must be enabled to exercise their right to participate in the economic, social, cultural, civil, and political affairs of society on an equal footing with men.