January 24, 2008

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

 The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is a United Nations treaty based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was created in 1966 and entered into force on March 23, 1976.

Because the Universal Declaration of Human Rights contained both first-generation civil and political rights and second-generation economic, social, and cultural rights, it could not garner the international consensus necessary to become a binding treaty. Particularly, a divide developed between democratic nations such as the United States, which emphasized civil and political rights, and socialist or communist nations, which emphasized economic, social and cultural rights. To solve this problem, two binding Covenants were created instead of one: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is monitored by the Human Rights Committee, a group of 18 experts who meet three times a year to consider periodic reports submitted by member States on their compliance with the treaty. Members of the Human Rights Committee are elected by member states, but do not represent any State. The Covenant contains two Optional Protocols. The First Optional Protocol creates an individual complaints mechanism whereby individuals in member States can submit complaints, known as communications, to be reviewed by the Human Rights Committee. Its rulings under the first optional protocol have created the most complex jurisprudence in the UN international human rights law system. The Second Optional Protocol abolishes the death penalty.

All States parties are obliged to submit regular reports to the Committee on how the rights are being implemented. States must report initially one year after acceding to the Covenant and then whenever the Committee requests (usually every four years). The Committee examines each report and addresses its concerns and recommendations to the State party in the form of "concluding observations.”

The Committee meets in Geneva or New York and normally holds three sessions per year.

The Committee also publishes its interpretation of the content of human rights provisions, known as general comments on thematic issues, or its methods of work.

The United States ratified the ICCPR on June 8, 1992, subject to certain reservations, understandings, and obligations.

On July 27, 2006, the Human Rights Committee published its concluding observations regarding the second and third periodic reports of the United States of America, including the Committee’s observations regarding the alleged failure by the United States to properly apply the provisions of the ICCPR; the detention and treatment by the United States of suspected terrorists; the need to prevent discrimination on the basis of race, sexual orientation, and gender; the need to properly assist the victims of Hurricane Katrina; the need to address immigration issues with respect for the provisions of the ICCPR; the desirability of abolishing the death penalty in the United States; the need to eliminate police brutality; the need for informed consent in medical treatments; the need to restore the voting rights of convicted felons who have served their sentences; and the need to grant residents of the District of Columbia the right to vote for full representation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

A full description of the ICCPR as well as the Human Rights Committee is provided in Fact Sheet No. 15 published by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.


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