Civil and political rights: major issues
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) was adopted on 16 December 1966 and entered into force in 1976. It enumerates rights already recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and make them binding.
The first right described and recognised in various human rights protection instruments is the right to life. Other civil and political rights protected by the United Nations are freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and conscience, protection against torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment, freedom of movement, the right to a fair trial by a competent, independent and impartial court.
The promotion and respect of civil and political rights is inextricably linked to the democratic ideal. These rights affirm the primacy of human dignity and the inherent freedom to participate in the elaboration of political choices and the life of political institutions. Civil and political rights are to be distinguished from economic, social and cultural rights. The former belong mainly to the category of negative liberties (“freedom from”), stressing the autonomy of the individual, whereas the latter are mainly positive liberties (“entitlement to”), promoting equality of opportunity. During the Cold War this division tended to distinguish the “free world” from the “Soviet bloc”, which preferred “real rights” to “formal rights”. At present the debate splits differently: in addition to the opposition between the advocates of civil and political rights and the advocates of economic, social and cultural rights, a new division is emerging between the defenders of universal human rights and the defenders of cultural relativism. This divide is largely artificial, since human rights are not only indivisible and interdependent, but also because the commitment of, say, the European Union to economic, social and cultural rights is a real one. Nevertheless, given the growing influence of cultural relativism, the advocacy of universal civil and political rights is one of the great challenges of the years ahead.
Update : July 2010
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