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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Pacts and Conventions


The Second World War brought a turning point to the attention paid to Human Rights.

Faced with massacres perpetrated by supposedly "civilized" nations, the need was felt to write an International Statute of Human Rights, and above all organise a means to fight against the influx of war. The creation of the United Nations (UN) answered these needs.

The United Nations’ Charter was signed throughout the San Francisco Conference in June 1945. It brought out four principles altogether new at the time:

Sovereign Equality Among States.

Outlawing all aggressive warfare and the obligation for States to seek peaceful means to work out their differences.

The duty of the States go unite their efforts to up the standard of living for all peoples.

The will to propagate respect for Human Rights and fundamental freedom for all.

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Since the San Francisco Conference, the idea of writing a Universal Declaration of Human Rights was accepted. The UN Human Rights Commission initiated primarily by the widow of President Roosevelt and René Cassin went to work preparing it, in the Autumn of 1946.

It will be drafted by René Cassin and submitted to the full Assembly at the United Nations December 10th, 1948 (at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris). It was adopted by 48 votes for versus 8 abstentions: USSR, Belarus, Ukraine, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Poland (in other words the Eastern Block), Saudi Arabia and South Africa (1948: year zero of Apartheid).

This Declaration is not a Convention. It has ONLY a moral force. It is only still an "ideal to attain collectively by all peoples and all nations."

But in fact its influence has been considerable: any State that joins the UN must agree with this text.

It is interesting to repeat here what René Cassin wrote in "Le Monde" newspaper December 14, 1948:

"The Soviet delegation was always of the opinion that the application of the principles of the Declaration should be left up to each State to do with "as they saw fit". They always showed great wariness not only towards the "International Court of Human Rights" proposed by Australia, but also toward any conciliatory organisation in charge of examining petitions dealing with Human Rights addressed to the United Nations. Evoking monstrous abuses given rise by the absolute sovereignty vindicated by Hitler since 1933, in favour of the Third Reich as opposed to its immigrant population has not been enough, thus far, to dislodge obvious repugnance for the international community overseeing, even amicably, primarily but not essentially "domestic" affairs. No doubt nothing short of an immense and impartial effort must be done to dissipate such wariness. Between international anarchy and world government, there are different degrees."

Even today, it is this reticence on the part of certain countries in the face if international non-management that makes this fight for the respect of Human Rights so difficult.

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So that the principlas evoked in the UDHR be applied, the UN elaborated a great number of pacts and conventions:

the 2 great pacts of 1966:

. the Pact relating to Civil and Political Rights

. the Pact relating to Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

the Convention relating to the Refugee Status (1951)

the Convention against Torture and Cruel Treatment or Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (1989)

the Convention relating to Children’s Rights (1989) [*Signed by all countries except USA]

The Second Optional Protocol pertaining to the International Pact relating to Civil Rights and Political Rights aiming at abolishing the Death Penalty (1989)

The respect for pacts and treaties is obligatory for the States that ratified them. These States must then, if need be, adapt their legislation to render it compatible with these international texts. Where no internal legislation exists, a pact or convention does not create rights susceptible to being invoked by an individual versus the State, even if this State adheres to this particular pact or convention. It must be known: States can ratify with reservations.

The UN has now an arsenal of texts of quality at its disposal on whom defenders of Human Rights can lean. But international justice should have courts that can ensure the fulfilment of the engagements the respective governments took, and that punishes transgressions.

This exists in Europe where the European Court of Human Rights actually condemns States that do not act according to the texts they have signed, and is being developed for American and African States.

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