The success and failure of United Nations human rights system to protect human rights worldwide

Mahfuzur Rahman (Supreme Court of Bangladesh)


The growth and expansion of human rights has been truly burning issue. Today the term human rights is used in connection with those rights which have been recognized by the global community and protected by the international legal instruments. Human rights reflect the moral conscience of the world and the highest common aspiration that everyone should live free from want and fear and have the opportunity to develop in dignity.
Human rights are commonly understood as in alienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she/he is a human being. These rights may exist as natural rights or a legal rights, an both national and international level.
The UN human rights treaties are at the core of the international system for the promotion and protection of human rights. Every UN member state is a party to one or more of the nine major human rights treaties. It is a universal human rights legal system which applies to virtually every child, women, man in the world.
The UN Charter established the United Nations to promote peace, human rights and the development of a better life for peoples. These goals are obviously interdependent, and international law (as the Secretary-General has often emphasized) is the means to realize them. So UN bodies must take international law - notably rights law – seriously.
Further, the Secretary-General's plan for reform of the UN system posits that "human rights!' promotion must become a "crosscutting" effort, i.e., integrated into efforts to promote peace and "development." Yet integration, it seems, is no easy task. Twelve years after adoption of the HRD, no clear plan to implement it exists. One explanation may well be rooted in the lack of understanding of this subject (why and how to "mainstream"), which seems to pervade UN circles - where there is much human rights talk but little effort to get down to operational action. Another reason for inaction may be rooted in the fact that human rights are often a sensitive subject when it comes to implementation.
Yet this is no excuse for inaction if the UN is to do what it is clearly obligated to do. A burden of forthright leadership and effective advocacy falls heavily on the High Commissioner. Her office has repeatedly been charged with the duty of "promoting" and "coordinating" implementation; and the Secretary-General's administrative reforms provide a new opportunity to leverage human rights into the agendas of all UN development agencies. Indeed, UNDP, as the primary agency in this field, can help those efforts immeasurably by collaborating in the elaboration of an implementation plan of action.

Download the file

©2023 Italian Society of Law and Economics. All rights reserved.