International human rights can be complex. The world is a long way from realizing all human rights in their full form. Navigating these rights and laws that protect them is even complicated. There are core human rights treaties, also known as “instruments,” that can help protect and demystify rights. Most are divided into two categories: declarations and conventions. Declarations are not legally binding, but they hold a lot of authority. The most famous human rights declaration is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United Nations adopted in 1948. Conventions are legally-binding treaties between multiple parties. These are usually more specific than declarations and involve ratifications. Here are ten of these core human right treaties (beyond the UDHR) that you can download:
The UN General Assembly ratified this convention in 1965. It went into force early January in 1969. Signing members must commit to promoting racial harmony and eliminating racial discrimination. This includes outlawing hate speech and making membership in racist organizations a crime.
This covenant is based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It went into force in March 1976. It’s part of the International Bill of Human Rights and requires parties to respect rights such as the right to life, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech. It has two Optional Protocols. The first one lets individuals from member states submit complaints. The Human Rights Committee reviews them. The second optional protocol abolishes the death penalty.
The UN General Assembly adopted this treaty in 1979. It defines discrimination against women. It requires that all ratifying states protect gender equality in their legislation. They must also repeal discriminating laws and establish new provisions that protect women from discrimination. The Optional Protocol, adopted by the General Assembly in 1999, sets up a process where individuals or groups can call out national violations of the treaty to the CEDAW’s expert committee.
The UN General Assembly adopted this treaty in late 1966. It’s part of the International Bill of Rights and commits parties to progress with rights such as labor rights, right to health, and right to education. As of January 2020, 170 parties ratified the treaty. Four countries, including the United States, have signed it, but not ratified it.
Adopted in late 1984, this treaty was ratified by its 20th state and came into force in June 1987. This treaty requires ratifying states to take concrete action against torture. If a person has suffered torture in their home country, a state cannot send them back. The Optional Protocol has been in force since 2006. It sets up a system where independent international and national bodies visit countries where people are experiencing torture and other treatment that falls under the treaty.
In force since 1990, this treaty establishes the civil, political, social, economic, and cultural rights of children. There are also two Optional Protocols, which the General Assembly adopted in 2000. The first protocol is on the involvement of children in armed conflict, while the second covers child prostitution, child pornography, and the sale of children.
This treaty entered into force the day before Christmas Eve in 2010. It intends to prevent forced disappearance. This occurs when a government or entity acting on behalf of the government secretly kidnaps or imprisons a person.
ICRMW (International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families)
This treaty came into force in 2003. It protects migrant workers’ rights, drawing a firm connection between human rights and migration. Its purpose is not to establish new rights but to ensure that migrants receive equal treatment and the same working conditions as nationals.
This treaty entered into force in 2008. Its goal is to protect the rights of people with disabilities. It identifies where people with disabilities need adaptations and where rights must be reaffirmed and reinforced. The Optional Protocol sets up a system where individuals claiming to be victims of a violation (by a ratifying state) can send complaints to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
This treaty defines refugees and establishes their rights. It also defines the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum, which include providing refugees with identity papers and free access to courts. It went into force in 1954 and while it was initially limited to European refugees from right after WWII, the protocol in 1967 removed time limits.