International covenants on human rights

1. Why was it felt necessary to complete two international covenants rather than having one instrument encompassing both sets of rights- civil and political, and economic, social and cultural? There are several basic international human rights instruments. Among them are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. At first reading it may seem, that those three documents largely repeat each other and should be substituted by one single document.

This especially concerns the most important rights such as right to life, freedom, etc. , which are repeated word for word in the Declaration and Covenants. However, it should be regarded, that the legal nature of the Declaration and the Covenants, is different, as well as Covenants differ among themselves. The mere nature of the Declaration makes it impossible for the States to take international legal obligations under such instrument, since the Declaration may not be ratified. Declaration provides the statement of views and principles, which are considered to be important.

Non-complying with the declared principles may not constitute an internationally wrongful act and result in State’s responsibility on the international level. In order for States to take international obligations in the sphere of human rights, a document is needed, which can be duly signed and ratified by a State. Such documents were adopted in the form of Human Rights Covenant. Because the Universal Declaration of Human Rights contained both first-generation civil and political rights and second-generation economic, social, and cultural rights, no consensus of States could be reached on one single instrument.

In particular, communist nations favoured more economic, social and cultural rights, and the capitalist nations trended more towards civil and political rights . To solve this problem, two binding Covenants were created instead of one: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. 2. What is different in the type of obligation undertaken by states parties in respect of two covenants? Are there any expectations to the general rule in respect of each covenant? What obligation does the self determination article impose?

The obligations of the States-parties under the Covenants are both different and quite similar. The difference is in the list of provided rights and the similarity is in the remedies and guarantees for protection of such rights as well as in the preamble and the first article of each Covenant. So, the rights are different and the mechanism of their realization is the same. In the preamble the rights, provided by the Covenants are recognized as “equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world” and “deriving from the inherent dignity of the human person”.

The rights, provided under the Covenants may be divided into two basic groups: individual rights and collective rights. The most important ones of the second group are the rights, provided in the common article 1 of the Covenants. The common article reads that: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”.

The article does not only create a right for self determination, but also imposes an obligation on States to promote such right and respect the right of peoples to determine their political status. Such provision should be interpreted in the light of history of national movements in the former colonial empires, which resulted in establishing a number of new States in Africa and Asia along 1950-s and 1960-s. The Covenants have confirmed the right of nations for self- determination on the international level and contributed to creation of a new subject of international law – nations and peoples, striving for national liberation.