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Human Rights


Unlike the League of Nations, the United Nations incorporated the principle of respect for human rights into its Charter: Article 1, paragraph 3, affirms that "promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion" is one of the basic purposes of the organization.

According to the Charter, the General Assembly is to initiate studies and make recommendations, and ECOSOC is to set up commissions to fulfill this purpose. Consequently, the Commission on Human Rights, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, was created in 1946 to develop conventions on a wide range of issues, including an international bill of rights, civil liberties, the status of women (for which there is a separate commission), freedom of information, the protection of minorities, the prevention of discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, language, or religion, and any other human rights concerns. The commission prepared the nonbinding Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the General Assembly in 1948.

After the first declaration, the commission then began drafting two covenants, one on civil and political rights and another on economic and cultural rights, to be binding upon ratification by governments. Differences in economic and social philosophies hampered efforts to achieve agreement, but the General Assembly agreed on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1966; both covenants went into force in 1976. Although all countries have stated support for the 1948 Declaration, not all observe or have ratified the two covenants. In general, advanced industrialized countries in the West favour civil and political rights (rights to life, liberty, freedom from slavery and arbitrary arrest, freedom of opinion and peaceful assembly, and the right to vote), while developing countries promote economic and cultural rights such as the rights to employment, shelter, education, and an adequate standard of living.

The Commission on Human Rights and its subcommission meet annually in Geneva to consider a wide range of human rights issues. Human rights violations are investigated by a Human Rights Committee set up according to the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The commission and subcommission also carry out special responsibilities delegated by the General Assembly or by ECOSOC. The commission and subcommission have strengthened human rights norms and expanded the definition of rights, in part by drafting additional conventions on such matters as women's rights, slavery, racial discrimination, torture, labour laws, and apartheid.

The United Nations also has acted to strengthen recognition of the rights of women and children. It established a special Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which was approved in 1979 and had been ratified by 110 states by 1991; and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was ratified by more than 100 nations by the early 1990s. The United Nations, through special rapporteurs and working groups, monitors compliance with human rights standards. 1996 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.

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