Protecting human rights at international level

Welcome to section eight of this course. In this section, we will
examine the mechanisms that have been established for
the protection of Human Rights at international level. Victims of human rights
violations in fact, will often have the choice
between different mechanisms that are available to them to
challenge the inability of the State to protect their rights
at domestic level. And the most effective mechanisms
they will have access to are those established
in regional settings. Respectively by the Council
of Europe, the Organization of American States
and the African Union. In 1950, already, within the Council
of Europe that was established in 1949, a first European Human Rights Convention
was adopted, establishing at the time, two bodies — the European Commission
on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights — that
provided, for the first time, an international judicial mechanism
of protection of human rights. And it was at the time a
quite advanced mechanism, the most advanced that
existed in the world. And to a large extent,
this provided the model for later the Organization for
American States and the African Union to move in the same direction. Now, since the European Court
of Human Rights was established, the European Convention on Human
Rights entered into force in 1953, and the first judgment of the European
Court of Human Rights was in 1961. It has developed a very
impressive case law, some aspects of which
we’ve been studying in the past sections of this course. And it is really the most
effective mechanism of protection probably that we have today
at international level. In 1969, the American
Convention on Human Rights was adopted for the
Organization of American States. And this establishes an Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights, as well as the Inter-American
Court of Human Rights. Very much modeled on the European
model that was available at the time. And since that American Convention
on Human Rights entered into force, the Inter-American Commission
and Courts of Human Rights have been making progress
in a number of directions on some issues such as, enforced
disappearances, massive violations of human rights, or the
rights of indigenous peoples. It’s fair to say that the
Inter-American Human Rights system has been leading the
direction and really moving international human rights law forward. More recently the African Union has
been making progress in this direction. Now the African Charter on Human and
People’s Rights was adopted in 1986. But it is in 1998 that
the Ouagadougou Protocol was adopted establishing the African
Court on Human and People’s Rights. This protocol entered
into force in 2004. It puts in place an 11 member court for
human rights on the African continent, and recently it has delivered
its first judgments. And gradually it will
certainly contribute further to the development of
international human rights law. So these regional mechanisms of
protection — which are judicial — in which international courts adjudicate
disputes between victims of human rights violations and
states, on the other hand, are certainly the most effective
mechanisms that we have. In this section, however,
we will focus more on the universal level
established by the United Nations human rights mechanisms. And as you will see this section, is
divided in essentially two big parts. The first part will look at UN
charter-based mechanisms of protection. By this I mean that under
the United Nations Charter, the UN has a series of mechanisms
that apply to all the UN member states independently of the treaties
that they may have ratified. And this protection of human rights at
universal level under the UN Charter, is today in the hands of
the Human Rights Council. The body that in 2006 succeeded the
Commission on Human Rights that for 60 years — between 1946 and
2006 — was the leading, the most important body within UN
system dealing with human rights issues. The Commission on Human
Rights had been established as a Committee of the
Economic and Social Council under Article 68 of the UN Charter. The Human Rights Council
has a status that is improved in comparison to the
Commission on Human Rights as we see. It is now a body that
meets three times per year, it has a composition of 47 member
states elected by the General Assembly, and we will examine the
tools that the Human Rights Council has at its disposal. Now apart from the Human Rights Council,
and the monitoring of human rights that applies to all
member states of the UN, we have of course the UN
Human Rights Treaties. And we saw earlier on at the
very beginning of this course, that there are nine ‘core’
UN Human Rights treaties, each of them establishing one body
of independent experts monitoring compliance with these conventions. The first one to be established
and to enter into force was the International Convention
for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, establishing
the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. But since then we have seen a
proliferation of such treaties. And today, as I said, there are nine
such treaties in operation in total. And we will examine in the
second part of this section, how these human rights
treaty bodies function, looking at how they
receive state’s reports on which they react by providing
feedback in the form of concluding observations on the
reports that they examine. And we will examine how
individuals may file communications with these committees
for these communities to find whether or not there
has been a violation committed by the state against which these
communications are addressed. So there’s a distinction
between these committees — established by UN Human
rights treaties –, of course, applying only to those states
that have ratified these treaties, and the Charter-based mechanisms in the
hands of the Human Rights Council that apply to all UN member states. And that are therefore, more
universal in their scope. But this is how we will
proceed in this section, and I look forward to our discussions.

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