This article is written by Sneha Mahawar, from Ramaiah Institute of Legal Studies, Bangalore. The article discusses the concept of international Human Rights and the analysis of its court process.
Introduction to human rights
Human Rights are the basic rights, liberties, and freedoms that belong to every individual in the world, from cradle to cremation. These basic rights are founded on common ideals such as dignity, justice, equality, respect, autonomy, and independence. These rights are defined and protected by law. Human Rights are universal, inherent, inalienable, fundamental, inseparable, imprescriptible, interrelated, and justiciable.
Human Rights are defined in Section 2(1)(d) of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 as “the rights relating to life, liberty, equality, and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the International Covenants and enforceable by Courts in India.”
A necessary component of human rights protection is the factual research and identifying the conditions that may constitute such violations, which is conducted by intergovernmental organizations, and by civil society. The Constitution of India guarantees all individuals basic human rights. Human rights protection is critical for the growth of the country’s people, which in turn contributes to the growth of the country as a whole.
Characteristics of human rights
- Human rights can neither be given nor be taken away.
- Civil, economic, political, social, and cultural rights are all included in human rights.
- Human rights are independent, universal, inherent, inalienable, inseparable, interrelated, imprescriptible, and indivisible.
Categorization of human rights
Social or Civil Human Rights
- Right to life and liberty.
- Right to safety and security of persons.
- Right against cruelty, inhuman treatment, degrading treatment, or punishment.
- Right to freedom against slavery and servitude.
- Right to privacy, family, home, and correspondence.
- Right to marry, not to marry, and have a family and right to property.
Economic or Gainful Human Rights
- Right to social insurance, disability insurance, retirement, social security payments, etc. under social security.
- Right to work and equal pay for an equivalent amount of work.
- Right to form trade unions.
- Right to food, health, and an adequate standard of living.
Political Human Rights
- Right to be a citizen/multiple citizenships.
- Right to enjoy a fair trial, judicial remedies, and freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile.
- Right to enjoy the freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
- Right to be part of government affairs.
- Right to enjoy the freedom of thought, expression, movement, belief, faith, conscience, and religion.
- Right to freedom of movement including being asylum.
Educational and Cultural Human Rights
- The right to participate in the community’s cultural life.
- Right to avail education including free primary education.
- The right to appreciate art and to participate in scientific discoveries and research.
- Right to seek protection for one’s moral and material interests as a result of any scientific, literary, or artistic work of which one is the author.
- Right to take part in cultural life.
International Bill of Human Rights
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an ideal standard that nations all around the world hold in common, but it has no legal authority. The UN Human Rights Commission‘s major goal from 1948 to 1966 was to construct a body of international human rights law based on the Declaration, as well as the mechanisms to ensure its implementation and usage.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) are two key treaties produced by the Human Rights Commission (ICESCR). In 1976, both entered international law. These two treaties, along with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, make up the “International Bill of Human Rights.”
An overview of International Human Rights and International Human Rights Court
As we already know, human rights are for the protection of human beings by the virtue of their humanity. It is the protection of individual beings from government actions that might or would threaten or harm certain freedoms guaranteed as fundamental rights in our Constitution, such as life, physical integrity, and liberty, etc.
As of now, International human rights law is regarded as an essential set of rules that govern the behaviour of the State vis-a-vis individuals and, at its most basic level, necessitates States to ensure that their people can enjoy their fundamental freedoms without any obligations and restrictions. Just like national constitutions act as covenants between governments and their citizens, international human rights treaties act as covenants between States and the international community. The States agree to provide their citizens with certain rights within their borders.
The idea which drives the international human rights law is the States because it is the States that are in a position to violate individual freedoms. Simply put, if a state does not guarantee basic freedoms to its citizens, it is unlikely to punish or correct its behaviour, especially in the absence of international agreement on the substance of those freedoms and a binding commitment to the international community to respect them.
A State must include positive as well as negative human rights duties as an obligation. This means that, in certain kinds of conditional circumstances, States shall have a duty to take proactive steps for the protection of the rights of individual beings, including from non-State action. Furthermore, demand for protection outside of the traditional, civil, and political spheres has increased the number and variety of interests recognized as rights, particularly in the economic, social, and cultural spheres. Individuals’ enjoyment of human rights is referred to as a State’s duty to respect, protect, and fulfill their rights.
International human rights courts and monitoring bodies frequently neglect state compliance with international human rights treaties; nevertheless, other sources are equally significant for evaluating individual rights and state duties. These include judicial and quasi-judicial decisions made by international and domestic courts on the subject of international human rights law or its domestic counterparts.
A necessary component of human rights protection is the factual research and identifying the conditions that may constitute such violations, which is conducted by intergovernmental organizations, and by civil society.
Lastly, International human rights law is powerfully effective, and dynamic and its boundaries are being pushed in new directions every day.
International Human Rights Court
The Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ) made an indispensable and important contribution towards the protection of minority rights. Similarly, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has played a significant and indispensable role in the evolution, development, and growth of the international protection of human rights.
As we are all aware that the international human rights treaties have their procedure for settling disputes. The international courts have dealt with issues and cases of human rights on various occasions but only in the relation to general international law and non-human rights treaties or such other provisions. Some treaties of human rights such as the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 1948 contain certain provisions that specifically refer the disputes to the Court of law. There are various other treaties such as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 1965 that contain provisions that permits referral to the Court of law after the pre-condition to resort to the treaty-specific dispute settlement procedure has been exhausted.
Henceforth, there has been an abundant opportunity with the Court to hand out the most important jurisprudences to the international human rights law in various diverse fields of study such as racial killing, mass slaughter, racism, sovereignty, autonomy, immunities of experts, foreign service access, combativeness, diplomatic protection, and nuclear weapons.
The spine of being able to live with freedom and dignity is to maintain the framework and function according to the guidelines of international human rights along with international humanitarian law, international criminal law, and international refugee law. These branches are the foundation of human rights and shall be considered as complementary bodies of law that share a common goal. Here, the purpose is the protection of people’s lives, health, and dignity.
International Courts monitoring Human Rights
Many countries formed different bodies and Courts for the protection of human rights. In general, the duties of these systems may include ruling on grievances against States, conducting independent oversight by country visits and documentation, and evaluating States’ records on their compliance with human rights.
In the United Nations, human rights are protected by the UN Human Rights Council along with Human rights treaty bodies, universal periodic reviews. The independent experts are known as ‘special procedures’.
The Middle East and North Africa
In the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, human rights are protected by the Arab Human Rights Committee.
Human rights are safeguarded in Southeast Asia by the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights.
The framework of International Human Rights
After World War II, the entire world began recognizing the need for the establishment of a human rights mechanism. Following that, national governments worked together to form the United Nations (UN), the Organization of American States (OAS), and the Council of Europe (COE), each with the development of human rights as one of its goals.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms are examples of these organizations’ declarations of human rights. By the mid-to-late 1950s, the United Nations, Inter-American, and European had established mechanisms for the promotion and protection of human rights, which included the (former) UN Commission on Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the (former) European Commission of Human Rights, and the European Court of Human Rights.
In the decades that followed, each supervised the drafting of specific human rights treaties and established additional oversight structures, which now include the United Nations Treaty Bodies and Universal Periodic Review, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and the European Committee of Social Rights.
Other intergovernmental organizations have recently developed regional human rights treaties and monitoring structures, or are in the process of doing so. In Africa, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights monitor State compliance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
In Southeast Asia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has created the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, and the League of Arab States in 2009 created the Arab Human Rights Committee.
Specific experts are also appointed by the UN, Inter-American, and African regimes to track human rights conditions in a variety of focus areas, such as arbitrary detention and discrimination. These consultants are known as rapporteurs, and they operate by gathering input from civil society, travelling tonations, and commenting on human rights issues and how they ignore or conform with international norms.
The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights has a similar position, however, his mandate is not issue-specific. In the same way that rapporteurs do, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights supports and organizes the UN’s human rights work while also addressing topics of concern independently through country visits, interaction with stakeholders, and public pronouncements.
Other International Courts and Monitoring Bodies
International Labour Organisation
The International Labour Organization (ILO) is a United Nations specialized agency with 187 member countries that write and monitor compliance with international labour standards outlined in many treaties enacted under its auspices. The International Labour Organization (ILO) also monitors states’ compliance with international labour norms, including by accepting inter-state complaints about suspected ILO convention violations.
International Court of Justice
The International Court of Justice, which succeeded the Permanent Court of International Justice, has the authority to settle international legal disputes between the 193 UN Member States. The ICJ’s jurisdiction is divided into three categories: obligatory, special agreement, and treaty-based.
States may file complaints against other states with the International Court of Justice, which rules on issues affecting individuals’ human rights based on one state’s accusation that another violated the provisions of an international agreement from time to time.
International Criminal Court
Individuals may be tried criminally for violations of international humanitarian law, international criminal law, or jus cogens standards of international law, or they may be sued civilly under domestic law.
Such prosecutions are carried out by the International Criminal Court, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and several other internationalized criminal tribunals.
Regional Economic Community Court and Tribunal
Human rights complaints can be heard by several regional tribunals created as a result of economic integration or development agreements. These regional economic community courts and tribunals function in subregions of Africa, America, and Europe.
Aside from the various regional and universal human rights mechanisms established solely for the promotion and protection of human rights, several other dispute resolution bodies which are often associated with economic integration initiatives may rule and decide on cases involving individuals’ and communities’ fundamental rights. In general, the basic function of these courts is to adjudicate disputes originating from economic community agreements or activities, although many have needed to examine basic rights in this context.
Individual complaints of alleged human rights violations, whether or not they are related to the regional community’s activities or policies, are examined by these regional integration projects’ courts. In addressing such disputes, these courts individually interpret international human rights legislation and resolve such cases.
Individual complaints may be heard in other regional courts, but only if they claim violations of community or domestic law. These tribunals do not have the authority to interpret or enforce international human rights legislation, but they are empowered to judge state conformity with the regional integration agreement and related legal instruments, which frequently include certain safeguards for individual or communal rights.
The following Courts have competence and jurisdiction to decide on individual complaints of violations of International Human Rights Law:
- Court of Justice of the European Union
- Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice
- Southern African Development Community Tribunal (currently suspended)
The following Courts have the competence to decide on individual complaints that arise under the domestic or community law, which may involve fundamental rights:
- Caribbean Court of Justice
- Court of Justice of the Andean Community
- East African Court of Justice
- Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa Court of Justice
- Central American Court of Justice
Further, national, or “domestic,” bodies and institutions also play an important role in the implementation and enforcement of international human rights standards. National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), Domestic Civil and Criminal Legal Proceedings, the exercise of Universal Jurisdiction, and Truth and Reconciliation Commissions are all included as monitoring organizations.
Hence, many bodies like the International Courts of Justice, International Labour Organisation, International humanitarian law, and International criminal law, etc. monitor the implementation of human rights treaties and conventions by States. Lastly, human rights are civil, political, social, cultural, political, and economic. Human Rights are thus the fundamental rights and freedoms that every person in the world, from cradle to grave, is entitled to. These fundamental rights are founded on common ideals such as dignity, justice, equality, respect, and autonomy. These rights are defined and protected by law. Human Rights are universal, inherent, inalienable, fundamental, inseparable, imprescriptible, interrelated, and justiciable. These human rights bodies have distinct functions such as policy recommendations, fact-finding, reviewing statistics reports, deciding individual complaints, etc. Lastly, International human rights law is powerfully effective, and dynamic and its boundaries are being pushed in new directions every day.
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