The foundation UN human rights document is the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This was developed in greater detail in two major conventions adopted in 1966 - the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). These three instruments are known collectively as the International Bill of Rights. They are supplemented by many specialised conventions, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatments or Punishments (CAT), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CROC), the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. There are also two optional protocols to the ICCPR, which can be adopted by states which have ratified the main Covenant. The first allows individuals or groups which have exhausted their state's internal processes to bring complaints of alleged violation directly to the United Nations Commission for Human Rights (UNCHR). Under the second, states agree to abolish the death penalty. These ten treaties provide a continuing frame of reference throughout this work.
Universalist theories of human rights derive from western concepts of natural law originating from the Roman Empire, evolving in face of many challenges through the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods into the contemporary industrial and post-industrial age (Vincent 1986:19-36). Human, as distinct from citizens' or other rights derived from membership of specific communities, are claimed on no other grounds than human identity, and are to be enjoyed equally by everyone. On this basis, Jack Donnelly (1989:1-19) defines the human rights project as translating rights which everyone has into enjoyment and legal codification of their actual substance. This assumes arrangement of legal and political systems so that human rights are paramount, 'trumping' all other systems of law and administration (Dworkin 1977). Paradoxically, to the extent that this is achieved, consciousness of their universal nature can be lost (Donnelly 1989:17-19).
Despite its strong intuitive appeal, natural law is highly problematic as a basis for rights claims, as there is no universally agreed account of human nature,