Before moving on to discuss why our governments have the ability to restrict certain rights, it’s important first to understand how our human rights are safeguarded.
There are many different international, regional, and national obligations that protect our human rights in the UK. We previously discussed what human rights are and where they originated from, but it’s important to know that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not legally binding. Instead, it represents an agreement by all member states of the United Nations to observe and promote human rights, fundamental freedoms and the dignity and worth of every individual. Since 1945, however, states have become party to many international treaties that do legally bind them to fulfil and protect human rights under international law.
*DISCLAIMER* Get ready for some treaties with very long-winded names!
International Human Rights Law
In 1966 the UN adopted the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). For the first time, international treaties legally bound consenting states to the protection of the rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The ICESCR, which legally obligated states to work towards the protection of economic, social and cultural rights, was ratified by 155 states.
There is a difference between signing and ratifying a treaty. By signing a treaty, a state is saying that they agree on the content within the treaty and that they intend to implement it into their domestic or national law. To say a state has ratified a treaty means that they have begun the actual process of protecting the rights outlined in the treaty by enshrining them within domestic law. It’s possible therefore, for a state to agree upon the content of a treaty, but not protect it within their domestic laws.
The United Nations and their supporting bodies call international human rights treaties ‘human rights instruments’. There are currently nine core international human rights instruments, and some are accompanied by optional protocols that deal with specific concerns associated with them. These nine core human rights treaties include the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Each of these treaties has a committee of experts that monitor how they are applied by the states that have agreed to them. The UN Human Rights Council, created in 2005, also has the ability to investigate alleged human rights violations.
Look out for part two where we will discuss how human rights are protected at a regional and national level.