To what extent does international law protect

After the Second World War, the protection of the rights of minority groups was an issue cardinal to the vision of those set uping a normative international rights model in the postwar period. With the horrors of the Nazi regime’s machinery of extinction, the extent to which little groups set apart by cultural, lingual or spiritual difference from the bulk can be disenfranchised and silenced by the democratic procedure had become dramatically clear and throughout the latter half of the 20th century, international understandings protecting the rights of the minorities multiplied.

Yet the protection of cultural patterns of minorities frequently impacts disproportionately on adult females, whose rights may be infringed by the really cultural patterns their minority group clings to. This essay will seek to analyze how far international jurisprudence provides effectual protection for the adult females who belong to minority groups. To this terminal, I shall foremost see the protections offered by international jurisprudence to minorities, and travel on to make the same for adult females. I shall so analyze the disparities and deficits between the two, and eventually, effort to offer some account for the trouble we experience in utilizing the international jurisprudence in defense mechanism of adult females belonging to minority groups.

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The rules of equality and self-government of peoples are enshrined in Articles 1 ( 2 ) and 55 of the UN Charter and chiefly developed ab initio during the post-colonial period when antecedently colonised peoples were forcing for independency. The 1970 declaration on Principles of International Law Refering Friendly Relations and Co-operation among provinces in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations provides,inter alia, that

‘…all peoples have the right freely to find, without external intervention, their political position and to prosecute their economic, societal and cultural development, and every State has the responsibility to esteem this right…’

Similar rights of self-government appear in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ( ICCPR ) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights ( ICESCR ) . They apply irrespective of whether the peoples in inquiry are under foreign or domestic domination [ 1 ] , and since the term ‘peoples’ is non defined by any of these instruments, this may supply minorities populating within a state dominated by another bulk group with a agencies for implementing their right to populate as they choose. This has an obvious tenseness with traditional constructs of statehood and territoriality. Rosalyn Higgins argues persuasively that self-government of peoples can non compare to a right of sezession for minorities, [ 2 ] but this is arguably fishy where the minority in inquiry can be said to represent the full population of a certain race or state, as with some little autochthonal peoples. Here, I believe this proviso entitles these groups to autonomy and will let them to support societal and cultural patterns against intervention by the province.

The right to autonomy governments within a province can be applied more readily to minorities. Article 27 ICCPR is the cardinal proviso with respect to the protection of minority groups, and protects ‘the right… to bask their ain civilization, to profess and rehearse their ain faith, or to utilize their ain language.’ Harmonizing to General Comment No. 23 of the ICCPR Committee on Human Rights, adopted in 1994, this article requires provinces to set about ‘positive steps of protection’ and notes that ‘positive measures… may be necessary to protect the individuality of a minority.’ [ 3 ]

Finally, in 1992 the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to national or cultural, spiritual or lingual Minorities. This confirms the rights of such groups to diverseness, and the general benefit to mankind that ensues from the prolongation of such assortment of civilization and experience. This once more creates a responsibility on provinces to protect and promote ‘the being and the national or cultural, cultural, spiritual and lingual individuality of minorities’ ( Article 1 ) and set uping, in Article 2, the right of persons belonging to such groups to bask their ain civilization and individuality, and at the same time to ‘participate effectively’ in the life of the state ( and a attendant responsibility on provinces to ease this ) .

Such steps can be considered to come into struggle with by and large held beliefs about single human rights. State steps to guarantee, for illustration, that autochthonal minorities have relative democratic representation may necessitate expressed positive favoritism, such as ‘quota’ systems, to be put in topographic point which struggle with rigorous equality. Cultural norms may worsen this, so that, for illustration, in a patriarchal society, due to the societal mechanics of household and community life peculiar subdivisions of the group, such as adult females, are given no voice in group determinations and potentially happen it hard to exert their right to political activism and decision-making. Where such respect to cultural norms goes every bit far as allowing different ‘personal laws’ to use for instances of matrimony, parentage and divorce, as they are in India, this can take the personal pick of adult females who find it hard to exchange to a different domain of personal jurisprudence to happen a more advantageous result. Furthermore, such personal Torahs may actively know apart against one or other sex, for illustration in the instance of detention. Finally, allowing minorities to regulate themselves may ensue in favoritism against the disadvantaged within that community – such as the handicapped, alternate genders and adult females.

‘In exerting governmental power, cultural minorities may go against human rights norms in legion ways – for illustration, by know aparting among their members on evidences forbidden by these norms, except to the extent that disadvantaged members can be understood to ‘accept’ the prejudiced intervention as portion of their cultural tradition.’ [ 4 ]

The unintended effects of steps intended to profit deprived minorities can stop up making an even smaller disadvantaged group – those who are discriminated against by their ain cultural patterns. This is peculiarly the instance for adult females, as we shall see. First, nevertheless, we will analyze how and why the international jurisprudence fails to asseverate the rights of adult females in this state of affairs.

By contrast to the attempts to protect the rights of minorities after 1945, ‘the Second World War was instrumental in the death of the first moving ridge of international feminism.’ [ 5 ] Although through the attempts of broad women’s rightists, formal gender equality was an issue for concern in the early old ages of the UN, it was merely in the seventiess that ‘the restrictions of the chase of civil and political autonomies for adult females became progressively clear’ . [ 6 ] In the words of one observer,

‘of the several unsighted musca volitanss in the early development of the human rights motion, none is every bit dramatic as that movement’s failure to give to misdemeanors of women’s ( human ) rights the attending, and in some respects the precedence, that they require.’ [ 7 ]

Thankss to the attempts of broad women’s rightists, such as Eleanor Roosevelt, involved in the drafting of the UN Charter and the UDHR, formal gender equality does do an visual aspect in both these instruments. To take the Charter foremost, the preamble provinces its concern with ‘ the equal rights of work forces and women’ . Article 1 ( 3 ) goes on to set up the UN’s concern with advancing human rights ‘for all without differentiation as to race, sex, linguistic communication, or religion.’ In the Declaration on Human Rights which followed, Article 2 provinces that ‘Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set Forth in this Declaration, without differentiation of any sort, such as race, coloring material, sex…’

However, the protections put in topographic point to adult females did non recognize the extent of the work needed to undertake the deep-rooted causes of gender inequality. Furthermore, some of the rules enshrined in the Declaration are arguably harmful to women’s cause. For illustration, Helen Holmes criticises the protection by the UDHR in Article 16 of the household as ‘the natural and cardinal group unit of society’ which is ‘entitled to protection by society and the State.’ [ 8 ] She argues that the impression of ‘family’ is a unstable impression, which may embrace changing cultural patterns, figure of married womans, childbearing and childrearing outlooks, marital ceremonials and imposts, and deductions for the freedom or otherwise of adult females, and its protection Acts of the Apostless to intrench establishments unfriendly to gender equality.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ( ICCPR ) , a critical portion of the international rights protection model set up by the UN which became effectual in 1976, is similar to the UDHR in that it besides seeks to protect rights ‘without differentiation of any kind’ ( Article 2 ) and requires provinces to ‘ensure the equal right of work forces and women’ to these protections ( Article 3 ) . Requirements of provinces to ‘ensure the quality of rights and duties of partners as to marriage, during matrimony and at its dissolution’ ( Article 23 ( 4 ) ) and to forbid favoritism ( Article 26 ) are besides included in the Covenant, but once more there are no demands for provinces to be pro-active in undertaking issues of gender inequality. Its twin, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights ( ICESCR ) includes similar commissariats.

These instruments do non include any commissariats covering specifically with adult females, but instead trade with them as a out of bounds of cardinal, cosmopolitan rights. In portion, this is a contemplation of the broad women’s rightist belief in ‘gender mainstreaming’ , covering with women’s rights as portion of a universal, indivisible model of human rights. [ 9 ]

Outside the UN, ‘the illegality and unacceptableness of favoritism on the footing of sex is now regarded as a steadfastly recognized rule of general international law’ , [ 10 ] as evidenced by the inclusion of non-discrimination rules in international pacts and by administrations such as the European Union and African and Asiatic brotherhoods. [ 11 ]

However as the decennaries and the March of ‘development’ wore on, it became clear that such general injunctions toward stoping favoritism would non cover efficaciously with the unfairnesss adult females were sing. Ultimately these Conventions and Declarations were indulging ‘the reluctance of international human rights jurisprudence to step in in what is perceived as private’ . [ 12 ] More positive stairss were needed.

After the UN Decade of Development ( 1961-1970 ) it became clear that adult females were disproportionately hit by the negative effects of development programmes. The first World Conference on Women in Mexico City in 1975 inaugurated the UN Decade on Women. A effect of these developments was the drafting, and passing by the UN in 1979, of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women ( CEDAW ) . The Convention elaborates on and extends the rights of adult females built-in in the bing instruments. Parisi characterises the purpose behind it therefore ;

‘…to recast adult females as topics instead than objects of development, recognizing them as to the full independent existences entitled to human rights widely enjoyed by work forces, yet at the same clip recognizing that there are so differences between work forces and women…’ [ 13 ]

CEDAW and the UN decennary for adult females were undeniably of import stairss in the constitution of an international model for women’s rights, and the critical work of the Committee set up by the Convention in the old ages since as done much to right the initial Eurocentric instability in the Convention’s commissariats. While a elaborate feminist analysis of the commissariats of CEDAW is beyond the range of this essay, its range includes disapprobation of and demands of provinces to move to stop favoritism against adult females in all its signifiers ; responsibilities on provinces to move to ‘ensure the full development and promotion of women’ ( Article 3 ) and to guarantee ‘de-facto equality’ ( Article 4 ) .

Article 21 of CEDAW empowers the Committee to do recommendations which elaborate on and in some instances extend the commissariats of the Convention itself. 25 general recommendations have been made to day of the month.

However Parisi notes that

‘CEDAW, although widely ratified at the clip of its creative activity, has been undermined by its about a 100 reserves by pact signers, every bit good as by the United States’ reluctance to sign it. CEDAW is still the most to a great extent reserved human rights legislation…’ [ 14 ]

Rehman concurs, noticing that ‘while there is an overall consensus… there are besides significant dissensions on assorted facets of women’s places in peculiar societies and states.’ [ 15 ] Under Article 19 of the Vienna Convention of the jurisprudence of pacts, a province may do a reserve every bit long as it is non ‘prohibited by the treaty’ or ‘incompatible with the object and intent of the treaty’ . [ 16 ] Many of the reserves to CEDAW are to cardinal commissariats, such as those associating to marriage, the household and parental rights which conflict with Islamic jurisprudence, [ 17 ] for illustration, Article 5 ( a ) , which sets out a responsibility on States Parties ;

‘To modify the societal and cultural forms of behavior of work forces and adult females, with a position to accomplishing the riddance of biass and customary and all other patterns which are based on the thought of the lower status or the high quality of either of the sexes or on stereotypic functions for work forces and women.’ [ 18 ]

Despite this, in the involvements of acquiring as many signers to the Convention as possible there is a civilization of tolerance environing reserves to CEDAW. This illustrates a key job for international feminism and for development and human rights law and activism in general – that of cultural relativism. Legal feminism in peculiar has arguably become more excusatory and less certain of its voice in its post-modern stage – wary of the accusals levelled at old embodiments of rolling into ‘essentialism’ and looking to talk for all adult females in a Eurocentric and privileged voice. As a recent Interights bulletin concentrating on women’s rights noted ;

‘The planetary women’s rights motion now finds itself holding to prosecute with the voices of adult females who insist on a human rights vision that incorporates their spiritual, nationalist or cultural concerns and which embodies redresss and schemes that do non needfully conform with the recognized planetary attack. These voices challenge planetary women’s rightists continuously to face what appears to be a peculiarly taxing human rights job, viz. , how human rights accommodates the claims of culture.’ [ 19 ]

This reluctance to look excessively steadfast on issues where adult females themselves disagree meets with a similar embarrassment in international development and rights discourses which frequently consequences in a reluctance to dispute minority cultural patterns on the footing of rights. The ‘westernising’ consequence of individualist human rights, as compared with the ‘group rights’ advocated by some non-Western bookmans, has been criticised and to an extent rejected in some contexts as neoimperialism on the portion of the dominant developed states. Faced with the comparative deficiency of power of instruments such as the much-reserved CEDAW and the comparative dearth of female voices from minority groups recommending alteration, compared with the weight of power and statement back uping minority-friendly pattern, it is hard to see how things will alter. The power of international jurisprudence to advance and implement single human rights for adult females, peculiarly those belonging to minority groups protected by international jurisprudence whose civilizations may hush them as a affair of class, is hence earnestly compromised.

This may hold serious deductions both for adult females and for their civilizations. However, it can be argued that those who decry the enforcement of single rights based on a impression of corporate rights to saving of civilization are seeking to intrench that civilization, rendering it inactive and incapable of alteration.

‘Opportunistic male politicians have exploited this ‘tension’ between rights and civilization to assail what they consider the imperialism of the planetary women’s rightist motion. Often, their rendering of civilization is a inactive one, imperviable to the impression that switching cultural norms and their adjustment occur all the time.’ [ 20 ]

The statement here is that civilization is a fluid and ever-changing phenomenon, which does non stay inactive but alters with the force per unit areas of available land and nutrient, population growing and contraction, and other societal and cultural force per unit areas. Those who seek to intrench the civilization they perceive to be ‘theirs’ is frequently well different from that of their predecessors and can go inflexible and unable to accommodate to alter. Minority cultural patterns and traditions idea of as dating back 100s of old ages may hold derived many of their patterns from former oppressors and from the imitations of their civilization presented in popular media, as is arguably the instance in India.

Another common counter-argument is to oppugn whether rights should be infringed in the involvements of keeping civilization – is this a good plenty ground to prevail in detrimental cultural patterns which cause a good trade of adversity and disease, such as female venereal mutilation?

Ultimately what is needed here is a reappraisal of the ends of the international jurisprudence associating to minorities, and a argument about the comparative precedences of single freedom, security, freedom from hurting and mutilation, and thesingleright of self-government versus that of minority groups. Clearly, this is non an easy line to pull. However, adult females in such groups are improbable of all time to hold sufficient voice to talk for themselves and joint their ain penchants. In patriarchal societies where the voice of the group belongs to work forces, it is men’s involvements which will be represented and it is this that the international community will hear, and while the increased accent on the rights of minority groups is commendable, the rights of minorities and deprived people within those groups should non be forgotten.


ANDREWS, P. ( 2005 ) ‘Transitional Positions in Women’s rights, in Interights Bulletin 2004 Volume 14 no. 4 at p.143

PARISI, L. ( 2002 )Feminist Praxis and women’s human rights, in Journal of Human Rights, Vol. 1, No. 4 ( December 2002 ) , 571-585, at p. 571

REHMAN, J. ( 2003 )International Human Rights Law: A Practical Approach, London, Pearson Education, at p.348

STEINER, H. and ALSTON, P. ( 2000 )International Human Rights in Context: Law, Politics, Morals, Oxford, OUP, at p. 1268

1280 words including quotation marks, excepting bibliography and footers


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