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A Summary of United Nations
Agreements on Human Rights

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Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The UDHR is the first international statement to use the term “human rights”, and has been adopted by the Human Rights movement as a charter. It is short, and worth reading in its entirety—a summary would be about as long as the document itself.

Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
This covenant details the basic civil and political rights of individuals and nations.

Among the rights of nations are:
the right to self determination
the right to own, trade, and dispose of their property freely, and not be deprived of their means of subsistence

Among the rights of individuals are:
the right to legal recourse when their rights have been violated, even if the violator was acting in an official capacity
the right to life
the right to liberty and freedom of movement
the right to equality before the law
the right to presumption of innocence til proven guilty
the right to appeal a conviction
the right to be recognized as a person before the law
the right to privacy and protection of that privacy by law
freedom of thought, conscience, and religion
freedom of opinion and expression
freedom of assembly and association

The covenant forbids torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, slavery or involuntary servitude, arbitrary arrest and detention, and debtor's prisons. It forbids propaganda advocating either war or hatred based on race, religion, national origin, or language.

It provides for the right of people to choose freely whom they will marry and to found a family, and requires that the duties and obligations of marriage and family be shared equally between partners. It guarantees the rights of children and prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, color, national origin, or language.

It also restricts the death penalty to the most serious of crimes, guarantees condemned people the right to appeal for commutation to a lesser penalty, and forbids the death penalty entirely for people under 18 years of age.

The covenant permits governments to temporarily suspend some of these rights in cases of civil emergency only, and lists those rights which cannot be suspended for any reason. It also establishes the UN Human Rights Commission.

After almost two decades of negotiations and rewriting, the text of the Universal Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was agreed upon in 1966. In 1976, after being ratified by the required 35 states, it became international law.

Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
The protocol adds legal force to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by allowing the Human Rights Commission to investigate and judge complaints of human rights violations from individuals from signator countries.

Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights
SummaryFull document

Convention Against Torture
SummaryFull document

Convention Against Genocide
SummaryFull document

UN Convention on the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces (I)
Also called the first Geneva Convention

The first Geneva Convention focuses on the rights of individuals, combatants and non-combatants, during war. It is lengthy and detailed, perhaps because human rights are rarely at such risk as during war and, in particular, involving prisoners of war or enemy captives.
Full document

Convention on the Rights of the Child
Full document

Convention on Eliminiation of Discrimination Against Women
Full document

Charter of the United Nations
Full document  




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© 2000, 15 August

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