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A guide through the maze


Every member state of the United Nations must abide by its Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the two Covenants on economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights. Together they are said to form an *International Bill of Rights*

Charter of the UN [Founding document]

*24 October 1945*
Preamble: ‘We the peoples of the United Nations determined:

Universal Declaration of Human Rights [from which most other rights derive]

*10 December 1948*

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

*16 December 1966*
Preamble: ‘In accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ideal of free human beings enjoying freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his [sic] economic, social and cultural rights, as well as his [sic] civil and political rights…’

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

*16 December 1966*
Preamble: As before, but says: ‘civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights…’


International Conventions put flesh on the bare bones of the International Bill of Rights. However, once they have been adopted by the General Assembly (on the date that appears here) they have to be ratified by a large majority of member states before they come into legal effect – a process that can take many years. Some states never ratify them at all.


*9 December 1948*
*Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide*
The Convention defines genocide as any of a number of acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.


*21 December 1965*
*Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination*
Article 2: Signatories condemn ‘racial discrimination and undertake to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms and promoting understanding among all races’.


*10 December 1979*
*Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women*
By accepting the Convention, states commit themselves to undertake a series of measures, including:

graphic of a maze with title


*10 December 1984*
*Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment*
Article 1: ‘For the purposes of this Convention, the term “torture” means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him [sic] or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.’

Migrant Workers

*18 December 1990*
*Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families*
Article 24: ‘Every migrant worker and every member of his or her family shall have the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.’

Enforced Disappearance

*18 December 1992*
*Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance*
Article 1: ‘1 No-one shall be subjected to enforced disappearance.
2 No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for enforced disappearance.’


*20 November 1989*
*Rights of the Child*
Article 2: ‘1 States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status. 2 States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members.’


*13 December 2006*
*Rights of Persons with Disabilities*
Article 1: ‘The purpose of the present Convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity… Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.’ _Other Conventions cover religion, development, ethnic minorities, war crimes, apartheid, imprisonment and execution._

Source: www.un.org/rights
The full texts of the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the other Conventions and Declarations referred to here can be found on this site.

New Internationalist issue 408 magazine cover This article is from the January-February 2008 issue of New Internationalist.
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