Module 11: Introduction to UN Mechanisms
While human rights activism has long been a feature of human society in many different forms, the internationalisation of that movement only truly took root when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights(1) (UDHR) on 10 December 1948. This document was at least in part motivated from a desire to avoid, as noted in its preamble, “barbarous acts which […] outraged the conscience of mankind” during the Second World War. The UDHR was a landmark statement of the basic civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights to which all human beings are entitled. However, the UDHR is not legally binding because it is a declaration. Two subsequent legally binding instruments were eventually elaborated, namely the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(2) (ICCPR) and its two Optional Protocols, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights(3) (ICESCR). The ICCPR, UDHR and ICESCR form the International Bill of Human Rights. Numerous other treaties, such as the Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment(4) have also been developed under the auspices of the United Nations. The United Nations has a variety of mechanisms to encourage compliance with the human rights guaranteed under these instruments. This Module presents an overview of these mechanisms with a focus on treaty bodies and the special procedures system.