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human rights


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Rights and freedom to which every human being is entitled. Protection against breaches of these rights committed by a state (including the state of which the victim is a national) may in some cases be enforced in international law. It is sometimes suggested that human rights (or some of them) are so fundamental that they form part of natural law, but most of them are best regarded as forming part of treaty law.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) spells out most of the main rights that must be protected but it is not binding in international law. There are two international covenants, however, that bind the parties who have ratified them: the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The United Nations has set up a Commission on Human Rights, which has power to discuss gross violations of human rights but not to investigate individual complaints. The Human Rights Committee, set up in 1977, has power to hear complaints from individuals, under certain circumstances, about alleged breaches of the 1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. There are also various regional conventions on human rights, some of which have established machinery for hearing individual complaints. The best known of these is the European Convention on Human Rights (enacted in English law as the Human Rights Act1998) and the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights (covering South America).

Subjects: Law.


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