The issue regarding human rights’ violations became prominent for the first time after the Second World War. After the war the foundation of the United Nations acted as an impetus towards the initial development of the framework regarding the Human Rights. At first the crimes committed by the Nazi regime in its occupied countries had been in focus. Before that there have only been some limited attempts made regarding forbidding international slave trade and standardizing working conditions. The initial efforts made in this regard were in the form of declaration.
Further progress was made in 1946 when the ECOSOC set up a Commission on Human Rights and later a Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights was formed. (Rittberger & Zangl, 2006) This was the beginning of the UN Human Rights regime. This paper will discuss the emergence and development of the UN Human Rights Regime. The paper will also discuss the overall performance of the UN Human Rights programme during the last 60 years, its achievements and failures, pros and cons as well as given an insight about the future prospects of the Human Rights regime in the 21st century.
UN Human Rights Regime: The UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. This was the basis and foundation of the framework later developed for the protection of human rights in later years. Since it was an initial effort the Universal Declaration was a non-binding declaration, which means that non of the members of the United Nations were legally bounded, neither any body of the United Nations has been given the legal right to bound, judge or sanction any legal action against the members of the United States.
Nevertheless, if any state violates human rights, then its exercise will no longer be considered an internal matter and it could be brought to the agenda of the principal organs of the UN. In this manner the sovereignty of the states over their citizens was restricted and the principal of non-interference in domestic affairs was not as valid as it has been in the past. (Rittberger & Zangl, 2006) Since the Declaration was non-binding, thus there was no legal framework, which could be enforced upon the member states at that time.
In this sense the Human Rights regime was not properly functional because it has no legal authority over sovereign states. After the adoption of the declaration the second phase was the development of legally binding framework and codification of the human rights. It took almost 18 years for the member nations to agree on the International Covenant of Civil and Political rights and International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural rights, as they were formally adopted by the UN General assembly in 1966.
But simple approval by the General Assembly was not enough, as the legal binding of these two codifications will come into effect only when a sufficient number of member states have ratified the codifications from their respective houses of legislatives. This also took more than 10 years and finally in 1976 both covenants were ratified by sufficient number of states. In the next 30 years the number of countries, which have ratified the covenant has reached to 154 for the first and 151 for the second covenant. (Rittberger & Zangl, 2006)
In 1993 the first UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was appointed. The High Commissioner is appointed by the Secretary General He is responsible for working with all level of governments internationally in order to achieve the objective of protecting human rights across the globe. In a broader sense the High Commissioner has the responsibility to encourage and defend the human rights whether they are civil, political, economic, social or cultural. (United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Office of the (OHCR), 2009)
The United Nations human rights regime consists of several bodies and programmes like the Commission on Human Rights, the Sub-Commission on Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, as well as several treaty monitoring bodies like Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, Human Rights Committee, Committee against torture, Committee on the elimination of racial discrimination, Committee on the elimination of discrimination against women, and Committee on the rights of the Child.
All these committees as well as the Commission of Human Rights and the Sub-Commission to Promote and Protect Human Rights are the subsidiaries of the UN General Assembly. There are also several Country and Thematic Special Rapporteurs, and working groups which work under the Commission of Human Rights. Another important organ of the Human Rights regime is the International Court of Justice. The era of the UNCHR can be divided into to parts, the first from its foundation to 1966 and the second from 1966 to 2006, when finally it was retired.
During the first 20 years the UNCHR main operations were to draft the standards and prepare a number of international human rights instruments. During this period the UNCHR refrained from making judgement or allegations against any circumstances, which were considered strictly domestic affairs of that state, unless the Security Council deemed it as threat to peace when the matter comes forward on the Security Councils agenda. During this period the Commission did not directly dealt with human rights’ complains.
Beginning with 1967 the UNCHR began to establish itself as a legal body and was authorised to deal with and investigate human rights violations and monitor compliance of international human rights law by the states. Later on the Commission broadened its domain to economic, social and cultural rights also. (Human Rights, 2009) The generalization and vagueness of the articles regarding human rights in the UN charter and the contradictory interpretation of these articles by many states has practically barred the UN to take any effective action in this regard.
The same is the case of most of UN organs, which have the responsibility to monitor human rights abuse in the member states. There has been a general criticism on the effectiveness of the UNCHR and its subsidiaries. The main reason of the ineffectiveness was because of the absence of supranational authority, divisive power politics, and imposition of crippling by member states, which has plagued the ability of swift and effective UN actions in defence of human rights. (Human Rights, 2009) There are many cases in which major world powers deliberately thwarted the efforts made by the UN in order to protect their own political interests.
Moreover the actual responsibility of promoting and protecting human rights rests in General Assembly and its subsidiary organs as mentioned above. Ironically neither the General Assembly nor its subsidiaries have any legal sanction over the member states. The only UN organ with this authority is the UN Security Council, which is not the most desirable and affective platform to solve human rights issues. This is because many permanent Security Council members like Russia and China have the worst human rights promotion or protection record and are mostly accused off human rights abuse within their jurisdiction.
Therefore it is highly unlikely that they will allow the Security Council to pass any resolution against their or their allies interests. Opposition by China and Russia preventing the Security Council to take action against Serbian persecution of Albanians is an example. (Human Rights, 2009) On the contrary Security Council is sometimes accused off being manipulated by the world powers to pursue their own political agenda regardless of the human rights condition on the subject states. Held, McGrew, Goldblatt &Perraton, 2006) There have been many cases where the human rights violations were deliberately ignored by the political powers like in Sudan, where the Arab militia virtually annihilated the ethnic African population, or in Chechnya, where the Western countries did not dared to intervene fearing that it will infuriate Russia, or in Tibet, where China is responsible for alleged human rights violations like genocide, racial discrimination etc.
Since all the subject states in these situations either have direct influence in the Security Council in the form of Veto power or they are close allies with those who have it is near impossible in the current circumstances that they will be held responsible for the human rights violations they have committed in the above mentioned regions. Another important part of the Human Rights regime are the NGOs. Many international human rights NGOs like the Human Rights Watch, the Amnesty International etc has done a great job in highlighting and bringing forward several human rights violations across the globe.
These NGOs have a remarkable ability of social networking with their domestic counterparts in the subject state and with the help of these domestic movements and NGOs they not only dig out hidden or concealed human rights violations practiced by many authoritarian regimes in the region, but they have also help to defame, demonise and discredit such governments and state among the masses, thus making difficult for them to continue their practices.
The New Developments in the 21st Century: The 21st century started with global events like the 9/11 which entirely changed the scenario and the circumstances in which the Human Rights Regime as to operate. During the War against terror the United States and her allies set aside all the international human rights laws and denied to give the detainees they have caught during the Afghan war the rights of detained military personnel according to the Geneva convention. They put them in an isolated facility in the Guantanamo Bay and barred them from any legal aid or proper hearing the courts. They were also allegedly tortured to the worst degree.
The same happened when the U. S led coalition toppled Saddam and established a prison in Abu Ghuraib. The CIA has been accused of snatching the suspects from their homes across the globe and holding them in private prisons run by the CIA without any proper jurisdictions. Most of the people in these cases were not the real terrorist at all. All this deliberate negligence and violation of human rights by Western countries, particularly the United States who has championed themselves for the human rights in the last six decades has raised concern in the world about the future of the human rights regime.
Most third world countries are now compelled to think about the double standards of the West regarding the human rights. They now think the international human rights law is only another continuation Western colonialism and the West has used it to achieve its own interests and punish those who stand against them. This has further discredited the UN Human Rights programme among the masses. (Archibugi, 2008) In March 2006 the General Assembly voted to replace the UNCHR with the UN Human Rights Council.
The UNHRC is currently the highest UN body, which monitors, promotes human rights and prevents any human right abuse across the globe. It is an inter-governmental body within the UN System. The difficulties and disabilities, which had plagued the UNCHR in the last 60 years, still exist in this new regime. The council is merely acts as an advisor to the General Assembly, which can only advice the Security Council, where the Veto power acts as the primary obstacle in achieving the goals regarding the Human Rights.
Moreover the United States has always reacted negatively regarding the Council. U. S. voted against it during the foundation resolution and still did not seek a seat in it. United States and many of its allies have raised concerns regarding the biased behaviour of the Council against Israel in particular. (Lazaroff & AP, 2007) The overall analysis of the last 60 years of the Human Rights regime exhibits that despite its certain weaknesses the UN Human Rights programme has done well to establish and promote human rights across the globe.