The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

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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: ‎ 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.]


One Response

  1. SAM

    December 20, 2008 12:16 pm

    This post is indeed interesting. The great issue behind what is here presented is that the UDHR is not biding, it’s a declaration of what things should and could be and not a must-be agreement.

    So, unfortunattelly, is more a symbolic act than a real thing. This is the great sadness of this marvellous document!


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