Human Rights Index

A Compilation of Human Rights Conventions, Resolutions and Declarations

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
– Article I of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,1948

CameroonONE is committed to the fulfillment of this basic human right embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that should extend to men, women, boys and girls without discrimination. It is the first organization in Cameroon placing orphaned children in the households of surviving relatives while ensuring that they receive an education and proper healthcare within a secure family environment in order to bring hope and opportunity to a large population of the country’s orphans. It is committed to promoting these principles worldwide through its global project, ONETrack International.

In this document, various international and regional human rights conventions, declarations and resolutions are highlighted that should be adhered to in order to uphold international humanitarian and human rights laws. But more importantly, to ensure that the basic rights of men, women and children are fulfilled. With gender inequality being the center of discussions and various movements born from this such as the #metoo movement, it is imperative that now, more than ever, these international instruments should be reiterated to ensure that the specific rights of women and girls are adequately addressed as well.

This report is structured to provide an overview of important human rights related legal and non-legal international instruments that seeks to address human rights, recent challenges that these instruments are facing and a table at the end of each subchapter to summarize the respective groups of people that these instruments do cover.

 

CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION

Children are an especially vulnerable group that can be exposed to neglect, abuse and unnecessary separation from their families. This is especially so for girls who face further marginalization from additional circumstances and contexts even before birth. This report is part of our toolkit to highlight this importance of adherence to human rights as part of our expansion of our new initiative, ONETrack International, that aims to  promote our Transition to Home orphan-care approach to other regions of the world. At the village-level, ONETrack will continue to provide for orphaned children by removing them from their overcrowded and under-resourced orphanages and placing them in the households of extended family members (and providing for all their education and health needs and caretaker support) and in an conflict context, we will be providing for separated children by keeping the remaining family members together and removing them from collective institutions (such as refugee camps) to private homes.

This chapter aims to introduce the set of guiding principles that are set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 with the aim of affirming the fundamental human rights that needs to be universally protected. It should also be noted that the UDHR is the basis of other international agreements that are legally binding to members who ratify them.

 

(A) HUMAN RIGHTS PRINCIPLES

Universality and Inalienability
As stated in Article 1 of the UDHR, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”, everyone is entitled to their own rights.

Indivisibility
Human rights are indivisible. Human rights is applicable to all sectors of society from economic to cultural rights. The status of one right does not take precedence of another right because this may infringe upon the enjoyment of other rights.

Interdependence and Interrelatedness
Human rights are interdependent and interrelated with each other. The fulfilment of one right depends on the fulfilment of other human rights and the accumulation of the fulfilment of these rights will inherently contribute to the overall realization of  a person’s human dignity. For instance, by fulfilling the right to healthcare, one would be fulfilling a right to education.

Equality and Non-discrimination
Articles 2 & 7 of the UDHR covers the fact that despite various orientations, human dignity should still remain inherent and intact within each human being.

Participation and Inclusion
Every human being has the inherent right to participate and have access to information that is related to their well-being and decision-making process including that of protecting their rights. This right is covered in Articles 7, 19 & 27.  In order for these rights to be fulfilled, the participation of the government, communities, civil society and other identified groups is required regarding the respective issues.

Accountability and Rule of Law
The government of member states should be held accountable for their obligation to uphold human rights as set out in the UDHR. Even though the UDHR is not a treaty and therefore not legally binding, member states should still be answerable for the fulfillment of the observance of these fundamental human rights and freedoms. Civil society, the media, the international community, individuals and other actors should participate in holding the state accountable for their responsibility in upholding human rights.

This report is segmented into international, regional and local laws and agreements with the respective subsets in each chapter.

In most conventions, girls are often grouped together under the ageless category of ‘women’ or other gender- neutral categories such as ‘children’, ‘adolescents’ or ‘youth’. Hence, for the purpose of this report, it is necessary to define the term ‘girl’ as female persons between the age of birth and 18 years old and likewise, boys as male persons between the age of birth and 18 years old. The term ‘children’ shall encompass both male and female persons between the ages of birth and 18 years old.

 

CHAPTER 2: HUMAN RIGHTS IN INTERNATIONAL INSTRUMENTS

This chapter gives an overview of the functions of the various international and regional conventions that has been adopted by the respective states, the progress and setbacks of these instruments and a table highlighting whether the rights of women, girls, boys and children are specifically mentioned in order to establish whether their rights are taken into account. It should be noted that conventions are considered legally binding upon states that have signed them.

International human rights law that are enshrined in international instruments are aimed at safeguarding the rights of all human beings. These instruments are legally binding on states that ratified them.

 

(A) INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS CONVENTIONS

These conventions represent an agreement between states to first and foremost safeguard the rights of human beings. The term convention can be used interchangeably with treaties. There are ten treaties which comprise the core of the UN human rights treaty system with a committee of experts monitoring the implementation of these conventions by States who are party to them.

The Geneva Convention was one of the earliest conventions that was first drafted out to address the  Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Conventions since then have been drafted to target specific groups such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which aims to define what constitutes discrimination against women and to mitigate them. Some of these conventions are also supported by their respective Optional Protocols which may provide procedural guidelines of the respective conventions or additional definitions to widen the coverage of individuals who should fall under the scope of these conventions. Contrary to its title, these Optional Protocols are themselves considered treaties that can be signed, acceded or ratified by countries who are already signatories to the main treaty.

Despite the numerous UN conventions rolled out to specify the rights of the respective groups of people, there are various gaps present between conventions that aim to address the rights of specific groups of people. On 16th December 1966, The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights(ICESCR) was created to cover rights to housing, social security and adequate standards of living, while the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) details out the rights to a fair trial, freedom of expression and physical integrity. Even though the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights has covered all the areas set out in the two conventions and does not make a clear distinction between these rights, there is a possibility that these two conventions were created to introduce differences between the respective rightsThese conventions were introduced just after the end of WWII and there thought to materialize amidst deepening cold war tensions between the East, that valued the importance of economic, social and cultural rights, and the West that emphasized on civil and political rights.

However, one of the less obvious reasons could be due to the level of importance of these rights in the eyes of the state. In this case, the states would prefer to have weaker accountability in the protection of their citizens’ economic, social and cultural rights while ensuring that they are still addressed. The monitoring committees set up to hold states accountable for the violations of these rights also differ in terms of their monitoring process. An independent monitoring body called the Human Rights Committee accompanied the adoption of the ICCPR while no such body was created when the ICESCR was implemented until 1985 when a committee was set up to monitor and assess whether these rights were exercised in countries who have ratified the convention. It is currently, however, preferred to refer to the original framework of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which does away with these distinctions. Likewise with other Conventions such as  the Convention on the Rights of the Child or the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

(B) REGIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS CONVENTIONS

Ever since the formation of the UDHR, different regions of the world have witnessed the formulation of conventions to safeguard the human rights of those residing there. The legal frameworks of these regional conventions dwell within the overarching framework of the UDHR and if anything, these conventions complements the UDHR by ensuring the rights of the people within these geographical boundaries are attained, especially if they are legally binding.

These regional conventions are governed and monitored by their respective committees. One of the first regional human rights instruments to be created is the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in 1950 whose adherence is monitored by the European Court of Human Right. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and InterAmerican Court of Human Rights enforce the American Convention on Human Rights while the African Court on Human and Peoples‘ Rights oversees the states who are party to The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

The Arab Charter on Human Rights was adopted on 15 September 1994 which entered force in 2008 followed by the establishment of the Arab Human Rights Committee in 2009 to oversee member states’ implementation of it. However, unlike the Committees established in Europe, the Arab Human Rights Committee does not have the power  to collate individual complaints on human rights violations and effectively hold member states accountable for them. In September 2014, the Statute for an Arab Court of Human Rights was approved by the LAS to protect and promote human rights in the Arab region but has yet to be established. Unlike the Committee, the Court would allow member states and accredited NGOs to lodge complaints on human rights violations but not individuals or groups to do so. However, the Court is still unable to effectively address or protect the rights of the citizens of the LAS unless it is aligned with international standards.

Similarly, human rights enforcement and monitoring in Asia has been fragmented. The Asian Human Rights Charter in 1998 was created to push for the establishment of the Asian Human Rights Commission in 1986 which is responsible for the promotion of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the people residing within the region. However, a regional human rights court to prosecute those responsible for human rights violations has yet to be established, undermining the strength of the Asian Human Rights Commission which does not have such power to hold those responsible accountable for their actions. In the ASEAN region, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) which was inaugurated in 2009, promotes and protects human rights within the region by being responsible for developing an ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, supporting ASEAN Members and bodies by promoting human rights awareness, treaty ratification and implementation, and providing capacity building and advisory services and researching on thematic human rights issues. However, non-interference in the domestic affairs of member states and incompatibility of local cultures, customs and values are some of the reasons why such a court has yet to be established in the ASEAN region as well.

Besides the major global regions, The Pacific Small Island States (which consists of Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu) includes independent states who are party to certain United Nations Conventions related to human rights. For instance, Micronesia has signed The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) and acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). However, unlike other regions, The Pacific region does not have a regional human rights mechanism in place to monitor and ensure enforcement of these human rights conventions nor to ensure that some of the independent states are party of or to ensure the promotion and protection of them. Nevertheless, there have been developments in the region to advance human rights and the nations of the Pacific Island region have been reporting their progress to the United Nations human rights system.

(C) UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL (UNSC) RESOLUTIONS

The UNSC is one of the six primary organs of the UN as set out in Chapter III, Article 7 of the Charter of the UN to maintain international peace and security. There are fifteen members in the UNSC. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America, The People’s Republic of China, France and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics are the five permanent members of the council while the remaining ten members are non-permanent members. The resolutions passed are legally binding under Chapter VII of the Charter in accordance with Article 25 of the Charter. The legal arm of the UN is the ICJ with its establishment being set out in Charter of the UN to execute the actions of the UNSC. However, the joint relationship between the UNSC and the ICJ has not been fully utilized in pursuit of the UNSC’s objective to maintain international peace and security. There are over 2500 UNSC Resolutions that have been passed since 1946. For simplicity’s sake, only resolutions that addresses human rights violations and passed from the time period 2014-2018 will be considered. The UNSC Resolutions are constructed to represent the formal expressions of the opinion of the UN organ.

One of the main arguments against the UNSC is the ability for the five permanent members (P5) to exercise their veto vote over those of the other non-permanent members who may be directly involved in the very conflict that is being addressed. While this is not explicitly mentioned in the UN Charter, the fact that nine votes of the 15 members on the Council, including the P5, are required for a resolution to pass, making a negative vote from either one of the P5 a veto. This would undermine the UNSC’s efforts to represent the views of other countries as it is ultimately hinged upon the interests of the five permanent members.

Besides the functional gaps of the UNSC, there are still challenges with regards to the effectiveness of the resolutions despite mandate updates being implemented in the various resolutions. For instance, UNSCR 2242 (2015) which is the updated resolution of UNSCR 1325 that addresses Women, Peace and Security (WPS) still faces accountability, data, analytical and internal implementation gaps even though the UNSCR 2242 has progressed in terms of political recognition, policy formulation and gender references.

Despite these gaps, it should be noted that there is a possibility that the council is taking human rights affairs more seriously. The UNSC Resolutions from 2008-2017 were analyzed and it was found that there is an increasing trend in ‘human rights’ and ‘human rights law’ mentioned in the resolutions. This can be seen in Figure 1 which shows that there was a rise from 44.6% in 2008 to 70.5% in 2017, peaking at 76.6% in 2013.  This could indicate the increasing importance that the council is placing in human rights issues in recent years.

(D) ILO FUNDAMENTAL CONVENTIONS

The ILO’s Governing Body draws up conventions and recommendations to address the basic principles and rights at work. Conventions are considered to be legally binding while recommendations are not and serve as guidelines. There are eight fundamental conventions identified by the ILO’s Governing Body: the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention, the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention,  Forced Labour Convention, Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, Minimum Age Convention,  Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, Equal Remuneration Convention and the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention. The eight conventions are accompanied by another four governance conventions:  Labour Inspection Convention, Employment Policy Convention, Labour Inspection (Agriculture) Convention and Tripartite Consultation (International Labour Standards) Convention.

Till date, there are 50 Conventions ratified by Cameroon and 54 that remain unratified. Forty of these are currently in force while four have been denounced and five instruments have been abrogated. The latest being, the Tripartite Consultation Convention 1976 which will enter into force for Cameroon on the 1st June 2019.

 

CHAPTER 3: HUMAN RIGHTS IN INTERNATIONAL SOFT LAW

Various legally non-binding international resolutions and declarations are highlighted in this chapter which is also followed by the inherent challenges that non-binding instruments would evidently face. While there are numerous variations of  International soft law due to debatable interpretations surrounding this term, it is generally accepted that it can be defined as “normative provisions contained in non-binding texts”. It embodies quasi-legal instruments that are not legally binding but it does set certain standards with regards to agreements reached and in this context, with reference to the fulfilment of human rights of the respective groups of people addressed.

 

(A) UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY (UNGA) RESOLUTIONS

The UN General Assembly was first established in 1945 under the UN Charter. It is one of the six principal organs that is representative of the UN. It comprises of all 193 member states of the UN and provides a platform for multilateral debate and outcomes required on the issues covered by the UN Charter. Every year, the UNGA will hold a meeting from September to December and subsequently from January to August if required. Resolutions based on the UN Charter and the General Assembly’s Rules of Procedure can then be passed with regards to the issues of that respective year. These resolutions may contain declarations that are non-binding and the entity that ensures the enforcement of these resolutions are stated within the resolutions themselves. Therefore, as compared to the UNSC resolutions, the resolutions of the UNGA carries a lighter legal weight.  A list of selected declarations adopted by the UNGA is listed in the table below.

(B) HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL & THE THIRD COMMITTEE

The Human Rights Council (HRC) is an intergovernmental body that replaces the Commission on Human Rights and is comprised of 47 countries that was first established in 2006 with the aim of strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights in the world in a fair and equal manner. While the HRC focuses on both country specific and thematic issues, it focuses mainly on country-specific issues more than thematic ones . The Special Representative would annually report to the HRC in Geneva regarding any progress made and remaining challenges that needs to be addressed such that action can be taken by the council through resolutions and country-specific recommendations.

The Third Committee is tasked by the General Assembly to handle issues related to social, humanitarian and cultural affairs that affects people from all over the world. For instance, the Committee also considers issues relating to women advancement and child protection. Like the HRC, the Third Committee adopts thematic and country-specific resolutions pending for approval by the GA. However, the focus of the Committee is more streamlined to focus on thematic rather than country-specific issues.

Due to the similar nature of topics handled by both the HRC and the Third Committee, there is to a certain extent, a degree of overlap of tasks between the two organs. A noticeable difference between the two organs is that the mandate covered by the Third Committee is broader than that handled by the HRC which includes a wider spectrum of issues that are related to social, humanitarian, and cultural topics. In order to minimize these duplications, Paragraph 117 e (i) of Council resolution 5/1 addresses this issue by touching on the working culture of the HRC ‘for minimizing unnecessary duplication of initiatives with the General Assembly/Third Committee’. Despite these efforts, the attempt to avoid such duplications has gone unheeded. A study conducted by the Universal Rights Group in 2015 has shown that in 2012/2013, 40% of all Third Committee resolutions has, to a certain extent, overlapped with that of the HRC. Such examples of this overlap includes resolutions on Enforced Disappearances and Violence against Women, Migrants and Older Persons.

Cameroon is currently not a member of the Human Rights Council.

(C) INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCES

Numerous conferences are held annually to discuss a spectrum of human rights related issues to highlight the rights of the respective target groups. Some of these conferences are held following declarations adopted by the UNGA while some of them concluded with the adoption of declarations or resolutions with the aim of addressing their respective concerns and these declarations would be touched upon in the next section.

Such conferences includes the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) that was held on 15th September 2014. The outcome of this conference reinforced the commitment of the UN and its member states to ensure actions are taken in their compliance with the UN Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples that was first adopted in 2007. The WCIP’s Outcome Document (OD) reiterated that states should be committed to “prevent and eliminate all forms of violence and discrimination against indigenous peoples and individuals, in particular, women, children, youth, older persons and persons with disabilities, by strengthening legal, policy and institutional frameworks”.

The OD does mention ensuring “access to sexual and reproductive health, and reproductive rights” of indigenous individuals but does not specifically state women and girls. This contrasts with other sections of the OD that specifically addresses women’s and girl’s rights with regards to women and youth empowerment, discrimination and violence. This differs strikingly with the thematic paper towards the preparation of the WCIP 2014 that clearly affirms the sexual and reproductive rights of youth, adolescents, girls and women.

A total of 24 international conferences were reviewed for the purpose of this report. While the purpose of these conferences were related to furthering human rights, they were also analyzed to identify whether rights to women and children were specifically addressed. Of the 24 conferences, girls were mentioned 13 times while women were mentioned 18 times. In most cases, girls were grouped together with women. The outcome of certain conferences produced declarations or resolutions with the aim of addressing their respective concerns and these declarations would be touched upon in the next section.

(D) INTERNATIONAL DECLARATIONS

International declarations are documents that lists standards which are agreed by the parties involved but are not legally binding and are usually contained in the UN General Assembly Resolutions while being monitored by the Secretary General. One of the core documents in the history of human rights is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which was drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world. It sets out the fundamental human rights that needs to be universally protected. While it is not legally binding as it is not considered a treaty, this declaration has been invoked by various countries for more than 60 years and it is customary to consider it legally binding as a part of customary international law. The Universal Declaration has resulted in the creation of other international agreements which are also legally binding: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) which was elaborated above. Usually such declarations would result in the production of two documents where one of them is written by government representatives and the other by Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs). According to the UN Treaty Handbook, there are three types of declarations: Interpretative Declaration, Mandatory Declaration and Optional Declaration where only Mandatory Declarations and Optional Declarations are binding on the states making it.

Despite the positive outcomes that are intended when such declarations are adopted, the fact that they are not legally binding undermines the willingness for states’ adherence to them and therefore the effectiveness of such declarations.

The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants is one such declaration that was adopted on 19 September 2016 by the UN General Assembly which contains a list of commitments that was agreed to by 193 countries. The main purpose of this declaration was to address the growing concerns of countries bearing the brunt of the influx of migrants by suggesting a comprehensive refugee response framework to alleviate their pressures. One of the main solutions was to ensure that refugees are provided employment and education to ensure their integration into the community of the respective countries. However, the insistence of no specific target or legally binding obligations on refugee resettlement numbers to be set or the reluctance of governments to offer concrete or significant to address the needs of refugees shows their level of commitment to this declaration.

In another case, The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted as “It establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world and it elaborates on existing human rights standards and fundamental freedoms as they apply to the specific situation of indigenous peoples.” However, it was noted in a report published in 2017 by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs that four countries who ‘endorsed’ this declaration were selective in defining the parameters of the rights of indigenous people in order to align their domestic laws with that in the declaration to appear that they were adhering to international standards.

Despite these nuanced attempts by certain countries to avoid addressing the entire spectrum that encompasses the rights of humanity that conflicts with their self-interest, it should still be acknowledged that these declarations are still required to push for the rights of specific groups of people who are underrepresented or not represented at all.

A total of 101 declarations have been adopted since 1948. However, for the purpose of this report, a total of 24 declarations were analyzed for the purpose of this report.

 


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