1. Constitutional protection of human rights
2. Participation in human rights treaties
3. Popular support for human rights
4. Popular support for human rights as a foreign policy priority
Many but not all human rights are recognized and protected by the majority of the world’s constitutions:
Obviously, much of this is mere lip-service and Constitutional provisions are violated every day in some countries. Still, legal recognition of rights is something, even if the law is not respected. At the very least, it’s an indiciation of the fact that human rights are part of ordinary morality and that governments can’t just openly and honestly go against them.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is the world’s main human rights treaty. As you can see from the map below, a large majority of countries in the world have accepted and ratified this treaty (some have signed the treaty but have yet failed to ratify it), which means that they are bound by the rules that it contains. So-called “states-parties” have a legal obligation to respect the human rights mentioned in this treaty. The treaty (or ”covenant”) is, unlike the Universal Declaration which is its origin, a piece of law, and part of the international system of law.
(source, click on the image to enlarge)
These are the countries that are not yet state-parties to this date (May 2012) (in bold the countries that have signed up but failed to ratify):
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Marshall Islands
- Myanmar (Burma)
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
- Saint Lucia
- São Tomé and Príncipe
- Saudi Arabia
- Solomon Islands
- United Arab Emirates
- Vatican City
These are the countries that have ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights:
(source, click on the image to enlarge)
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is, together with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the world’s main human rights treaty. Special about this treaty is that it includes so-called economic rights such as the right to a decent standard of living, the right not to suffer poverty, the right to work, the right to a fair wage etc.
Since it is a treaty, the Covenant imposes legal obligations on member states. More specifically, it forces them to work towards the implementation of these economic rights. As you can see from this map, a large majority of countries in the world have accepted and ratified this treaty (some have signed the treaty but have yet failed to ratify it), which means that they are bound by the rules that it contains. So-called “states-parties” have a legal obligation to respect the human rights mentioned in this treaty. The treaty (or ”covenant”) is, unlike the Universal Declaration which is its origin, a piece of law, and part of the international system of law.
These are the countries that have ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture:
There’s an optional protocol to the CAP, which provides for the establishment of “a system of regular visits undertaken by independent international and national bodies to places where people are deprived of their liberty, in order to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. The following countries have signed or ratified this protocol:
If it’s generally true that countries sign treaties because they believe in them, then we can claim that the first map shows the extent of the universal acceptance of the immorality of torture, not of course the extent of actual torture. It corroborates what I wrote before on the legal and moral universality of human rights. For a more pessimistic view of legal universality, go here.
The 2003 report of the Pew Global Attitudes Project shows some interesting data on popular support for human rights. There are clear majorities for the desirability of these rights. They also show the gap between desires and reality. Most of the respondents in these countries feel that their governments do not protect their rights adequately.
In the U.K. there is currently some controversy over a series of infringements on human rights, mostly following 9-11 and the London bombings. Here’s a survey of the way in which these are received by the public:
In the U.S., public opinion on rights in general is as follows:
Here are some interesting numbers on the way Americans think about certain human rights issues:
Assisted suicide is, unfortunately, still condemned by a small majority. Official homicide, on the contrary, is believed to be a good thing according to a large majority. (However, it has been shown that approval rates drop sharply when the alternative to capital punishment is life without parole). Pornography, which according to some is a free speech issue, is rejected by a two-thirds majority. And abortion, according to some a violation of the right to life, is condemned by a small majority. Homosexuality is now accepted by a small majority.
This is what Egyptians think about human rights:
And what Russians think:
Some data on support for human rights in Muslim countries:
In a recent Pew poll, only a third of the U.S. public views foreign intervention to stop genocide as a foreign policy priority. And only 25% thinks the promotion of human rights is an important goal. These numbers are down compared to a previous poll.