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Expansion of Human Rights Instruments

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McGill University
International Development
INTD 200
Warren Allmand

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 3, 2012: Expansion of Human Rights Instruments  According to the doctrine of human rights, contrary to legal/constitutional/legal rights, they are rights which are inherent to every human being. This means no matter where they’re born, their age, their ability, their location, etc. Because they are inherent, they cannot be given or taken away. They only can be recognized in laws, in the constitution, in international covenants, but they are not given. They can also be not recognized and abused and ignored, but the fact that they are ignored doesn’t mean they don’t exist.  The first universal recognition of human rights was in the 1945 Charter of the UN, and they said that “the support and maintenance and expansion of human rights” was one of the purposes of the UN. They didn’t expand this, but they set up the UN Commission on Human Rights, which drafted the UDHR.  The UDHR was passed on December 10 , 1948 with 48 for, none against, and 8 abstentions (from the Soviet Bloc, Saudi Arabia and South Africa). It was a breakthrough in international law because:  It was the first time the rights of everyone in the world were recognized by an international body.  Usually, treaties dealt with the rights of states vis-a-vis each other, and this was the first time an major international treaty dealt with the rights of individuals.  It was the first recognition of economic, social and cultural rights, which came about due to pressure from the global south.  Being a declaration, it was not legally binding—it was an aspirational document. Conventions and treaties are legally binding once ratified.  In the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms there is no right to property because they thought people could fight expropriation by the government.  Once a convention is voted on, it is sent out for ratification. There are two steps to ratification—the signing of the treaty (which means you intend to ratify it), and ratification when your government votes it into law. Sometimes there needs to be a certain amount of ratifications for the treaty to come into force (ex. the ICCPR and ICESCR took 10 years to come into force for this reason).  Accession to a treaty: if a country is against the treaty and a few years later they agree to ratify it (because the treaty is already in force at that point).  Following the adoption of the UDHR, there started a great expansion of more specific human rights instruments. There has been success at the UN in developing human rights treaties and having them accepted (but how they are implemented and adhered to is a different story). Things that were left out in the UDHR were added in subsequent conventions. (ex. the UDHR didn’t include a right to self-determination, but the ICCPR and the ICESCR both have it as the first article and indigenous people have used this extensively).  When people started to apply principles in the UDHR and the two conventions, there were disagreements. They felt the need to develop individual specific conventions on specific subjects. The first was the Convention on Genocide (1948) and the pressure for this occurred from the Holocaust during WWII.  In the Convention on Genocide in 1948, the definition of genocide is not just mass killings of people of the same ethnic group, but it includes: a. Killing members of the group; b. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; c. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; d. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; e. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.  In 1949, the four Geneva Conventions on War were created. The UN charter itself outlaws war, but the four Geneva Conventions deal with specific areas.  1951: The Convention on Refugees (has been used recently with the Syrian conflict  1963: The Convention to Eliminate Racial Discrimination  1973: The Convention Against Apartheid  1981: The Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women  1984: The Convention against Torture and Other forms of Cruel and Inhuman Punishment  1989: The Convention on the Rights of the Child  1989: The Treaty on the International Criminal Court (provided a way of enforcing the Convention Against Genocide and some aspects of the Geneva Conventions).  There were conventions dealing with forced disappearances, on people with disabilities, the declaration on the right to development, the recognition of the rights to food, water, etc.  These emerged due to a need to define different rights and how they work in detail and are interpreted, as well as due to absences in the original UDHR. With a growing list of conventions, it became more difficult to agree on what rights should be included (it was easier in 1948 with UDHR because WWII was fresh in people’s minds). As you expanded human rights subjects, the area of disagreement grew considerably.  The Genocide Conventions: despite the fact that people said it would never happen again after the Holocaust, it occurred against in Rwanda in 1993 and 800,000 were slaughtered. This triggered an impetus to do something to enforce these conventions and bring perpetrators to trial. After WWII, the Nuremburg Trials occurred to bring Germans to justice, but there were no trials for the winning side because the perception was that what the Germans did was worse. After this, there was an attempt to set up and international criminal court to deal with war crimes and crimes against humanity. During the Cold War, nothing was done, At the fall of the Soviet Union (fall of the Berlin Wall, breakup of the Warsaw Pact), the International Criminal Court was pushed ahead and it was approved at a conference in Rome in 1998. It took 4 years to come into force (you needed 60 ratifications).  The Geneva Conventions: the implementation is carried out under the International Red Cross. 1. The treatment of the wounded and sick on the battlefield. You must treat them in a humane way. 2. Deals with people who are shipwrecked and how to treat these people. 3. Deals with ho you treat prisoners of war—it has a set of rules on how to treat them. 4. The treatment of civilians in war—says you cannot bomb hosp
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