What is international human rights law?

International Human Rights Law creates rights for people, which are entitlements based around general freedoms to, and freedoms from. International Human Rights Law also creates corresponding obligations for governments to respect, protect and fulfil those rights.

The main sources of International human rights law are:

  • The United Nations Charter which came into force on 24 October 1945: Chapters 9 and 10 of the charter include provisions on human rights, whereby member states pledge to protect human rights without discrimination. The charter is legally binding on all members of the United Nations.
  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), drafted on 10 December 1948: The first document setting out fundamental human rights to be protected. It is binding under customary international law.

In addition to those documents which set out the main human rights principles, human rights law has been developed further through two major treaties:

The UDHR, the ICCPR and the ICESCR are considered the foundational international human rights documents, and together they form the International Bill of Rights.

Governments have together extended their commitments to human rights through developing and signing on to conventions on specific rights, such as:

While the International Bill of Rights and the core human rights conventions form the backbone of human rights law, declarations, guidelines and principles are continually adopted in places like the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), which consist of authoritative interpretations of International human rights law.

For example, through signing on to HRC resolution 16/18, governments have committed to take specific measures to address human rights concerns around intolerance and hate speech.

International human rights law is not a system imposed on governments, but rather has been developed by the international community. States have voluntarily signed up to these commitments through their membership of the UN (i.e. the Charter and UDHR), and through specific treaties (i.e. the ICCPR, CEDAW, etc).

While human rights are universally protected through international human rights law, this promise has not yet been fully realised around the world and much progress needs to be made in ensuring that human rights law is fully implemented and governments adhere to their commitments.