Introduction to the International Human Rights Regime

Introduction to the International Human Rights Regime

Introduction to the International Human Rights Regime

Introduction to the International Human Rights Regime


Human rights are the only universally recognized system of contemporary values which, during the last 50 years, has been gradually developed and defined by all States in a comprehensive international legal framework. The international human rights regime is closely related to international peace and security, development and a global trend towards pluralist democracy, good governance and the rule of law. International humanitarian and criminal law can today be considered as specific aspects of international human rights law, which after the end of the Cold War has become increasingly complex and difficult to oversee. The present textbook attempts to provide a first and at the same time comprehensive introduction into the idea and significance of human rights, its philosophical and theoretical foundations, historical development, the main structures and procedures of international human rights protection by the United Nations and regional organizations (Council of Europe, Organization of American States, African Union, OSCE and others), and modern trends, such as preventive mechanisms, international criminal law, human rights as essential elements of peace-keeping and peace-building operations, humanitarian intervention or the relationship between human rights and terrorism. The book perceives human rights as an inter-disciplinary topic and illustrates the theory of human rights with a considerable number of practical case-studies, graphics, statistics, procedural charts and textboxes. It serves as a textbook for students of law, political science, international relations and other academic fields related to human rights, but may as well be used as a first introduction for those working in the field, for NGO activists, legal practitioners and others interested in the fascinating world of universal human rights.


The value system manifested in human rights is not a specifically European one, but is found in all major cultures and religions worldwide. Human life, dignity, freedom, equality and property were protected above all by moral commandments ('thou shalt not kill', 'thou shalt not steal'), standards of criminal law and justice maxims, such as the Golden Rule found in all religions.



Do naught to others which, if done to thee, would cause thee pain: this is the
sum of duty (Hinduism)

What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. That is the entire law; all the
rest is commentary (Judaism)

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Christianity)

No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires
for himself (Islam)

Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful (Buddhism)

However, the biggest achievement of the Age of Enlightenment in Europe and with it the rationalistic doctrine of natural law was to recognize individual human beings as subjects endowed with rights against the society and to place them at the centre of legal and social systems. The idea of the rights of the individual being natural, inherent and inalienable brought about a paradigm shift in the overall understanding of the state and its functions. This in turn was endorsed by the theory of the social contract. The state no longer drew its justification from mandates of divine order, whatever their makeup, but simply and solely from the need to protect the natural rights of the individual, i.e. the rights inherent in the nature of human beings, such as the right to life, liberty, property, security, happiness, etc. This theory, which has its roots in the teachings of John Locke, Thomas Paine. JeanJacques Rousseau and other philosophers of the 17 and 18 century, was the driving force behind the French and the American Revolutions and is clearly reflected in human rights documents of diat time. The main schools of thought, upon which the classical human rights concept of the Age of Enlightenment (also known as the 1 generation, see 2.6. below) is founded, along with the rationalistic doctrine of natural law, are political liberalism and democracy. The principle of democracy is the embodiment of political freedom as coined in antiquity, i.e. the freedom of citizens to actively participate, most specifically to take part in political decisionmaking processes.

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