The Organisation of African
Unity, the Council of Europe and the Organisation of American
States have all adopted charters or conventions to further
human rights in their regions. They add additional binding
obligations on signatory countries.
There is presently no such Charter or Convention for Asia
although some NGOs in the region are pressing for one.
The Organisation of African Unity adopted the
African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights at a meeting in
Nairobi on June 27, 1981. As well as rights, the Charter lists
duties, which extend from the harmonious development of the
family to the promotion and achievement of African unity.
The Charter has been criticised for its extensive
deployment of claw back clauses - phrases which could effectively
remove (or at a minimum severely curtail) the rights ostensibly
guaranteed. Phrases such as: "... except for reasons and
conditions previously laid down by law..." (Article 6),
"...subject to law and order..." (Article 8) and "...
provided he abides by the law..." (Article 10) abound.
Human rights groups argue this is a particular
problem in Africa as many states still have laws and regulations
that directly violate human rights. For example, some states
prohibit the formation of certain types of associations merely
at the whim of the registering officer.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples'
Rights, was set up under the Charter to ensure the protection
of people's rights throughout the African Continent. It has
been criticised for being relatively toothless. Some countries,
such as South Africa (which acceded to the Charter in 1996)
have called for tougher enforcement mechanisms, which could
include turning the present Commission into a working court.
the African Commission on Human & Peoples' Rights
will be perceived as an effective institution for
the protection of human rights in Africa will largely
depend on how far and how much the state parties to
the African Charter take seriously, and respect, the
Commission's views and recommendations. So far, they
have not. "
Development Report 2000 Background Paper
(produced by the UN Development Programme)
The human rights regime in Europe developed since
1953 under the aegis of the Council of Europe, whose 43 members
have adopted the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental
Freedoms, is regarded as one of the most effective.
The European Convention on Human Rights provides for the European Court of Human Rights located in Strasbourg, which hears individual petitions and interstate cases.
Once domestic remedies have been exhausted, an individual may seek redress in Strasbourg for an alleged breach of the Convention by a member state.
The Strasbourg court is not a substitute for national courts, but it is in a sense an extension of them.
The judgements of the European Court of Human Rights are an integral part of the Council of Europe’s work.
Rulings of the European Court of Human Rights
in Strasbourg have acquired the force of law in most European
For example, the British Government was ordered
to pay damages to former army officers who had been discharged
for their homosexuality in breach of Article 8, which allows
all citizens to a free and private life. Service personnel can
no longer be sacked for being gay.
The court has also banned corporal punishment
in schools and secured compensation for people who have been
denied a fair trail or suffered police brutality.
A human rights system was established by the Organisation of
American States after the American Convention on Human Rights
was adopted in 1969 in San Jose, Costa Rica.
It created the Inter American Court of Human Rights and the
Inter American Commission of Human Rights.
The court is an autonomous judicial institution whose purpose
is the application and interpretation of the Convention. The
commission is a permanent body which meets several times a year
and is in charge of monitoring the observance of the rights
outlined in the American Convention on Human Rights.
Most of Latin America, including the two largest
nations Brazil and Mexico, are party to the court which has
been successful in ordering Latin American governments to pay
financial compensation to those families that have lost members
through human rights violations, as well as persuading government
leaders to release the victims of unjust trials and prison sentences.
But other countries have ignored the court's
rulings. Trinidad ignored the Court's demands that it block
any unwarranted executions. And in 1999, the Peruvian Congress
passed a bill to withdraw the country from the jurisdiction
of the Court at a time when the Court was considering taking
serious action against Peruvian human rights violations.
Since 1994 the United States of America has
twice considered membership of the Court and twice refrained.
This has been partly attributed to opposition from the former
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Jesse Helms who opposes
Human Rights treaties if they have the potential to be enforced
against the US.