Internationalism and Human Rights

UN Chronicle, March 1985 | Go to article overview

Internationalism and Human Rights


UP to 1945, the method utilized for promoting and protecting human rights was that of treaties between interested States. The covenant of the League of Nations contained no general provision recognizing the rights of the individual or establishing arrangements designed to promote and to protect those rights.

With the condlusion of the Charter of the United Nations, however, we find, for the first time in recorded history, a general commitment of the States making up the international community to achieve international co-operation 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 any distinction.

Under Article 56 of the Charter, all Members pledge themselves to take joint and separate action, in co-operation with the Organization, for the achievement of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion. International concern for human rights was thereby enlarged and entrrenched in modern international law. Today, it has become a commonplace reality and no State can avoid being held internationally accountable for the way it treats people--whether they are its own citizens or nationals of a foreign State or, for that matter, stateless persons.

The State's performance is tested by reference to internationally proclaimed norms contained in instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

There is hardly an aspect of the relationship between the individual and the State which today is not regulated by the international code of human rights promulgated by the United Nations and its specialized agencies. Daily, everywhere in the world, individuals assert these rights and freedoms vis-a-vis their own Governments o call for their implementation by other Governments.

The provisions of the code yield the battle cries for freedom, justice and peace in the world.

I should like to give you a full picture of how the United Nations translates this into practical action. This is normally little known.

The following activities for the promotion and protection of human rights take place on a regular basis: Governments submit to the United Nations and its organs reports on the measures which they have adopted to comply with international standards on human rights. These reports are scrutinized, with the cooperation of international experts who draw upon the experience of different countries and try to help in resolving difficulties. Various forms of advice, expertise and technical assistance are made available to Governments which may be in need of such assistance. Training and fellowship programmers are implemented on an ongoing basis.

Each year, about 50,000 complaints received by the United Nations are processed. Where I or my staff feel that we can help in a case or situation, we intercede on a humanitarian basis; some complaints are handled by the Commission on Human Rights, which seeks to establish a dialogue with the Governments concerned and which examines situations and makes recommendations. Where a country has accepted procedures of individual petition provided for under the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, individual complaints may be received, are then examined and an authoritative pronouncement is made.

In United Nations organ such as the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council and the Commission on Human Rights, situations of alleged gross violations of human rights are referred to and debated openly. …

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