International framework for human rights

This page gives an overview of the International Human Rights Framework.

The ideas behind human rights have been present in societies throughout history.

The modern declarations of human rights emerged in the 20th century in particular as a response to the suffering and human rights abuses of the Second World War and the Holocaust.

In 1948 the United Nations General Assembly approved the adoption of a Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

The UDHR sets out the human rights and fundamental freedoms to which all men and women everywhere in the world are entitled, without any discrimination. It guarantees civil and political as well as social, economic and cultural rights.

Although the UDHR is not a legally binding treaty or convention in itself, it acts as a set of common standards and principles on human rights. However, because every country in the world has accepted it, its initial non-binding character has altered over time, and it is now frequently referred to as legally binding on the basis of customary international law.

Since 1948 the United Nations has adopted a whole range of legally binding international human rights instruments. These treaties are used as a framework for discussing and applying rights. (In international law, the term ‘treaty’ or ‘convention’ are used to describe legally binding agreements.)

Through these human rights instruments, the principles and rights they outline become legal obligations on those States that ratify them. The international human rights framework also establishes legal and other mechanisms to hold governments accountable if they violate human rights.

The International Bill of Human Rights

The Core International Human Rights Instruments and their Monitoring Bodies

There are nine core international human rights treaties. Each of these treaties has established a committee of experts to monitor implementation of the treaty provisions by its States parties. Some of the treaties are supplemented by optional protocols dealing with specific concerns.

Body Full Name Date Monitoring Body
ICERD International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination 21 Dec 1965 CERD
ICCPR International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 16 Dec 1966 CCPR
ICESCR International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 16 Dec 1966 CESCR
CEDAW Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women  Dec 1979 CEDAW
CAT Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment 10 Dec 1984 CAT
CRC Convention on the Rights of the Child 20 Nov 1989 CRC
ICRMW International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families 18 Dec 1990 CMW
  International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance 20 Dec 2006  
CRPD Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 13 Dec 2006 CRPD
ICESCR - OP Optional Protocol of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 10 Dec 2008 CESCR
ICCPR-OP1 Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 16 Dec 1966 HRC
ICCPR-OP2 Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty 15 Dec 1989 HRC
OP-CEDAW Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women 10 Dec 1999 CEDAW
OP-CRC-AC Optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict 25 May 2000 CRC
OP-CRC-SC Optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography 25 May 2000 CRC
OP-CAT Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment 18 Dec 2002 CAT
OP-CRPD Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 12 Dec 2006 CRPD

Every country in the world has ratified at least one of these, and many have ratified most of them. These treaties are important tools for holding governments accountable to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of individuals in their country.

These are enforced and monitored by the United Nations. Countries that agree to be bound by these have to submit regular reports (usually every 4–5 years) to show how they are implementing the rights in the treaty.

The reports are examined by a committee of experts, which publishes its concerns and recommendations.

Understanding this framework is important to promoting, protecting and realizing children's human rights. Children's human rights are scattered across all of the human rights instruments and the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the rights and duties contained in it - are part of this framework.

Useful links