A Guide To Human Rights Standards & Mechanisms Relevant To Fundamentalisms
UN declarations and treaties of relevance to the protection and promotion of human rights in contexts of rising fundamentalisms.
Human Rights Declarations are non-legally binding human rights standards. Their force and legitimacy lies primarily in the fact that in adopting such declarations, member states of the UN (or other relevant human rights systems) have made a strong moral commitment to use them as blueprints for building more just societies. Therefore, while declarations are, strictly speaking, non-enforceable most governments do not wish to be censured by the international community for ignoring or actively impeding the provisions of human rights declarations.
UN Declarations and Treaties
Examples of UN declarations that are most relevant to the protection and promotion of human rights in contexts of rising fundamentalisms are:
- Human Rights Committee General Comment 22 on Article 18 (for ICCPR States Party reports on Freedom of Religion or Belief. 11 paragraph General Comment).
- Human Rights Committee General Comment 28 on Article 3 (ICCPR States Party reports, goes beyond the original article in light of threats to women's health, female infanticide, immolation of widows, dowry deaths, genital mutilations, forced prostitution, etc.)
- Human Rights Committee General Comment 19 on Article 23 (for ICCPR States Party reports, requires the consent of both marriage partners, advocates civil registration of religious marriages to prevent abuses, child marriage, polygamy where proscribed, etc)
- Convention on the Rights of Child (CRC)
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
Freedom of thought and religion
- Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (1981)
- Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (1992)
Rights of minorities and racism
- Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice (UNESCO, 1978)
- Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1963)
- Declaration on the Human Rights of Individuals Who are not Nationals of the Country in which They Live (General Assembly, 1985)
Political and civil rights
- Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1999)
- UN Protocol Against Trafficking to Convention on Organized Crime
- Crimes of Honor- UN Resolution 2004- 19 Languages. Source: WUNRN
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (IESCR)
- Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993)
- Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995)
Treaties are legally-binding human rights mechanisms. By ratifying treaties, governments agree to actively observe and implement the provisions of the treaty and to be subjected to regular reviews by the relevant treaty-monitoring body with respect to their implementation record. The UN treaties that are most relevant to issues of fundamentalisms and women's human rights are:
- The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
- The Convention on the Elimination of All Form of Discrimination Against Women
- Convention against Discrimination in Education (UNESCO, 1960)
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The comprehensive range of rights - social, economic, cultural, civil and political - proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) apply equally to all regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, religion or other status (Article 2). As such, the UDHR offers a powerful challenge to fundamentalist movements that seek to curtail or deny the human rights of members of their own religious communities or of those who belong to other religious communities or who have no religious affiliation. Articles of the UDHR that are particularly relevant to violations of human rights that occur in contexts of rising fundamentalisms are those dealing with the right to life, the right to equality before the law and in relation to marriage, freedom of movement, freedom of thought and association, and the rights to liberty and security of person and to freedom from arbitrary detention.
Defending Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion
The right to practice one's religion free from violence, coercion, and persecution is a cornerstone of the protection of human rights. This is critically important in protecting religious minorities. In this regard, the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (1992) is pertinent. However, it is equally important that the human rights of members of religious communities are defended from abuse within the community. This is especially relevant to women whose sexuality, reproductive choice, and roles within the family and society are frequently the focus of dictates, mores, and harmful practices, which are ostensibly grounded in religious belief and tradition. Hence, freedom of thought, religion and conscience must be understood not only with respect to the rights of one religious community vis-a-vis others, but also in relation to the right not to be discriminatedagainst within a religious community or the right not to observe any religion.
In this regard, the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief is most relevant. In particular, Article 2.2 states that:
For the purposes of the present Declaration, the expression "intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief" means any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on religion or belief and having as its purpose or as its effect nullification or impairment of the recognition, enjoyment or exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis (our emphasis).
Furthermore, the Declaration prohibits religious-based discrimination and intolerance whether perpetrated by state or private actor. Article 2.1 states that:
No one shall be subject to discrimination by any State, institution, group of persons, or person on the grounds of religion or other belief.
Challenging Racism and Protecting Minorities
Frequently, particularly in the global North, a limited, stereotypical understanding of fundamentalism dominates whereby it is generally viewed as a monolithic problem endemic to the Islamic faith. Related to this is the fact that in dominant Western countries, most religions, other than those within the Judeo-Christian tradition, and particularly Islam, are automatically associated with fundamentalism and with particular racial or ethnic identities. In a post-September 11th world, the association of Islamic fundamentalism with terrorism, has made members of many minority or marginalised groups, and especially those who are Muslim, vulnerable to racist attacks on their human rights under the pretext of combating terrorism.
Consequently, the Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice and the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1963) are important standards and mechanisms in challenging the racist impact of stereotypical interpretations of fundamentalism and the nature of the threats it represents. This includes, for example, the systematic targeting of members of particular racial, ethnic, or religious communities in measures aimed at policing "terrorism." The Declaration on the Human Rights of Individuals Who are not Nationals of the Country in which They Live is also important in this context. Under such conditions, women's human rights are at risk on two fronts. When communities are under siege, women are discriminated against in the wider society because of their membership in the targeted community. At the same time, they become the focus of greater enforcement of traditional identities within their community.
Protecting Civil and Political Rights
The The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) elaborates on many of the rights expressed in the UDHR, but most particularly on those concerning the freedoms that underpin civic participation in society such as the right to life, freedom from arbitrary arrest and the right to a fair trial, freedom of thought and of association, and so on. Key articles in the context of defending women's rights in the face of fundamentalist movements are:
Article 3 - Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.
Article 6.1 - The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights set forth in the present Covenant. (our emphasis)
Article 9.1 - Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention.
Article 16 - Everyone shall have the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
Article 18 - Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (paragraph 1) and one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his [or her] freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice (paragraph 2).
Article 19 - Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference (paragraph 1) and everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression (paragraph 2). (For more information and analysis see Freedom of Expression).
Article 23.3 - No marriage shall be entered into without the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
(For more information see the WHRnet overview on Freedom of Expression).
Women's Human Rights
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) weaves together civil-political and economic-social-cultural rights creating a solid basis for the defense of women's rights in both public and private contexts.
The CEDAW General Recommendation No. 23 on women's political and public life and General Recommendation No. 19 on violence against women are important documents that further guidelines to governments, policymakers, judges, and advocates in interpreting and implementing some provisions of the CEDAW.
Also important to the defense of women's rights where fundamentalist forces are prevalent are the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women
Other UN Mechanisms
- 1990 Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families
- Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, 2000
- Convention on the Political Rights of Women, 1954
- Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 1987
- Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, 1989
- Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict, 1974
- Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages, 1964
Non UN Mechanisms
- CSCE Copenhagen Conference on Human Dimension (selections)
- African Charter on Rights and Welfare of Children
- The Chiang Mai Declaration-Religion and Women: An Agenda for Change
- American Convention on Human Rights-Pact of San Jose, Costa Rica, 1978
- Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women, "Convention of Belem Do Para"
- Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms as amended by Protocol No. 11 (Council of Europe) 1998
- The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, 1999
- Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa
- Asian Human Rights Charter