The United Nations Human Rights Treaty System and the Challenges of Commitment and Compliance in the South Pacific

Article excerpt

[This article examines the profile of international human rights in the South Pacific, with specific reference to the seven core United Nations human rights treaties. While acknowledging some of the weaknesses of the UN human rights treaty system, this article nonetheless views this system as a vehicle for strengthening the globally accepted notion of the universality of human rights and as a viable framework for the domestic implementation of those rights. This article underscores the significance of the UN human rights treaty system for the South Pacific and critically engages with some entrenched value constructs--cultural relativism, fiscal limitations and geopolitical challenges--that have become prominent arguments in justifying the attitude of South Pacific countries towards this system. Further, the performance of South Pacific countries is evaluated in relation to their accession to, reservations and declarations from, and compliance with the core UN human rights treaties. Finally, observing that discourses on international human rights in the South Pacific have been remarkably state-centric, this article argues for collaborative state and civil society-led initiatives to improve the profile of human rights in the region.]

CONTENTS

  I Introduction
 II Advocating the Need for a Universal Human Rights System
    A Constitutional Guarantees
    B Fiscal Constraints
      1 The Irrelevance of Fiscal Constraints to Accession
      2 Fiscal Obligations Imposed by Accession
    C Cultural Relativism
    D The Implementation of a Regional System
    E Concluding Remarks
III Overview of Commitment and Compliance in the South Pacific
    A Formal Expression of Commitment
      1 Reservations, Understandings and Declarations
    B Compliance with Treaty Obligations
       1 Reporting Procedures
       2 Concluding Observations and Recommendations
 IV The Future of Human Rights in the Region: Challenges and Strategies
  V Conclusion

I INTRODUCTION

Following World War II, the United Nations emerged as a global mechanism for achieving

   international cooperation in solving international problems of an
   economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in
   promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for
   fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex,
   language, or religion. (1)

In an unequivocal way, therefore, the Charter of the United Nations signalled that human rights protection was no longer to be regarded as a matter exclusively for national observance, but one that must be of concern to all human beings and governments. (2)

Since its creation in 1945, the UN has expanded tremendously. (3) The effect of this expansion is especially apparent in the realm of human rights, as illustrated by steady evolution and multiplication of the UN's human rights standardisation efforts. With the UN General Assembly's adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (4) in 1948, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (5) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (6) in 1966, the UN evinced a clear commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights. In addition to these three normative human rights instruments, (7) numerous other treaties have been adopted to deal with specific global challenges. (8)

Increasingly, UN human rights standards and implementation mechanisms have developed into significant yardsticks for measuring states' conduct, performance and attitudes towards human beings, thus strengthening the global notion of the universality of human rights. (9) However, no matter how elaborately designed, the efficacy of international human rights standards and mechanisms can only be assessed at the domestic level. It is against this background that it becomes germane to evaluate the impact of the UN human rights system on the smaller countries of the South Pacific. …