Rights Speak

Human Rights SpeakAs it’s extremely important for everyone to learn about Human Rights (HR), this short glossary of terms may be useful to better understand ‘Rights Speak’.

If there’s something that you don’t get, or another term that you think should be on this list or an improved definition, please contact us.

The act by which one nation becomes party to an agreement already in force between other powers.

Accountable Representation
A system that allows constituents to inform, guide, follow and monitor their elected/selected representatives to assure accountability and transparency.

Formal acceptance and putting into effect.

African Commission on Human and People’s Rights
The principal regional HR treaty for Africa. Adopted by the OAU in 1981; went into force in 1986.

A civic process in a hierarchical system that progresses upward, and is designed and directed by those marginalised or excluded by the more powerful in their societies.

Civil rights
Rights an individual has in his/her role as a citizen or in his/her relation with the state.

Committee on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights (CESR)
Body charged with supervising the implementation of the ICESR (see below).

Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
Body charged with supervising the implementation of CEDAW (see below).

Treaty; agreement between states relating to matters affecting all of them.

Content (of a right)/Core Content/Minimum Core Content
The meaning of the right; what it guarantees; the core content of a right refers to entitlements that make up the right; minimum core content has been described as the non-negotiable foundation of a right to which all individuals, in all contexts and under all circumstances, are entitled.

Formal, written agreement between parties, usually requiring the performance of some action. In the HR context, ‘covenant’ usually refers to either the Intl. Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights or the Intl. Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (see below).

Cultural Rights
Rights that protect a person’s enjoyment of his/her own culture.

A statement by governments that is not legally binding on them.

Declaration on Human Rights Defenders
Adopted by the  UN General Assembly in 1998, this landmark Declaration recognised in international law the extreme importance and legitimacy of human rights activity, and the need to protect it along with those who carry it out.

Declaration on the Right to Development
Adopted by the UN in 1986 the Right to Development is a group right of peoples as opposed to an individual right — “All peoples shall have the right to their economic, social and cultural development with due regard to their freedom and identity and in the equal enjoyment of the common heritage of mankind.”

In the HR context, the act of practice of discriminating against someone on the basis of their membership in a category (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender, religion). Discrimination is normally a violation of HR.

ESC Rights (ESCR)
Shorthand for economic, social and cultural rights.

European Commission on HR
Body charged with supervising the implementation of the European Convention (see below).

European Convention on HR
Principal regional HR treaty for Europe. Adopted in 1950; went into force in 1953. Addresses a broad range of HR.

European Social Charter
Adopted in 1961; entered into force in 1965. Addresses economic and social rights in more detail than does the Eur. Convention. Effective primarily since the 1990s when a supervisory system was established.

Framework Convention on Global Health (FCGH)
A proposed international treaty based on the right to health that aims to address health inequities.

Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
The World Health Organization’s international treaty adopted by the 56th World Health Assembly on 21 May 2003.

General Comments
Produced by the CESR to clarify and provide detail on procedures related to its work and, primarily about the content of specific ESC rights.

General Recommendations
Produced by CEDAW. Similar in purpose to General Comments.

The principles of Greater Involvement of People living with AIDS / Tuberculosis, to advance the meaningful participation of those most affected by the diseases.

Incapable of being alienated, surrendered or transferred. HR are inalienable, meaning that no one can take away a person’s rights.

See interdependence (below).

Inter-American Commission on HR
Body charged with supervising the implementation of the American Convention.

Guiding principle of HR work meaning that civil and political rights and ESC right are interdependent; one set of rights does not take precedence over the other and neither set can be fully guaranteed without the other.

Intl. Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979; came into force in 1981. Principal intl. treaty related to women’s rights.

Intl. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989; details civil and political, as well as ESC rights of children; most widely ratified intl. HR treaty.

Intl. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2006, it came into force in 2008.

Intl. Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966; came into force in 1976.

Intl. Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966; came into force in 1976. Principal intl. HR treaty focused on ESC rights.

Intl. HR
Generally refers to the rights contained in the intl. legal documents and treaties related to HR that have the roots primarily in the UN system.

Legally Binding
Having the force of law.

Maximum Available Resources
Key provision of article 2 of the ICESCR related to governments’ obligations with respect t ESC rights. Governments must use the maximum of available resources to meet their ESC rights obligations.

Meaningful Participation
Those who are affected by a decision have a right to be involved in the decision-making process, to organise as a constituency and to choose their representatives, explicitly elaborated in the Declaration on the Right to Development, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1986.

Fundamental HR principle meaning that all rights are guaranteed to all without discrimination.

Norms (HR)
Requirements in HR treaties or declarations. A standard against which a government’s actions are measured. Same as standards.

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
The United Nations agency that works to promote and protect the human rights that are guaranteed under international law and stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.

Obligations to Respect, Protect and Fulfill
Governments’ obligations with respect to ESC rights. Respect: The government must not act counter to the HR standard in question. Protect: The government must act to stop others from violating the HR standard. Fulfill: The government has an affirmative duty to take appropriate measures to ensure that the HR standard is attained.

A right held by all people to engage in society and in the decisions that impact their lives. (See also Meaningful Participation)

Political Rights
Rights related to government or the conduct of government (e.g., the right to vote and to participate in government decision-making).

Progressive Realization/Progressive Achievement
Key provision of article 2 of the ICESCR related to a government’s obligations with respect to ESC rights. ESC rights must be achieved progressively; no backward steps may be taken.

Document or treaty related to an existing treaty.

An article or clause in a treaty or other legal document.

Formal approval, in this case of a treaty. Has greater legal force than a signature.

Social Rights
Rights relating to the person in society, such as the right to education, social security, health.

Standards (HR)
Requirements in HR treaties or declarations. Used to assess/measure how well a government’s policies and practices comply with HR.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
The 17 goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda to ‘transform’ the world.

Written contract between states. Legally-binding on states that ratify it.

Treaty Body
Group established to oversee compliance with a treaty.

United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)
The UN’s inter-governmental body whose 47 member states are responsible for promoting and protecting human rights around the world.

Universal Declaration of HR
Adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948; generally considered the primary intl. HR document. Although not a treaty, it is generally considered binding on all members of the UN

Applying to all human beings (as in ‘HR are universal’)

Essential quality of HR meaning that HR apply to all human beings by the fact of their being human.

Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, (VDPA) 
Declaration adopted at the World Conference on Human Rights on 25 June 1993 in Vienna, Austria. The VDPA reaffirmed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Charter.

Violation of HR
Failure of a state with regard to one of its obligations under HR norms.


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