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United Nations Charter
Almost every independent nation is a member of the United Nations (UN) (193 out of 195). Having signed on to the UN Charter, which is a binding treaty, these nations have obligated themselves to cooperate with the UN in achieving its primary purposes, one of which is to promote "universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion." (See Preamble and Articles 1, 55, and 56).
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is the document through which UN members spelled out the rights and freedoms that are both fundamental and universal as well as the principles for how to promote respect for and observance of these rights and freedoms. Though the UDHR is merely aspirational and is not a binding treaty, it is a primary source of persuasive authority in international human rights law. It provides the foundation for the specific human rights treaties concluded within the UN framework. Together with the two most significant of these treaties (the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), the UDHR forms part of the International Bill of Human Rights (http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/FactSheet2Rev.1en.pdf).
The Core International Human Rights Instruments and Their Monitoring Bodies
The UN has concluded ten specific human rights treaties (nine of which are currently in force) that form the core of primary international human rights law. This link provides access not only to the text of each treaty but also to the treaty bodies that monitor UN members' compliance with each treaty. Treaty bodies create what might be referred to as "secondary authority": 1) "concluding observations” expressing concerns about and providing recommendations regarding individual UN members' compliance with a treaty, 2) "decisions" on interstate and individual complaints alleging violations of a treaty, and 3) "general comments" providing interpretative guidance on the meaning of treaty provisions. Although they are non-binding, these treaty body documents are significant sources of persuasive authority both on the scope of the fundamental rights and freedoms embodied in a particular treaty and on what constitutes violations of those rights and freedoms.
Universal Human Rights Instruments
Besides the core UN human rights treaties, there are a variety of other treaties and documents regarding human rights such as those resulting from the Geneva Conventions, for example. This link provides access to a number of these other sources, grouped together with the core human rights treaties into particular subject matter areas: the right of self-determination; rights of indigenous peoples and minorities; prevention of discrimination; rights of women; rights of the child; rights of older persons; protection of persons subjected to detention or imprisonment; social welfare, progress, and development; promotion and protection of human rights; marriage; right to health; right to work and to fair conditions of employment; freedom of association; slavery, slavery-like practices, and forced labor; rights of migrants; nationality, statelessness, asylum, and refugees; war crimes and crimes against humanity, including genocide; and, humanitarian law.
United Nations Human Rights Council
The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) is the UN organ responsible for the promotion and protection of all fundamental rights and freedoms throughout the world. The UNCHR performs this function in part by monitoring all human rights issues globally and by issuing recommendations in the form of resolutions on situations involving human rights violations. UNCHR resolutions are a significant source of persuasive authority on the scope of the fundamental rights and freedoms embodied in international human rights law and on what constitutes violations of those rights and freedoms. The UNCHR websites provide access to its resolutions. Additionally, the UNCHR fulfills its function by facilitating the Universal Periodic Review, an ongoing assessment of the human rights records of all UN member states.
United Nations Treaty Collection - Chapter IV - Human Rights
This website provides access to UN records relating to the status of U.S. ratification of various UN human rights treaties. Additionally, this site provides access to any reservations, understandings, and/or declarations the U.S. might make at the time of ratification such as, for example, the U.S. declaration that certain provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are not self-executing.
United States Treaty Reports
Through this website, the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor provides information relating to U.S. ratification of the core UN human rights treaties. It shows which treaties the U.S. has ratified, and it provides links to the reports and remarks the U.S. has submitted to the UN treaty bodies responsible for monitoring those treaties. Finally, this website also provides links to memoranda the State Department has issued to executive branches agencies and to the governors of U.S. states and territories explaining the status of these treaties under U.S. law.
Restatement (Third) of the Foreign Relations Law of the United States
This Restatement summarizes the black letter law regarding how international law applies within the U.S. legal system. Of particular relevance with regard to the role of international human rights law in the U.S. are the chapters contained in the following: Part I. International Law and its Relation to the United States; Part II. Persons in International Law; Part III. International Agreements; Part VII. Protection of Persons (Natural and Judicial); and, Part IX. Remedies for Violations of International Law. This link is to WestlawNext. The Restatement is also available as a LexisNexis database and as a two-volume book.
Organization of American States
The Organization of American States (OAS) is the regional intergovernmental organization for the Americas. The American Covention on Human Rights (American Convention) is the primary OAS human rights treaty. The American Convention and the other documents that comprise the OAS human rights framework are a source of persuasive authority regarding the scope and content of universal fundamental rights and freedoms. (Note: The U.S. is an OAS member state; however, the U.S. has not ratified the American Convention.)
OAS Human Rights Treaties
This link is to an Inter-American Court of Human Rights website that provides access the American Convention and other OAS human rights treaties. These documents are arranged according to the human rights topics they cover. Furthermore, this website has separate tabs providing links to the various human right instruments of the AU, the COE, and the UN human rights systems, and these documents are also arranged by human rights topic.
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Inter-American Commission) has primary responsibility for monitoring OAS member states' compliance with the OAS human rights treaties they have ratified. This commission also acts as a quasi-judicial body: It hear petitions alleging violations of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the American Convention, and other OAS human rights treaties. The Inter-American Commission issues non-binding decisions in the form of recommendations, and its decisions can be accessed through its website.
Inter-American Court of Human Rights
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has jurisdiction over cases involving the interpretation and application of the American Convention and other OAS human rights treaties, and it issues binding decisions. This court's decisions and advisory opinions can be accessed through its website.
The African Union (AU) is the regional intergovernmental organization for the continent of African. The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (African Charter) is the primary AU human rights treaty. The African Charter and the other human rights documents the comprise the AU human rights framework are a source of persuasive authority regarding the scope and content of universal fundamental rights and freedoms.
AU Human Rights Treaties
This link is to an African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights website that provides access to the African Charter and other AU human rights treaties.
African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission) has primary responsibility for monitoring AU member states' compliance with the African Charter, and it may interpret this treaty. This commission also acts as a quasi-judicial body: It hears complaints alleging violations of the African Charter, and it issues non-binding decisions in the form of recommendations. The African Commission's decisions can be accessed through it website.
African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights
The African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights (African Court) hears cases and disputes involving the interpretation and application of the African Charter and other AU human rights treaties, and it issues binding decisions. This court may also interpret and apply UN human rights instruments with regard to AU member states that have ratified these. The African Court's decisions and advisory opinions can be accessed through its website.
Council of Europe
The Council of Europe (COE) is the primary regional intergovernmental human rights organization for Europe. The European Convention on Human Rights (European Convention) is the primary COE human rights treaty. The European Convention and the other documents that comprise the COE human rights framework are a source of persuasive authority regarding the scope and content of universal fundamental rights and freedoms.
COE Human Rights Treaties
This link is to the COE's Treaty Office website, which provides access to the European Convention and other COE human rights treaties.
Commissioner for Human Rights
The Commissioner for Human Rights (Commissioner) has primary responsibility for monitoring COE member states' compliance with the COE human rights treaties. The Commissioner has no judicial authority to hear and decide complaints alleging violation of the European Convention. However, the Commissioner may issue opinions and recommendations regarding human rights compliance within the COE, and these can be accessed through the Commissioner's website.
European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights (European Court) has jurisdiction to hear complaints alleging violations of the European Convention, and it issues binding decisions. Most of the European Court's decisions and advisory opinions can be accessed through its website.