Sources of International Human Rights Law


So far as the source of international law is concerned it has two kinds primary is custom and treaties whereas general principle established by civilians are secondary sources. If we talk about sources of human rights law then it is United Nation Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United Nation was enacted on 1947. Further, these two agencies enacted several instrument to protect the humanity. United Nation Charter under its Article 1(3) provides that every member state will resolve their economic, social, cultural and humanitarian issues by cooperation. And almost every nation is a member of United Nation. Furthermore, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Universal Declaration), in 1948, was the first step towards the progressive codification of international human rights. This article provides brief insight to all important convention and conferences relating to International Human Rights that have been took place so far.

The core International Human Rights instrument:

United Nation did a splendid work by concluding treaties that form the core of primary international human rights law. Initially, It enacted ten treaties but now only nine out of ten are in force. Let us study each of it specifically.

International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) is an international treaty adopted in 1965 by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly.

ICERD covers the rights of all people to enjoy civil, political, economic and social rights, without discrimination on grounds of race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin. The UK ratified ICERD in 1969. The working of the convention is like each treaty operates on its own unique timetable. We are now in a period of follow-up activity for the CERD where we will be working the government and civil society organisations to try and implement the committee’s concluding observations.[1]

Convention onThe Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

It was finally in 1979, four years after the first UN Women’s Conference in 1975, that CEDAW was adopted by the UN General Assembly. The Netherlands ratified the Convention in 1991. CEDAW has a “treaty body”, also called CEDAW that supervises the implementation of the Convention by examining the country reports submitted to it every four years. Non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) may file shadow reports, which are also discussed by CEDAW.

In 1999 an Optional Protocol was adopted by the United Nation General Assembly, which was ratified by the Netherlands in 2002. The Optional Protocol provides a Communications Procedure which allows individuals or groups of individuals to complain to the CEDAW committee.

The basic principle of United Nation has been the equal rights for women. The Charter says that one of the purposes of the UN is to achieve international cooperation in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to, inter alia, sex. Through the UN Charter, the promotion of human rights, including the goal of equality between women and men, thereby became a contractual obligation for all Governments and the UN.

Women are discriminated in every possible way, sometimes unintentionally, by deeply ingrained ideas about the roles of women and men and the unequal power relations between the sexes, generally known as ‘gender’. The word ‘gender’ doesn’t appear in CEDAW, it was introduced in the Platform for Action of the IV Women’s Conference in 1995 in Beijing. But, with a similar purport, there is Article 5 of CEDAW that obliges States Parties to take all appropriate measures. Article 1 of the Convention says that it means “any distinction, exclusion or restriction, made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”

It took long time for the Netherlands to ratify CEDAW. The reason for this is that the government first wanted to adopt legislation in conformity with the Convention and repeal discriminatory laws. For example, it took until 1985 before women could confer their nationality on their children on an equal basis with men.

Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or degrading treatment or Punishment

This convention was adopted in 1984 and came into force in 1987. It obligates all State parties to ensure protection for all individuals from torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.

It was ratified in December 1988 by United Kingdom. The Article 1 of the Convention defines torture as any act whereby “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person” for purposes including the extraction of information or a confession, punishment, intimidation or coercion, or any reason based on discrimination – where such pain or suffering “is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

The Convention also outlaws the dismissal, return, or extradition of a person to another State where such person may be subjected to torture. Each member state which has signed this Convention must certify that all acts of torture are offences under their criminal law. States are supposed to produce reports to the Committee which outline progress and legislative, judicial and policy measures taken to fulfil their obligations under the Convention. Each State needs to submit a report, one year after consenting to the Convention and then every four years thereafter or otherwise as directed by the Committee.

The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Their Families

It specifies human rights in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and expresses explicitly how different rights apply to different categories of working migrants. It came into force in December 2003. Further than already existing limitations expressed by law, the Convention embraces no provisions controlling the rights of states to decide on immigration procedures. There are forty eight member states which signed the convention except any industrial nation with immigrants such as Switzerland.

This convention contains 93 clauses and is the longest human right convention.Part IV deals with rights of migrant workers that regularly reside in their mother land. And, Part V requires regulations concerning specific categories of foreigner like cross-border commuters, seasonal labourers and travellers. Part VI grades regulations dealing with working migrants without a residence permit. According to Article 72 the Committee on Migrant workers, the contracting parties are obligated to submit a report on their efforts to implement the regulations of the convention within one year of its entry into force and all five years thereafter.

The United Nations International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) attempts to ensure the protection of civil and political rights.

On December 19, 1966 the covenant was adopted by the United Nations’ General Assembly but it came into force on March 23, 1976. The International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the ICCPR and its two Optional Protocols, are collectively known as the International Bill of Rights.

The aim of the convention is to distinguish the inherent dignity of each individual and take on to promote conditions within states to allow the enjoyment of civil and political rights. Presently, there are 74 signatories and 168 parties to the ICCPR.

The significant Articles are 2 and 3 both are based on the notion of non-discrimination. Article 2 provides that every right identified by the ICCPR would be respected and be available to everyone within the amalgamating subjects and values of the ICCPR are found in Articles 2 and 3 and are based on the notion of non-discrimination.

Article 3 ensures the equal right of both men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights set out in the ICCPR.

The shortcoming of section 4 allows for certain circumstances for states parties to derogate from their responsibilities under the convention for instance in case of emergency but they cannot derogate from article 6,7,8.11.15,16 and 18.


Tehran World Conference on Human Right 1968

This conference was held in Tehran in 1968. It was first world meeting on human rights to review the progress made in past years that had elapsed since the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

The Conference adopted “Proclamation of Tehran” which encouraged respect for human rights and fundamental freedom for all without discrimination.

It invited states to adhere new standard and obligations set up in the international instruments. These standards are apartheid and racial discrimination, eradicating massive denials of human rights and also to bridge gap between economically developed and developing countries.

Vienna World Conference on Human Rights 1993

This conference was held on 14 June, 1993. It reviewed the developing human standards, the structure of human rights frameworks. Members from 171 states, treaty bodies, national institutions and representative of more than 800 NGO, adopted by consensus the “Vienna Declarations and Programme of Action.”

Contents of the declarations

Reaffirmed the human rights principles that had evolved over the past 45 years and called for the further straightening of foundation.Reaffirmed the universality of human rights and the international commitment to implementation of human rights.Proclaimed that democracy, development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms as interdependent and mutually reinforcing.The final draft was agreed to Vienna and endorsed by the forty- eighth session of the General Assembly.


There are different sources of international law such as treaties, customary international law and general principles of law. The law creating method within the current International system is way from ideal. The human rights ideal announced within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was lit and has been unbroken lit by nice individuals.

As the advancement of the liberating power of human rights deeply depends on their being frozen in hearts, minds and daily life, human rights education ought to be of dominant concern. Human beings are below and especially, their values and sentiments.