16.12.2009 -

Human Rights. Major International Instruments. Status as at 31 May 2009

The present publication offers a comprehensive picture of the status of ratification of binding human rights instruments. Published annually, it shows developments in the ratification process of universal and regional normative instruments.

On 10 December 1948 the United Nations proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. For the first time in the history of humankind, a universal instrument recognizing the equal dignity and rights of all individuals was adopted.

The Universal Declaration played a pivotal role in the creation of mechanisms of human rights protection at the universal, regional and national levels. These mechanisms are based upon international instruments which transformed into binding norms the provisions of the Declaration. The majority of the rights proclaimed in the UDHR have been codified and progressively developed. However some rights, like the right to take part in cultural life and the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, are still awaiting further elucidation of their content and corresponding obligations of States.

The purpose of this booklet is to present data on States’ ratifications, accessions and successions to human rights instruments, at both the universal and regional level, in an effort to further disseminate knowledge on human rights. It is of particular importance in the International Year of Human Rights Learning, which commenced on 10 December 2008.

Throughout history, freedom, justice and human dignity have always been held as ideals to achieve. With the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) these ideals received recognition worldwide. The year-long commemorative activities of 2008, in which UNESCO actively participated, reaffirmed that sixty years after its adoption, the UDHR is as pertinent as it was in 1948. The momentum accumulated in 2008 should not be lost and the efforts to advance the enjoyment of all human rights by all should be continued and further intensified. It is particularly relevant now, when global economic and financial crises jeopardize the achievements reached in the last decades and threaten to undermine the basic principle applied to economic, social and cultural rights, namely the principle of non-retrogression. In the face of this threat, the efforts of all partners should be mobilized and joined to respect, protect and fulfill all human rights in conformity with international standard-setting instruments, both universal and regional.

Implementation of these instruments is therefore a priority. This year marks the anniversaries of several cornerstone conventions: the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention against Torture, the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Despite the progress achieved in the application of the norms enshrined in these instruments there is still a lot to do to eradicate torture, eliminate gender discrimination and promote gender equality and to ensure and protect children’s rights. The same applies to other instruments.

Important developments have taken place since the last edition. On 10 December 2008, the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was adopted by the General Assembly, and will be open for signature in September 2009. With its entry into force the victims of violations of civil and political rights and the victims of violations of economic, social and cultural rights will enjoy equal mechanisms of protection. In May 2009, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted the General Comment on non-discrimination in the field of economic, social and cultural rights and started elaborating a draft General Comment on the right to take part in cultural life. In March 2009, the Human Rights Council established the mandate of an Independent Expert in the field of cultural rights.

With the creation of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which held its first session in February 2009, and the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in May 2008, an important gap in the international system of protection of persons belonging to vulnerable groups was closed.

At the regional level, two new instruments adopted by the Council of Europe in May 2008, the European Convention on the Adoption of Children and the Additional Protocol to the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine concerning Genetic Testing for Health Purposes, were opened for signature on 27 November 2008. Protocol No. 14bis to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms was adopted on 12 May 2009 in order to regulate some procedural issues concerning the functioning of the European Court on Human Rights, before the entry into force of Protocol No. 14. The Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents was adopted on 27 November 2008 and has been open for signature since 18 June 2009. In July 2008 the African Union adopted the Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights which establishes this court (instead of two separate courts). This step aims at reinforcing mechanisms for monitoring the implementation of human rights in that vast region.

UNESCO wishes to express its gratitude to partner Organizations and to all those who assisted in the preparation of this resource. We would appreciate being informed of any errors or omissions that may have occurred inadvertently, despite all our efforts to present the most accurate information possible.

Download the publication in English/French [PDF, 819 KB]

Please address all correspondence to:

Social and Human Sciences Sector
UNESCO
7 place de Fontenoy
75352 Paris 07 SP
France




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