chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
February 01, 2022

International Human Rights

Significance of UN 30 Rights

Q: Why are the UN 30 rights significant when a lot of countries agree that those are important rights but fail to translate that into legislation? Vera from California

A: The UN 30 Rights is a collection of the basic human rights recognized by the United Nations in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which it adopted in 1948.  The UDHR is a foundational document in the history of the global acceptance of human and civil rights.  As such it is an essential reference and a touchstone for those who work to advance the cause of human rights.  The UDHR was followed by many international treaties that bring obligations to respect human rights into international law.  Among these are the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural rights.

Nations accept the UN 30 Rights as obligations by incorporating them into their constitutions, legislation and judicial decisions.  Doing so is voluntary, not mandatory; and as you note, many countries fail to participate in adopting one or more of those 30 rights into their own laws.  And even when they do, there is very little in the way of enforcement that the international community can impose on countries that either don’t buy in or do so in name only.

Nevertheless, the UN 30 Rights, and the international treaties following, remain very significant.  First, they act as a standard by which countries actions are measured by the international community.  Even where a country has not enacted laws that prohibit genocide or torture, for example, if they do commit those international crimes they face the condemnation of other countries, the UN and civil society.  No country wants to be censured by others; and the threat of such condemnation often acts as a deterrent even if the human rights violations they commit are not crimes under their own laws.

The UN 30 Rights are also important in establishing the basis for international agreements that address those rights, and member countries obligations to respect and support them, in greater detail.  The UN 30 Rights act as a baseline for further development of those rights.  Thus we have an international Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, just to name a few.

The UN 30 Rights also provide the foundation for other United Nations and regional human rights bodies to adopt policies that may not be found in international treaties.  Most recently, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution declaring that the right to a healthy, clean and sustainable environment is a human right emanating from to the UDHR’s 3d and 25th rights (the rights to life and the rights to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being).  That might eventually lead to the adoption of another treaty.

Human Rights Council resolutions are political expressions that represent the position of Council members on particular issues and situations.  They usually provoke debate among member States and help to establish new standards even in the absence of legislation and recognition by a treaty or other international agreement.  They function as catalysts for more ambitious action on human rights.

So the UN 30 Rights are very significant despite the fact that many countries don’t respect them and that respect is voluntary.  I hope this helps to answer your question.

Rights Living in Another Country

Q: What are my rights if I live outside the country? Bella from California

A: Wherever you are, your rights are the rights recognized by the country you happen to be in.  If you live in the United States, your rights are the rights granted by US federal, state and local laws.  If you travel to another country, you are subject to its laws and the rights granted to those within its borders.

International laws give people rights too—like the right not to be enslaved, not to be discriminated against, to speak and write freely.  Those rights are given in international or regional treaties, other international agreements and in unwritten but widely accepted principals called “customary international laws”.

But international laws do not have the force of national laws.  Countries accept them into their own laws voluntarily, or they don’t.  When they don’t, they are unenforceable within those countries that have refused to recognize them.

And this brings up an important point.  We live in a world where national sovereignty trumps international laws.  Perhaps some day the world will evolve to the point where compliance with some international laws becomes mandatory, but that hasn’t happened yet.

I hope this answer has been helpful.