WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2012: Enforcement and Implementation of Human
Cultural Relativism in the News: a Pakistani girl was shot because she was
campaigning for the right of girls to go to school. The Taliban argued the right
of girls to go to school was only a Western idea so it does not apply in their
Enforcement and Implementation of Human Rights Standards
The aspirations the UN set are great, but enforcement is difficult (which is
clear because today we still see gross violations in the Congo, in Cambodia, in
Syria, the Roma people in Europe, Aboriginals in Canada, etc.)
How do we enforce these standards?
The first obligation when countries ratify a human rights declaration is to
make it law at home (they ratify the declaration and amend their domestic
laws to apply to the standards of the treaty).
Some countries also have human rights institutions set up domestically
(ex. In Canada there is a federal and provincial human rights
commissions, we have the Charter).
Countries would set up national Human Rights Committees to insure
that rights were enforced
o However, some national committees were “phony” and would
always support the government’s position.
“Paris Principles” (passed in 1993 by the general assembly), set standards for
human rights institutions at national level.
It must be independent, promote human rights, there must be a
process to receive complaints, etc.
How International bodies don’t have the powers to enforced that national
The UN doesn’t have a standing army
It can just embarrass or diplomatically shun a country
Charter-based enforcement institutions: institutions which flow from
the Charter or articles of the United Nations
o Some are general (General Assembly sometimes takes up
human rights abuses, 3 Committee of General Assembly,
Security Council has taken up certain abuses as well (Syria),
Secretary General can set up special representatives and can
refer matters to the Human Rights Council) Treaty based enforcement institutions: set up under individual human
rights treaties (ex. the committee against torture)
UN Human Rights Council (formerly called UN Commission on Human Rights).
There is also a subcommittee for the Promotion and Protection of Human
Rights. The Commission was set up in 1946 before the adoption of the UDHR
(they drafted it), and it existed until 2006 when it was replaced by the UN
Human Rights Council.
Why was it reformed?
The commission had 53 members appointed for 3 year times and they
were elected by ECOSOC. It was supposed to represent the 5 regions
of the world, with the Chair rotating between regions. They met for 6
weeks each year (Spring) and it was highly attended. Almost all other
countries and some NGOs would attend as observers and could not
vote, but could speak (NGOs had a right to intervene with short
statements and they could make submissions).
In 2005 Kofi Annan set up a review on the Commission and they
recommended reforming it into the Council. The Commission had
became dysfunctional and bogged down with conflict between East
There were some good things about the Commission—1503
Resolutions. It allowed private individuals to made direct complaints
against countries, and it was a way for citizens to put forward their
issues (but they call complaints “communications” and they call their
judgment “general comments”).
Also had representatives go to different countries and
How was the new council better?
It continued to use the Commission’s system of thematic rapporteurs who
could go to countries to look into and made reports for the Council on the
certain issues to which they were assigned. The Council could make a
resolution supporting the rapporteur’s comments (of condemnation), but no
changes were required.
Ex. Special Rapporteur on Housing came to Canada last year and
condemned us on not doing enough for homeless people, indigenous
people and people in Northern Canada.
They also have specific country rapporteurs who would be appointed when
there was a problem or a lot of complaints about one specific country. Now, people were put onto the Council be secret ballot (their country had to
sign a commitment to ratify as many of the human rights instruments as
possible and then they were eligible to be in t