By Mehrangiz Kar
Sixty years have passed since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was approved. The declaration is the beginning of a new broad global initiative. Extensive research and constructive debates have been raged over it at the global level.
Even though most of the provisions in the Declaration are still in the process of being accepted in agreements and have not yet been accepted in international law, the provisions and principles enjoy great importance and wide impact. Newly created states utilize this document when drafting their constitution and reflect the calls of the Declaration in their domestic laws. Today its provisions are used as a standard against all countries and whenever a state embarks on judging the human rights conditions of a country it compares and looks at the laws of that country versus the Universal Declaration. At the United Nations too the Declaration has created standards that must be observed by all the principal organs and agencies of this international organization which must impact their decisions despite possible obstacles.
Regarding state ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its Covenants this is a question that needs to be asked: Is the Declaration viewed as law in all countries? What is certain is that the Declaration has not been presented as a body of law but as a common set of standards so that all states can follow it. But the acceptance of the Declaration by many states with different cultural, economic and political systems across the globe indicates that most states are desirous to strengthen and improve their legal-juridical system. At times some societies present traditional, religious, social or cultural resistance to this. But the fact that the provisions of the Declaration are reflected in the constitution of many countries and have made inroads into the domestic laws of the land indicates that the world is in dire need of such a common collection of human rights laws. The fact that some governments refrain from implementing progressive domestic laws and the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the sphere of human rights is an issue that leads to widespread dissatisfaction in those countries.
Another question that needs to be asked is this: Has the United Nations moved ahead and beyond the provisions of the Declaration and has it codified this? The UN has created two Covenants, the xxx and the xxx and thus codified some of the provisions of the Declarations and members of the General Assembly of the UN unanimously approved these documents on December 16, 1964. Governments who acceded to these protocols are obliged to modify their domestic laws to conform them to meet the provisions of the protocols.
The Iranian government has signed both covenants and the Majlis of the time in 1975 ratified both these documents. According to provision 9 of Iran’s Civil Code which is valid today says, “Treaty stipulations which have been, in accordance with the Constitutional Law, concluded between the Iranian Government and other government, shall have the force of law.”
Even though accession to the Protocols according to article 9 of the Civil Code puts Iran in a situation by which it must review and modify its domestic laws to meet the provisions of the Protocols, the Iranian government has till today not only refrained from acting on its international obligations in this regard, but furthermore in some situations it has refrained from implementing the international human rights provisions on the pretext of its own interpretation of Islam. In fact there are some provisions in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic that are not in accord with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These provisions have also been disregarded in many instances during legislature proceedings resulting in the passage of discriminatory laws against women, non Muslims and Children. Indefensible violent punishment has been turned into required compliance. On the other hand the Constitution identifies Islam as the only source of legislature while the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are not listed as a source.
It appears that even though 60 years have passed since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was announced, Iranians have still a long way to go to benefit from its provisions and principles.
[The above essay was posted by Mehrangiz Kar, an Iranian attorney living in the Unites States, on 14 December 2008 at Rooz Online: http://www.roozonline.com/english/archives/2008/12/the_universal_declaration_of_h.html. Mehrangiz Kar is not associated with the Baha’i community and her views, though thought-provoking, are not necessarily reflective of the views of the Baha’i community.]