Intervention at UN Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and the Protection of the Minorities

By Houssemeddine Hammami

In a speech entitled “Intervention at UN Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and the Protection of the Minorities” (1989), Humphrey states that the international mechanisms for the implementation and enforcement of the international law of human rights are too weak. However, in this short speech, Humphrey doesn’t make any suggestions for implementation nor does he share the background about the nature of his concerns with his audience. Therefore, this post will  argue and demonstrate that the international mechanisms for the implementation and enforcement of the international law of human rights are weak and ineffective.

First, in his speech, Humphrey is not only arguing in favor of the adoption of a declaration proclaiming the right to adequate compensation by the General Assembly but he’s also arguing in favor of granting the victims of human rights violations the right to be compensated. It is worth mentioning that the right to adequate compensation is stated under article 8 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, its enforcement is heavily reliant on the domestic judicial system of individual states.

Furthermore, following the analysis of this speech one can safely conclude that Humphrey hoped that the adoption of a declaration by the General Assembly would intimidate the violators of human rights thus reducing the frequency of human rights violations. This  speech was given at a time where authoritarian regimes such as Pinochet’s (Dictator of Chile 1973-1990) were committing human rights violations on a daily basis. That being said, a declaration proclaiming the right to adequate compensation would eventually be adopted by the General Assembly in December 2005 (General Assembly Resolution 60/147).1 In the meantime, the world witnessed the horrors of the Rwandan Genocide (1994) and the horrors of The Bosnian War (1992-1995) both of which were characterized by flagrant human rights violations.

States are very protective of their sovereignty and therefore they have yet to reach a consensus when it comes to the creation of a central enforcement mechanism for human rights.2 In order for a central enforcement mechanism to be created, states would have to give up their sovereignty and that is just out of the question in the current state of international relations. In other words, state sovereignty is hindering the implementation of a central enforcement mechanism that would guarantee the enforcement of the international law of human rights.

Still, the international community has created an international Judicial body that is supposed to hold violators of human rights accountable: the International Court of Justice (ICJ). However, the ICJ has very limited powers and therefore it is painfully ineffective. In fact, the court’s work is limited to cases involving states alone. The ICJ’s mandate prevents it from hearing cases involving individuals which is another reason why the court is so ineffective.Moreover, states must voluntarily bring their cases before the court.3

Humphrey was probably aware of the fact that the only way to guarantee the enforcement of the international law of human rights was to create a central enforcement mechanism. However, it is safe to assume that he knew all too well that states were not ready to give up their sovereignty in order to create such mechanism especially at a time where tensions between the Liberal West and the Communist Soviet Union were at their peak. In fact, for a central mechanism to be created, all the members of the international community would have had to reach a consensus but the chances of that happening were slim, especially in 1989 when this particular speech was given. It is perhaps for this reason that Humphrey didn’t even bother mentioning the creation of a central enforcement mechanism because he was aware of the fact such thinking was very naïve indeed.

In conclusion, although most democratic states do respect the international law of human rights, most autocratic states don’t and therefore a central enforcement mechanism is needed. Currently, the enforcement of the international law of human rights is heavily reliant on the will of individual states to respect the principles of the law and that is the reason why the existing system of enforcement is weak and ineffective. Unfortunately, state hinders the implementation of an enforcement mechanism that would guarantee the enforcement of the international law of human rights. States are very protective of their sovereignty and therefore the implementation of a central enforcement mechanism won’t happen any time soon.

References

  1. “Remedy And Reparation”, OCHCR, accessed February 10th, 2016, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/RemedyAndReparation.aspx
  2. “Enforcement”, Legal Answers, accessed February 10th, 2016, http://www.legalanswers.sl.nsw.gov.au/guides/hot_topics/human_rights/enforcement/overview.html
  3. “Human Rights Bodies”, OCHCR, accessed February 10th, 2016, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/Pages/HumanRightsBodies.aspx
  4. 4.     Ibid.

 

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