Taking duties seriously: Individual duties in international human rights law : a commentary

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Human rights are those activities, conditions, and freedoms that all human beings are entitled to enjoy, by virtue of their humanity. They include civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Human rights are inherent, inalienable, interdependent, and indivisible, meaning they cannot be granted or taken away, the enjoyment of one right affects the enjoyment of others, and they must all be respected. Like national constitutions, which are covenants between governments and their citizens, international human rights treaties are covenants between States and the international community, whereby States agree to guarantee certain rights within their own territories.

When States ratify human rights treaties , they agree to both refrain from violating specific rights and to guarantee enjoyment of those rights by individuals and groups within their jurisdictions. Regional and international oversight bodies contribute to State compliance and provide opportunities for redress and accountability that may be non-existent or ineffective at the national level.

However, becoming party to a treaty or agreeing to oversight by a supranational body generally remains voluntary. The level of participation in the international human rights framework varies among States. That is, a State which does not guarantee basic freedoms to its citizens is unlikely to punish or correct its own behavior, particularly in the absence of international consensus as to the substance of those freedoms and a binding commitment to the international community to respect them.

In addition, demand for protections beyond the traditional civil and political sphere has increased the number and variety of interests which are recognized as rights, particularly in the area of economic, social and cultural concerns. These include the judicial and quasi-judicial decisions of international and domestic courts on international human rights law or its domestic equivalents; the decisions of domestic and international courts on the related but distinct subject of international criminal law ; and analysis and commentary by scholars and others.

Of course, a necessary component of human rights protection is the factual research identifying the conditions which may constitute violations, which is conducted by intergovernmental organizations, as well as by civil society. International human rights law is dynamic and its boundaries are daily being pushed in new directions. Thus, in the decade following the war, national governments cooperated in the establishment of the United Nations UN , [1] the Organization of American States OAS , [2] and the Council of Europe COE , [3] each including among its purposes the advancement of human rights.


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These intergovernmental organizations then prepared non-binding declarations or binding treaties which spelled out the specific liberties understood to be human rights, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights , [4] American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man , [5] and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

In subsequent decades, each oversaw the drafting of human rights agreements on specific topics [7] and created additional oversight mechanisms , which now include the United Nations treaty bodies and Universal Periodic Review , the Inter-American Court of Human Rights , and the European Committee of Social Rights. More recently, other intergovernmental organizations have also established, or begun to establish, regional human rights treaties and monitoring mechanisms.

In addition, the UN, Inter-American, and African systems appoint individual experts to monitor human rights conditions in a range of priority areas, such as arbitrary detention and discrimination. These experts are often called rapporteurs, and they carry out their work by receiving information from civil society, visiting countries, and reporting on human rights conditions and the ways in which they violate or comply with international norms. Click on the image below to open a PDF version of the diagram with hyperlinks to each body. These overlapping umbrellas sometimes mean that a particular State will participate in, and report to, several supranational human rights bodies.

Human rights

Transnational corporations and other business enterprises using child labour shall create and implement a plan to eliminate child labour. Such a plan shall assess what will happen to children when they are no longer employed in the business and include measures such as withdrawing children from the workplace in tandem with the provision of suitable opportunities for schooling, vocational training and other social protection for the children and their families, for example by employing the parents or older siblings or engaging in other measures consistent with ILO Recommendations Nos.

Transnational corporations and other business enterprises shall provide a safe and healthy working environment as set forth in relevant international instruments and national legislation as well as international human rights and humanitarian law. Such a safe and healthy work environment for women and men shall aid in the prevention of accidents and injuries arising out of, linked with, or occurring within the course of work. Transnational corporations and other business enterprises shall also take into account the particular needs of migrant workers as set forth in the Migrant Workers Supplementary Provisions Convention, No.

The information shall also include arrangements for training in safe working practices and details on the effects of all substances used in manufacturing processes. In particular, and additionally consistent with paragraph 15 e , transnational corporations and other business enterprises shall make known any special hazards that tasks or conditions of work involve and the related measures available to protect the workers. They also shall provide, at their expense, personal protective clothing and equipment when necessary. Further, they shall incur expenses for occupational health and safety measures.

They shall cooperate in the work of international organizations concerned with the preparation and adoption of international safety and health standards. Where appropriate, matters relating to safety and health should be incorporated in agreements with the representatives of the workers and their organizations. Transnational corporations and other business enterprises shall examine the causes of safety and health hazards in their industry and work to implement improvements and solutions to those conditions, including the provision of safe equipment at least consistent with industry standards.


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Further, they shall monitor the working environment and the health of workers liable to exposure to specified hazards and risks. Transnational corporations and other business enterprises shall investigate work-related accidents, keep records of incidents stating their cause and remedial measures taken to prevent similar accidents, ensure the provision of remedies for the injured, and otherwise act in accordance with paragraph 16 e. Voluntary overtime for workers shall not exceed 12 hours per week and shall not be expected on a regular basis. Compensation for such overtime shall be at a rate higher than the normal rate.

Each worker shall be given at least one day off in every seven-day period. These protections may be adjusted to meet the different needs of management personnel; construction, exploration and similar workers who work for short periods e. Transnational corporations and other business enterprises shall provide workers with remuneration that ensures an adequate standard of living for them and their families. Such remuneration shall take due account of their needs for adequate living conditions with a view towards progressive improvement.

Operations in the least developed countries shall take particular care to provide just wages.

What ICPD established and where we are today

Wages shall be paid, consistent with international standards such as the Protection of Wages Convention, No. Transnational corporations and other business enterprises shall also avoid taking actions to undermine the value of employee benefits, including pensions, deferred compensation and health care. Workers shall be informed in an appropriate and easily understandable manner before they enter employment and when any changes take place as to the conditions in respect of wages, salaries and additional emoluments under which they are employed. At the time of each payment of wages, workers shall receive a wage statement informing them of such particulars relating to the pay period concerned as the gross amount of wages earned, any deduction which may have been made, including the reasons therefore, and the net amount of wages due.

In cases in which the partial payment of wages in the form of allowances in kind is authorized by national laws or regulations, collective agreements, or arbitration awards, transnational corporations and other business enterprises shall ensure that such allowances are appropriate for the personal use and benefit of workers and their families and that the value attributed to such allowances is fair and reasonable. Transnational corporations and other business enterprises shall ensure freedom of association and effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining by protecting the right to establish and, subject only to the rules of the organization concerned, to join organizations of their own choosing without distinction, previous authorization, or interference, for the protection of their employment interests and for other collective bargaining purposes as provided in national legislation and the relevant conventions of the International Labour Organization.

Further, they shall refrain from discriminating against workers by reason of trade union membership or participation in trade union activities, and shall refrain from any interference that restricts these rights or impedes their lawful exercise. They shall respect the right of workers to strike, to submit grievances, including grievances as to compliance with these Norms, to fair and impartial persons who have the authority to redress any abuses found, and to be protected from suffering prejudice for using those procedures, consistent with the norms contained in the Collective Bargaining Convention, No.

Transnational corporations and other business enterprises jointly with the representatives and organizations of workers shall seek to establish voluntary conciliation machinery, appropriate to national conditions, which may include provisions for voluntary arbitration, to assist in the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes between employers and workers. Transnational corporations and other business enterprises shall recognize and respect applicable norms of international law, national laws and regulations, as well as administrative practices, the rule of law, the public interest, development objectives, social, economic and cultural policies including transparency, accountability and prohibition of corruption, and authority of the countries in which the enterprises operate.

They shall particularly respect the rights of indigenous peoples and similar communities to own, occupy, develop, control, protect and use their lands, other natural resources, and cultural and intellectual property. They shall also respect the principle of free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples and communities to be affected by their development projects. Indigenous peoples and communities shall not be deprived of their own means of subsistence, nor shall they be removed from lands which they occupy in a manner inconsistent with Convention No.

Further, they shall avoid endangering the health, environment, culture and institutions of indigenous peoples and communities in the context of projects, including road building in or near indigenous peoples and communities. Transnational corporations and other business enterprises shall use particular care in situations in which indigenous lands, resources, or rights thereto have not been adequately demarcated or defined. Transnational corporations and other business enterprises shall not offer, promise, give, accept, condone, knowingly benefit from, or demand a bribe or other improper advantage, nor shall they be solicited or expected to give a bribe or other improper advantage to any Government, public official, candidate for elective post, any member of the armed forces or security forces, or any other individual or organization.

Transnational corporations and other business enterprises shall refrain from any activity which supports, solicits, or encourages States or any other entities to abuse human rights. They shall further seek to ensure that the goods and services they provide will not be used to abuse human rights. Transnational corporations and other business enterprises shall respect economic, social and cultural rights as well as civil and political rights and contribute to their realization, in particular the rights to development, adequate food and drinking water, the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, adequate housing, privacy, education, freedom of thought, conscience, and religion and freedom of opinion and expression, and shall refrain from actions which obstruct or impede the realization of those rights.

Transnational corporations and other business enterprises shall further observe standards which protect the right to water and are otherwise in accordance with general comment No. Transnational corporations and other business enterprises shall act in accordance with fair business, marketing and advertising practices and shall take all necessary steps to ensure the safety and quality of the goods and services they provide, including observance of the precautionary principle.

Nor shall they produce, distribute, market, or advertise harmful or potentially harmful products for use by consumers. A transnational corporation or other business enterprise shall encourage the development and maintenance of fair, transparent and open competition by not entering into arrangements with competing businesses to directly or indirectly fix prices, divide territories, or create monopoly positions.

Transnational corporations and other business enterprises shall ensure that all marketing claims are independently verifiable, satisfy reasonable and relevant legal levels of truthfulness, and are not misleading. Further, they shall not target children when advertising potentially harmful products. They shall adhere to relevant international standards so as to avoid variations in the quality of products that would have detrimental effects on consumers, especially in States lacking specific regulations on product quality.

They shall further respect the precautionary principle when dealing, for example, with preliminary risk assessments that may indicate unacceptable effects on health or the environment.

Is the International Law Commission Taking International Organizations Seriously?

Further, they shall not use the lack of full scientific certainty as a reason to delay the introduction of cost-effective measures intended to prevent such effects. Transnational corporations and other business enterprises, when appropriate, shall also provide information regarding the appropriate recycling, reusability and disposal of its products and services.

Without Democracy, No Human Rights and No Peace - GPPi

In particular, they shall warn if death or serious injury is probable from a defect, use, or misuse. Transnational corporations and other business enterprises shall supply appropriate information of potentially harmful products to the relevant authorities. This information shall include the characteristics of products or services that may cause injury to the health and safety of consumers, workers, or others, and information regarding restrictions, warnings and other regulatory measures imposed by several countries as to these products or services on the grounds of health and safety protection.

Transnational corporations and other business enterprises shall carry out their activities in accordance with national laws, regulations, administrative practices and policies relating to the preservation of the environment of the countries in which they operate, as well as in accordance with relevant international agreements, principles, objectives, responsibilities and standards with regard to the environment as well as human rights, public health and safety, bioethics and the precautionary principle, and shall generally conduct their activities in a manner contributing to the wider goal of sustainable development.

Transnational corporations and other business enterprises shall ensure that the burden of negative environmental consequences shall not fall on vulnerable racial, ethnic and socio-economic groups. Transnational corporations and other business enterprises shall distribute such reports in a timely manner and in a manner that is accessible to the United Nations Environmental Programme, the ILO, other interested international bodies, the national Government hosting each company, the national Government where the business maintains its principal office and other affected groups.

The reports shall be accessible to the general public. They shall also respect the precautionary principle when dealing, for example, with preliminary risk assessments that may indicate unacceptable effects on health or the environment. In particular, they shall use best management practices and appropriate technologies and enable their component entities to meet these environmental objectives through the sharing of technology, knowledge and assistance, as well as through environmental management systems, sustainability reporting, and reporting of anticipated or actual releases of hazardous and toxic substances.

In addition, they shall educate and train workers to ensure their compliance with these objectives. As an initial step towards implementing these Norms, each transnational corporation or other business enterprise shall adopt, disseminate and implement internal rules of operation in compliance with the Norms. Further, they shall periodically report on and take other measures fully to implement the Norms and to provide at least for the prompt implementation of the protections set forth in the Norms. Each transnational corporation or other business enterprise shall apply and incorporate these Norms in their contracts or other arrangements and dealings with contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, licensees, distributors, or natural or other legal persons that enter into any agreement with the transnational corporation or business enterprise in order to ensure respect for and implementation of the Norms.

The internal rules of operation or similar measures shall be communicated in oral and written form in the language of workers, trade unions, contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, licensees, distributors, natural or other legal persons that enter into contracts with the transnational corporation or other business enterprise, customers and other stakeholders in the transnational corporation or other business enterprise.

The Mystery of the Missing Duties: Why are Individual Duties Absent from Human Rights law?
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