Reflections on the UN Human Rights Covenants at Fifty
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The two UN Human Rights Covenants are celebrating 50 years since their adoption in 1966. Based in substance on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, they have shaped the development of international human rights treaty law considerably. Whilst ideological controversies between Eastern and Western States about the legal nature of both sets of rights initially led to an inconsistent and differing acceptance of economic, social, and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights – with the advent of the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 the equal treatment of all human rights has been accepted by most States and commentators, and reinforced through the practice of the new Human Rights Council. In this respect, State responsibilities to respect, protect and fulfil are now regularly monitored, even if no strict sanctions regime exists at the universal level. Newer trends in international human rights law are beginning to place a greater emphasis on the universal principles underpinning each specific instance of individual rights protection by focusing, inter alia, on issues such as poverty reduction and alleviation, corporate responsibilities, and protection of human rights during armed conflict. The system of individual communications (complaints) has undoubtedly strengthened the overall thrust of fundamental rights protection worldwide – nevertheless, it still deserves much more attention than it receives at present.