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Fact Sheet No.2 (Rev.1),
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason
and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS (art. 1),
adopted by General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948.
Contents:
· Background
· Universal Declaration of Human Rights
· International Covenants on Human Rights
· Worldwide influence of the International Bill of Human Rights
· Annex: The International Bill of Human Rights
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
- Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
- Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the
abolition of the death penalty
Background
The International Bill of Human Rights consists of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights and its two Optional Protocols.
Human rights had already found expression in the Covenant of the League of Nations, which led, inter alia,
to the creation of the International Labour Organisation. At the 1945 San Francisco Conference, held to draft
the Charter of the United Nations, a proposal to embody a "Declaration on the Essential Rights of Man" was
put forward but was not examined because it required more detailed consideration than was possible at the
time. The Charter clearly speaks of "promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for
fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion" (Art. 1, para. 3). The
idea of promulgating an "international bill of rights" was also considered by many as basically implicit in the
Charter.
The Preparatory Commission of the United Nations, which met immediately after the closing session of the
San Francisco Conference, recommended that the Economic and Social Council should, at its first session,
establish a commission for the promotion of human rights as envisaged in Article 68 of the Charter.
Accordingly, the Council established the Commission on Human Rights early in 1946.
At its first session, in 1946, the General Assembly considered a draft Declaration on Fundamental Human
Rights and Freedoms and transmitted it to the Economic and Social Council "for reference to the Commission
on Human Rights for consideration . . . in its preparation of an international bill of rights" (resolution 43 (I)).
The Commission, at its first session early in 1947, authorized its officers to formulate what it termed "a
preliminary draft International Bill of Human Rights". Later the work was taken over by a formal drafting
committee, consisting of members of the Commission from eight States, selected with due regard for
geographical distribution.
Towards the Universal Declaration
In the beginning, different views were expressed about the form the bill of rights should take. The Drafting
Committee decided to prepare two documents: one in the form of a declaration, which would set forth
general principles or standards of human rights; the other in the form of a convention, which would define
specific rights and their limitations. Accordingly, the Committee transmitted to the Commission on Human
Rights draft articles of an international declaration and an international convention on human rights. At its
second session, in December 1947, the Commission decided to apply the term "International Bill of Human
Rights" to the series of documents in preparation and established three working groups: one on the
declaration, one on the convention (which it renamed "covenant") and one on implementation. The
Commission revised the draft declaration at its third session, in May/June 1948, taking into consideration
comments received from Governments. It did not have time, however, to consider the covenant or the
question of implementation. The declaration was therefore submitted through the Economic and Social
Council to the General Assembly, meeting in Paris.
By its resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948, the General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights as the first of these projected instruments.
Towards the International Covenants
On the same day that it adopted the Universal Declaration, the General Assembly requested the Commission
on Human Rights to prepare, as a matter of priority, a draft covenant on human rights and draft measures
of implementation. The Commission examined the text of the draft covenant in 1949 and the following year
it revised the first 18 articles, on the basis of comments received from Governments. In 1950, the General
Assembly declared that "the enjoyment of civic and political freedoms and of economic, social and cultural
rights are interconnected and interdependent" (resolution 421 (V), sect. E). The Assembly thus decided to
include in the covenant on human rights economic, social and cultural rights and an explicit recognition of
the equality of men and women in related rights, as set forth in the Charter. In 1951, the Commission
drafted 14 articles on economic, social and cultural rights on the basis of proposals made by Governments
and suggestions by specialized agencies. It also formulated 10 articles on measures for implementation of
those rights under which States parties to the covenant would submit periodic reports. After a long debate
at its sixth session, in 1951/1952, the General Assembly requested the Commission "to draft two Covenants
on Human Rights, . . . one to contain civil and political rights and the other to contain economic, social and
cultural rights" (resolution 543 (VI), para. 1). The Assembly specified that the two covenants should contain
as many similar provisions as possible. It also decided to include an article providing that "all peoples shall
have the right of self-determination" (resolution 545 (VI)).
The Commission completed preparation of the two drafts at its ninth and tenth sessions, in 1953 and 1954.
The General Assembly reviewed those texts at its ninth session, in 1954, and decided to give the drafts the
widest possible publicity in order that Governments might study them thoroughly and that public opinion
might express itself freely. It recommended that its Third Committee start an article-by-article discussion of
the texts at its tenth session, in 1955. Although the article-by-article discussion began as scheduled, it was
not until 1966 that the preparation of the two covenants was completed.
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights were adopted by the General Assembly by its resolution 2200 A (XXI) of 16 December
1966. The first Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted by the
same resolution, provided international machinery for dealing with communications from individuals claiming
to be victims of violations of any of the rights set forth in the Covenant.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted and proclaimed by the General Assembly
as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and
every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to
promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to
secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among, the peoples of Member States
themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.
Forty-eight States voted in favour of the Declaration, none against, with eight abstentions. In a statement
following the voting, the President of the General Assembly pointed out that adoption of the Declaration was
"a remarkable achievement, a step forward in the great evolutionary process. It was the first occasion on
which the organized community of nations had made a Declaration of human rights and fundamental
freedoms. The instrument was backed by the authority of the body of opinion of the United Nations as a
whole, and millions of people -men, women and children all over the world- would turn to it for help,
guidance and inspiration.
The Declaration consists of a preamble and 30 articles, setting forth the human rights and fundamental
freedoms to which all men and women, everywhere in the world, are entitled, without any discrimination.
Article 1, which lays down the philosophy on which the Declaration is based, reads:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and
conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
The article thus defines the basic assumptions of the Declaration: that the right to liberty and equality is
man's birthright and cannot be alienated: and that, because man is a rational and moral being, he is
different from other creatures on earth and therefore entitled to certain rights and freedoms which other
creatures do not enjoy.
Article 2, which sets out the basic principle of equality and non discrimination as regards the enjoyment of
human rights and fundamental freedoms, forbids "distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex,
language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status".
Article 3, the first cornerstone of the Declaration, proclaims the right to life, liberty and security of person -a
right essential to the enjoyment of all other rights. This article introduces articles 4 to 21, in which other civil
and political rights are set out, including: freedom from slavery and servitude; freedom from torture and
cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; the right to recognition everywhere as a person
before the law; the right to an effective judicial remedy; freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention or exile;
the right to a fair trial and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal; the right to be presumed
innocent until proved guilty; freedom from arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home or
correspondence; freedom of movement and residence; the right of asylum; the right to a nationality; the
right to marry and to found a family; the right to own property; freedom of thought, conscience and
religion; freedom of opinion and expression; the right to peaceful assembly and association; and the right to
take part in the government of one's country and to equal access to public service in one's country.
Article 22, the second cornerstone of the Declaration, introduces articles 23 to 27, in which economic, social
and cultural rights -the rights to which everyone is entitled "as a member of society" -are set out. The article
characterizes these rights as indispensable for human dignity and the free development of personality, and
indicates that they are to be realized "through national effort and international cooperation". At the same
time, it points out the limitations of realization, the extent of which depends on the resources of each State.
The economic, social and cultural rights recognized in articles 22 to 27 include the right to social security;
the right to work; the right to equal pay for equal work; the right to rest and leisure; the right to a standard
of living adequate for health and well-being; the right to education; and the right to participate in the
cultural life of the community.
The concluding articles, articles 28 to 30, recognize that everyone is entitled to a social and international
order in which the human rights and fundamental freedoms set forth in the Declaration may be fully
realized, and stress the duties and responsibilities which each individual owes to his community. Article 29
states that "in the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as
are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and
freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in
a democratic society". It adds that in no case may human rights and fundamental freedoms be exercised
contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations. Article 30 emphasizes that no State, group or
person may claim any right, under the Declaration, "to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at
the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth" in the Declaration.
Importance and influence of the Declaration
Conceived as "a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations", the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights has become just that: a yardstick by which to measure the degree of respect for, and
compliance with, international human rights standards.
Since 1948 it has been and rightly continues to be the most important and far-reaching of all United Nations
declarations, and a fundamental source of inspiration for national and international efforts to promote and
protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. It has set the direction for all subsequent work in the field
of human rights and has provided the basic philosophy for many legally binding international instruments
designed to protect the rights and freedoms which it proclaims.
In the Proclamation of Teheran, adopted by the International Conference on Human Rights held in Iran in
1968, the Conference agreed that "the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states a common
understanding of the peoples of the world concerning the inalienable and inviolable rights of all members of
the human family and constitutes an obligation for the members of the international community". The
Conference affirmed its faith in the principles set forth in the Declaration, and urged all peoples and
Governments "to dedicate themselves to [those] principles . . . and to redouble their efforts to provide for all
human beings a life consonant with freedom and dignity and conducive to physical, mental, social and
spiritual welfare".
In recent years, there has been a growing tendency for United Nations organs, in preparing international
instruments in the filed of human rights, to refer not only to the Universal Declaration, but also to other
parts of the International Bill of Human Rights.
International Covenants on Human Rights
The preambles and articles 1, 3 and 5 of the two International Covenants are almost identical. The
preambles recall the obligation of States under the Charter of the United Nations to promote human rights;
remind the individual of his responsibility to strive for the promotion and observance of those rights; and
recognize that, in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ideal of free human
beings enjoying civil and political freedom and freedom from fear and want can be achieved only if
conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his civil and political rights, as well as his economic,
social and cultural rights.
Article 1of each Covenant states that the right to self-determination is universal and calls upon States to
promote the realization of that right and to respect it.
The article provides that "All peoples have the right of self-determination" and adds that "By virtue of that
right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural
development". Article 3, in both cases, reaffirms the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all
human rights, and enjoins States to make that principle a reality. Article 5, in both cases, provides
safeguards against the destruction or undue limitation of any human right or fundamental freedom, and
against misinterpretation of any provision of the Covenants as a means of justifying infringement of a right
or freedom or its restriction to a greater extent than provided for in the Covenants. It also prevents States
from limiting rights already enjoyed within their territories on the ground that such rights are not
recognized, or recognized to a lesser extent, in the Covenants.
Articles 6 to 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognize the rights to
work (art. 6); to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work (art. 7); to form and join trade
unions (art. 8); to social security, including social insurance (art. 9); to the widest possible protection and
assistance for the family, especially mothers, children and young persons (art. 10); to an adequate standard
of living (art. I 1); to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (art.
12); to education (arts. 13 and 14); and to take part in cultural life (art. 15).
In its articles 6 to 27, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights protects the right to life (art.
6) and lays down that no one is to be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or
punishment (art. 7); that no one is to be held in slavery; that slavery and the slave-trade are to be
prohibited; and that no one is to be held in servitude or required to perform forced or compulsory labour
(art. 8); that no one is to be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention (art. 9); that all persons deprived of
their liberty are to be treated with humanity (art. 10); and that no one is to be imprisoned merely on the
ground of inability to fulfil a contractual obligation (art. 11).
The Covenant provides for freedom of movement and freedom to choose a residence (art. 12) and for
limitations to be placed on the expulsion of aliens lawfully in the territory of a State party (art. 13). It makes
provision for the equality of all persons before the courts and tribunals and for guarantees in criminal and
civil proceedings (art. 14). It prohibits retroactive criminal legislation (art. 15); lays down the right of
everyone to recognition everywhere as a person before the law (art. 16); and calls for the prohibition of
arbitrary or unlawful interference with an individual's privacy, family, home or correspondence, and of
unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation (art. 17).
The Covenant provides for protection of the rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (art. 18)
and to freedom of opinion and expression (art. 19). It calls for the prohibition by law of any propaganda for
war and of any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination,
hostility or violence (art. 20). It recognizes the right of peaceful assembly (art. 21) and the right to freedom
of association (art. 22). It also recognizes the right of men and women of marriageable age to marry and to
found a family, and the principle of equality of rights and responsibilities of spouses as to marriage, during
marriage and at its dissolution (art. 23). It lays down measures to protect the rights of children (art. 24),
and recognizes the right of every citizen to take part in the conduct of public affairs, to vote and to be
elected, and to have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country (art. 25). It
provides that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law (art. 26). It
also calls for protection of the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities in the territories of States
parties (art. 27).
Finally, article 28 provides for the establishment of a Human Rights Committee responsible for supervising
implementation of the rights set out in the Covenant.
Conditions
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that the exercise of a person's rights and freedoms may
be subject to certain limitations, which must be determined by law, solely for the purpose of securing due
recognition of the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public
order and the general welfare in a democratic society. Rights may not be exercised contrary to the purposes
and principles of the United Nations, or if they are aimed at destroying any of the rights set forth in the
Declaration (arts. 29 and 30).
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states that the rights provided for
therein may be limited by law, but only in so far as it is compatible with the nature of the rights and solely
to promote the general welfare in a democratic society (art. 4).
Unlike the Universal Declaration and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights contains no general provision applicable to all the rights provided for in
the Covenant authorizing restrictions on their exercise. However, several articles in the Covenant provide
that the rights being dealt with shall not be subject to any restrictions except those which are prescribed by
law and are necessary to protect national security, public order, or the rights and freedoms of others.
Certain rights, therefore, may never be suspended or limited, even in emergency situations. These are the
rights to life, to freedom from torture, to freedom from enslavement or servitude, to protection from
imprisonment for debt, to freedom from retroactive penal laws, to recognition as a person before the law,
and to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
The Covenant on Civil and Political Rights allows a State to limit or suspend the enjoyment of certain rights
in cases of officially proclaimed public emergencies which threaten the life of the nation. Such limitations or
suspensions are permitted only "to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation" and may
never involve discrimination solely on the ground of race, colour, sex, language, religion or social origin (art.
4). The limitations or suspensions must also be reported to the United Nations.
First Optional Protocol
The first Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights enables the Human
Rights Committee, set up under that Covenant, to receive and consider communications from individuals
claiming to be victims of violations of any of the rights set forth in the Covenant.
Under article I of the Optional Protocol, a State party to the Covenant that becomes a party to the Protocol
recognizes the competence of the Human Rights Committee to receive and consider communications from
individuals subject to its jurisdiction who claim to be victims of a violation by that State of any of the rights
set forth in the Covenant. Individuals who make such a claim, and who have exhausted all available
domestic remedies, are entitled to submit a written communication to the Committee (art. 2).
Such communications as are determined to be admissible by the Committee (in addition to article 2, articles
3 and 5 (2) lay down conditions for admissibility) are brought to the attention of the State party alleged to
be violating a provision of the Covenant. Within six months, that State must submit to the Committee
written explanations or statements clarifying the matter and indicating the remedy, if any, that it may have
applied (art. 4).
The Human Rights Committee considers the admissible communications, at closed meetings, in the light of
all written information made available to it by the individual and the State party concerned. It then forwards
its views to the State party and to the individual (art. 5).
A summary of the Committee's activities under the Optional Protocol is included in the report which it
submits annually to the General Assembly through the Economic and Social Council (art. 6).
Second Optional Protocol
The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the
abolition of the death penalty, was adopted by the General Assembly by its resolution 44/128 of 15
December 1989. Under its article 1, no one within the jurisdiction of a State party to the Protocol may be
executed.
Under article 3 of the Protocol, States parties must include in the reports which they submit to the Human
Rights Committee information on measures taken to give effect to the Protocol.
Article 5 of the Second Optional Protocol provides that, with respect to any State party to the first Optional
Protocol, the competence of the Human Rights Committee to receive and consider communications from
individuals subject to that State's jurisdiction shall extend to the provisions of the Second Optional Protocol,
unless the State party concerned has made a statement to the contrary at the moment of ratification or
accession.
Under article 6, the provisions of the Second Optional Protocol apply as additional provisions to the
Covenant.
Entry into force of the Covenants and the Optional Protocols
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights entered into force on 3 January 1976,
three months after the date of deposit with the Secretary-General of the thirty-fifth instrument of ratification
or accession, as provided in article 27. As at 30 September 1995, the Covenant had been ratified or acceded
to by 132 States:
Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Barbados, Belarus,
Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada,
Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia,
Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Denmark, Dominica, Dominican Republic,
Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia,
Germany, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Hungary, Iceland, India,
Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia,
Lebanon, Lesotho, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Malta,
Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua,
Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic
of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Senegal,
Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Syrian
Arab Republic, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Ukraine,
United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, United States of America, Uruguay, Venezuela, Viet Nam,
Yemen, Yugoslavia, Zaire, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights entered into force on 23 March 1976, three months
after the date of deposit with the Secretary-General of the thirty-fifth instrument of ratification or accession,
as provided in article 49. As at 30 September 1995, the Covenant had been ratified or acceded to by 132
States:
Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Barbados, Belarus,
Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada,
Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia,
Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Denmark, Dominica, Dominican Republic,
Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia,
Germany, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, Haiti, Hungary, Iceland, India, Iran (Islamic Republic of),
Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libyan
Arab Jamahiriya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia,
Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway,
Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania,
Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Senegal, Seychelles, Slovakia,
Slovenia, Somalia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Syrian Arab Republic, The
former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Uganda, Ukraine, United
Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, United States of America, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Viet
Nam, Yemen, Yugoslavia, Zaire, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
As at the same date, 44 States parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights had made
the declaration under its article 41, recognizing the competence of the Human Rights Committee "to receive
and consider communications to the effect that a State Party claims that another State Party is not fulfilling
its obligations" under the Covenant. The provisions of article 41 entered into force on 28 March 1979 in
accordance with paragraph 2 of that article.
The first Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights entered into force
simultaneously with the Covenant, having received the minimum 10 ratifications or accessions required. As
at 30 September 1995, 85 States parties to the Covenant had also become parties to the first Optional
Protocol:
Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia
and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Congo,
Costa Rica, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea,
Estonia, Finland, France, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Guinea, Guyana, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy,
Jamaica, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malta, Mauritius,
Mongolia, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru,
Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Saint Vincent and the
Grenadines, San Marino, Senegal, Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, Spain, Suriname, Sweden, The
former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Ukraine, Uruguay, Uzbekistan,
Venezuela, Zaire and Zambia.
The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the
abolition of the death penalty, entered into force on 11 July 1991, having received the minimum 10
ratifications or accessions required. As at 30 September 1995, the Protocol had been ratified or acceded to
by 28 States:
Australia, Austria, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg,
Malta, Mozambique, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Portugal, Romania, Seychelles,
Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Uruguay and Venezuela.
Worldwide influence of the International Bill of Human Rights
From 1948, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted and proclaimed, until 1976, when
the International Covenants on Human Rights entered into force, the Declaration was the only completed
portion of the International Bill of Human Rights. The Declaration, and at a later stage the Covenants,
exercised a profound influence on the thoughts and actions of individuals and their Governments in all parts
of the world.
The International Conference on Human Rights, which met at Teheran from 22 April to 13 May 1968 to
review the progress made in the 20 years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration and to formulate a
programme for the future, solemnly declared in the Proclamation of Teheran:
1 . It is imperative that the members of the international community fulfil their solemn obligations to
promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinctions of
any kind such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions;
2. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states a common understanding, of the peoples of the world
concerning the inalienable and inviolable rights of all members of the human family and constitutes an
obligation for the members of the international community;
3. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights, the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, the
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination as well as other
conventions and declarations in the field of human rights adopted under the auspices of the United Nations,
the specialized agencies and the regional intergovernmental organizations, have created new standards and
obligations to which States should conform;
. . .
Thus, for more than 25 years, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights stood alone as an international
"standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations". It became known and was accepted as
authoritative both in States which became parties to one or both of the Covenants and in those which did
not ratify or accede to either. Its provisions were cited as the basis and justification for many important
decisions taken by United Nations bodies; they inspired the preparation of a number of international human
rights instruments, both within and outside the United Nations system; they exercised a significant influence
on a number of multilateral and bilateral treaties; and they had a strong impact as the basis for the
preparation of many new national constitutions and national laws.
The Universal Declaration came to be recognized as a historic document articulating a common definition of
human dignity and values. The Declaration is a yardstick by which to measure the degree of respect for, and
compliance with, international human rights standards everywhere on earth.
The coming into force of the Covenants, by which States parties accepted a legal as well as a moral
obligation to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, did not in any way diminish the
widespread influence of the Universal Declaration. On the contrary, the very existence of the Covenants, and
the fact that they contain the measures of implementation required to ensure the realization of the rights
and freedoms set out in the Declaration, gives greater strength to the Declaration.
Moreover, the Universal Declaration is truly universal in scope, as it preserves its validity for every member
of the human family, everywhere, regardless of whether or not Governments have formally accepted its
principles or ratified the Covenants. On the other hand, the Covenants, by their nature as multilateral
conventions, are legally binding only on those States which have accepted them by ratification or accession.
In many important resolutions and decisions adopted by United Nations bodies, including the General
Assembly and the Security Council, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and one or both Covenants
have been cited as the basis for action.
Nearly all the international human rights instruments adopted by United Nations bodies since 1948 elaborate
principles set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The International Covenant on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights states in its preamble that it developed out of recognition of the fact that
in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ideal of free human beings enjoyin
freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his
economic, social and cultural rights, as well as his civil and political rights.
A similar statement is made in the preamble to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman
or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, adopted by the General Assembly in 1975 (resolution 3452 (XXX)),
spells out the meaning of article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 7 of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which provide that no one may be subjected to
torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. This prohibition was further reinforced
by the adoption in 1984 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment (General Assembly resolution 39/46). Similarly, the Declaration on the Elimination
of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, proclaimed by the General
Assembly in 1981 (resolution 36/55); clearly defines the nature and scope of the principles of non
discrimination and equality before the law and the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and
belief contained in the Universal Declaration and the International Covenants.
A similar situation prevails as regards international human rights instruments adopted outside the United
Nations system. For example, the preamble to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and
Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by the Council of Europe at Rome in 1950, concludes with the following
words:
Being resolved, as the Governments of European countries which are like-minded and have a common
heritage of political traditions, ideals, freedom and the rule of law, to take the first steps for the collective
enforcement of certain of the rights stated in the Universal Declaration;
Article II of the Charter of the Organization of African Unity, adopted at Addis Ababa in 1963, provides that
one of the purposes of the Organization is "to promote international cooperation, having due regard to the
Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights". The American Convention on
Human Rights, signed at San José, Costa Rica, in 1969, states in its preamble that the principles to which it
gives effect are those set forth in the Charter of the Organization of American States, in the American
Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Judges of the International Court of Justice have occasionally invoked principles contained in the
International Bill of Human Rights as a basis for their decisions.
National and local tribunals have frequently cited principles set out in the International Bill of Human Rights
in their decisions. Moreover, in recent years, national constitutional and legislative texts have increasingly
provided measures of legal protection for those principles; indeed, many recent national and local laws are
clearly modelled on provisions set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International
Covenants, which remain a beacon for all present and future efforts in the field of human rights, both
nationally and internationally.
Finally, the World Conference on Human Rights, held at Vienna in June 1993, adopted by acclamation the
Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, in which it welcomed the progress made in the codification of
human rights instruments and urged the universal ratification of human rights treaties. In addition, all
States were encouraged to avoid, as far as possible, the resort to reservations (part 1, para. 26).
Thus the International Bill of Human Rights represents a milestone in the history of human
rights, a veritable Magna Carta marking mankind's arrival at a vitally important phase: the
conscious acquisition of human dignity and worth.
Printed at United Nations, Geneva
June 1996

 
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