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The human right as the fundamental international norm

But what are the real world, practical, tangible implications of the global code of norms set down in international human rights law? From the perspective of politicians, diplomats, NGOs and the victim of human rights violations, is the ever-widening framework of norms meaningful?

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Ubi societas, ibi jus. Where the international community is able to identify such standards and values, international law serves to lock them in and present them as universal norms. However, it is clear that such norms, and the laws that delineate them, have little or no value in the absence of effective compliance. These and other analyses appear to base their reasoning on the belief that states feel a moral obligation, heightened through participation in international process i.

International human rights law

Human rights law presents an obvious case in point. The formation of international human rights law fits within the conditions put forward by Chayes and Chayes et al.

Human rights norms: it’s the implementation, stupid

Norm setting has tended to take place within an iterative process of international discourse and the results are, by and large, universally accepted. And yet, beyond a core of strong democracies, there is little evidence, in most regions of the world, of widespread internalization and compliance with human rights legal obligations.

In these and other cases of non-compliance, it is not enough, as Koh and others do, to rely on moral obligations and eventual obedience.

  1. Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.
  2. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
  3. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
  4. Ubi societas, ibi jus. The Paris Principles list a number of responsibilities for national human rights institutions.

What is needed, instead, are international institutions and mechanisms that can follow-up on and promote implementation of the obligations in question. In other words, international law is useful when it is obeyed, and in order for it to be widely and consistently obeyed, the law must be accompanied with effective compliance mechanisms.

Only through the application and perseverance of such mechanisms can norms be internalized and obeyed, even where this may run counter to the will of the state s concerned and where it may challenge prevalent power structures.

  1. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. The concept of universal jurisdiction is therefore closely linked to the idea that certain international norms are erga omnes , or owed to the entire world community, as well as the concept of jus cogens.
  2. The European Court of Human Rights is the only international court with jurisdiction to deal with cases brought by individuals rather than states. The concept of universal jurisdiction is therefore closely linked to the idea that certain international norms are erga omnes , or owed to the entire world community, as well as the concept of jus cogens.
  3. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit. The European Court of Human Rights is the only international court with jurisdiction to deal with cases brought by individuals rather than states.

Here again, the experience of the international human rights community and of international human rights law is particularly instructive. This was the Treaty Body system, designed to promote compliance with the obligations laid down in the International Bill of Rights and other human rights treaties.

However, it did not take long for UN diplomats and others to realize this would not be the case. Again and again, states were found to be flouting agreed norms and violating their human rights obligations. The most prominent of these mechanisms was the Special Procedures which emerged in the late 1960s and has expanded in scale and importance ever since. Today, the international human rights system continues to struggle to secure compliance with international human rights norms.

In one sense this should come as no surprise — it is one thing for states to draft new laws, and quite another for them to accept international scrutiny of their compliance.