What are the Core International Human Rights Law Instruments?
There are three main instruments of international human rights law:
1. The Charter of the United Nations
2. The International Bill of Rights
- +Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948
- +International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966
- +International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966
- +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
What is a treaty?
A treaty (also referred to as convention or covenant) is an international legal instrument which legally binds, in international law, those States who chose to accept the obligations contained within it.
How many International Human Rights Treaties are there?
There are nine core international human rights treaties, one of which has not yet entered into force (on enforced disappearance).
Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, all UN Member States have ratified at least one core international human rights treaty, and 80 percent have ratified four or more.
Some of the treaties are supplemented by optional protocols dealing with specific concerns.
These are the nine core treaties:
+ICERD (International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination) --Treaty Date: 21 Dec 1965
+ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) --Treaty Date: 16 Dec 1966
+ICESCR (International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) --Treaty Date: 16 Dec 1966
+CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women)--Treaty Date: 18 Dec 1979
+CAT (Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment)--Treaty Date:10 Dec 1984
+CRC (Convention on the Rights of the Child)--Treaty Date: 20 Nov 1989
+ICRMW (International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families)--Treaty Date: 18 Dec 1990
+ICPPED (International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities)--Treaty Date: 13 Dec 2006
The eight treaties that are in force create legal obligations for States parties to promote and protect human rights at the national level. When a country accepts one of these treaties through ratification, accession or succession, it assumes a legal obligation to implement the rights set out in that treaty. But this is only the first step, because recognition of rights on paper is not sufficient to guarantee that they will be enjoyed in practice.
States parties require encouragement and assistance in meeting their international obligations to put in place the necessary measures to ensure the enjoyment of the rights provided in the treaty by everyone within the State. Each treaty therefore has an international committee of independent experts to monitor, by various means, implementation of its provisions.
Currently seven human rights treaty-monitoring bodies exist to monitor seven of the core treaties.
What are Treaty Committees?
Treaty committees are bodies that monitor the implementation of national measures to obligations set out by a specific treaty. Each committee is composed of independent experts (ranging in number from 10 to 23 members) of recognized competence in the field of human rights who are nominated and elected for fixed, renewable terms of four years by States parties.
Treaty bodies perform the following functions aimed at monitoring how the treaties are being implemented by States parties:
+ All treaty bodies are mandated to receive and consider reports submitted regularly by State parties detailing their implementation of the treaty provisions in the country concerned. They issue guidelines to assist States with the preparation of their reports, elaborate general comments interpreting the treaty provisions and organize discussions on themes related to the treaties.
+ Some, but not all, of the treaty bodies also perform a number of additional functions aimed at strengthening the implementation of the treaties by their States parties. Some treaty bodies may consider complaints or communications from individuals alleging that their rights have been violated by a State party, provided the State has opted into this procedure.
How does a State become party to a treaty?
In order to become a party to a treaty, a State must demonstrate, through a concrete act, its willingness to undertake the legal rights and obligations contained in the treaty. In other words, it must express its consent to be bound by the treaty. A State can express its consent to be bound in several ways, either through
Many treaties require a minimum number of States parties before they can enter into force in international law.
A signature is a preparatory step on the way to ratification of the treaty by the State. Although only ratification of a treaty makes it legally binding, a signature can also create some obligation, in the period between signature and ratification, acceptance or approval, to refrain in good faith from acts that would defeat the object and purpose of the treaty. Providing for signature subject to ratification allows States time to seek approval for the treaty at the domestic level and to enact any legislation necessary to implement the treaty domestically, prior to undertaking the legal obligations under the treaty at the international level.
Ratification, acceptance or approval:
Ratification, acceptance and approval all refer to the definitive act undertaken at the international level, whereby a State establishes its consent to be bound by a treaty which it has already signed. To ratify a treaty, the State must have first signed the treaty; but a State may also express its consent to be bound without first having signed the treaty - this process is called accession.
What are the Implications of Ratifying a Treaty?
Upon ratification, the State becomes legally bound by the treaty as one of its States parties and must put its provisions into practice by giving effect to the treaty domestically. The states parties are also committed to submit national reports, at least every four years, on measures they have taken to comply with their treaty obligations.
What are Periodic National Reports?
The primary mandate, common to all of the committees, is to monitor implementation of the relevant treaty by reviewing the reports submitted periodically by States parties in accordance with the treaty provisions.
Countries who have become party to the treaty (States parties) are obliged to submit regular reports to the Committee indicating the measures they have adopted to give effect to the provisions of the Convention.
During its sessions the Committee considers each State party report and addresses its concerns and recommendations to the State party in the form of concluding observations.
What are Shadow Reports?
Non-government organisations (NGOs) can also submit reports to these UN committees. The reports that NGOs submit are called 'Shadow Reports'. These Shadow Reports give an alternative view about the state's compliance with its treaty obligations. They are called Shadow Reports because they 'shadow' the official report sent to the Committee by the government.
What are Reservations?
A reservation is a statement made by a State by which it asks to exclude or alter the legal effect of certain provisions of a treaty in their application to that State, provided that the reservations are not incompatible with the object and purpose of the Convention. A reservation may enable a State to participate in a multilateral treaty in which it would otherwise be unable or unwilling to do so.
Reservations may be withdrawn completely or partially by the State party at any time.
Which Treaties have been ratified by Canada?
+Canada is a party to the seven out of the eight key human rights treaties in force, namely: ICCPR (International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights), ICESCR (International Convenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), CAT (United Nations Conventions Against Torture), CRC (Coventions on the Rights of Child), CERD (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) and CEDAW (Conventions on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women).
+Canada has not yet ratified the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their families (ICRMW) and the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (ICRPD).