Select Page

International Law of Human Rights
SUNY Buffalo Law School
Mutua, Makau W.

International Human Rights Outline
Professor Makau Mutua

1. General Background on Human Rights

2. Introduction to Human Rights Issues and Discourse

3. Up to Nuremberg: Background to the Human Rights Movement

4. Civil and Political Rights: The Threshold Documents

5. Universal Systems of Human Rights

6. Massive Human Rights Tragedies: Prosecutions and Truth Commissions

7. Women’s Rights and CEDAW

8. Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

9. Rights and Duties: Cultural Relativism

10. Universalism vs. Relativism

11. Conflicting Traditions and Rights

12. The Need for International Institutions and their Challenge to Notions of Sovereignty

13. Treaty Organs: The ICCPR Human Rights Committee

14. Regional Systems

15. Civil Societies: NGOs, INGOs, etc.

General Background on Human Rights

When you call something a human right, you elevate it to something higher. It acquires 3 elements:
1) Urgency: must be dealt with now
2) Timelessness: always been there
3) Universal Validity: the right is irrespective of race, religion, etc.
4) Highest of all claims: Jus Cogens

Human Rights:
1) Savage: To control the savage despotic state or a savage cultural practice. The savage is the basis for Human Rights who is responding to the savage or savage state.
2) Victim: To help the victim, whose attributes of human dignity have come under attack by the horrible cultural practices or despotic state.
3) Savior: protects, vindicates, safeguards (norms of human rights movement; NGOs; state organizations, etc.).

Right: a coalescence of a claim into an entitlement.

Two basic principles of the human rights movement:
1. Equal Protection
2. Anti-Discrimination

The UN charter is the legal basis for human rights law. Human rights are central to the UN and the reason for the establishment of the UN.

Article 55 of the UN Charter: The UN shall promote (a) higher standards of living and conditions of economic and social progress; (b) solutions of international economic, social, health and related problems; and (c) universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion. Even sections (a) and (b) talk about human rights and not just economic rights. Certain standards of living are human rights (water cleanliness, employment, shelter, etc.). The entirety of Article 55 talks about human rights.

Before the Nuremberg trials, there was only some rhetoric of human rights without substance. After the war, you have the:

UN Charter

Geneva Convention on genocide

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948):

This is the first document that elaborates on what human rights are.
It is not a treaty or a law and hence it is not binding. A declaration is distinguishable from a treaty, a covenant, an agreement, a protocol or a pact. All of those are binding.
How can a document that is not binding on states become the most important legal document of its t

e is NO prohibition against derogating from environmental standards.
There is a certain flexibility with regard to certain rights or violations of environmental standards. This doesn’t mean that there are no standards with regard to the environment or worker’s rights.

NOTE: The country with the most lax human rights standards will be an attractive haven for investors. But, a country with human rights standards, predictability in government, and honest government will attract more investors because of their stability. Hence, in the long run, companies will prefer to invest in countries with standards, but in the short run, companies will invest in countries with lax standards. (ECONOMIC ANALYSIS)

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)

Seeks to bind countries to the establishment of a general welfare state or a social democracy.
The US is not a signatory of this covenant or CEDAW, but it is a signatory of the ICCPR.

Solutions to the Human Rights Violations of Nike and Vietnam

Vietnam can enforce its own laws to prevent Nike’s unhealthy workplace
The US can regulate its own corporations
Vietnam can be held to respect the covenants it signed.