A tool for teaching Human Rights

For two decades, the world community has been witnessing an “explosion” in international human rights law and remedies. Indeed, the human rights revolution has led Father Robert Drinan, one of the leading scholar-advocates of human rights, to comment that “the evolution of human rights to the international {judicial} level is one of the most dramatic developments in the history of jurisprudence … it will have consequences and implications that even the most sanguine observer of human rights cannot now foresee.”

Israel’s recent decision to ratify human rights conventions should be welcomed. Those ratified to date are: the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; the UN Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

The ratification of these treaties has surprisingly gone unnoted both in Israel and abroad. This is not to suggest that the ratification is only a symbolic act, or that it is “cost-free” in domestic or foreign policy terms. Quite the contrary.

First, ratification imposes responsibilities on parties to the agreements, like Israel, to comply fully with its human rights undertakings. Second, the treaties contain monitoring mechanisms, so Israel can be expected to be called to account for any breaches of those undertakings.

Third, international non-governmental human rights organizations (such as Defense for Children International) can be expected to increase their scrutiny of Israeli conduct.

And finally, the ratification of those treaties can be expected to have their own implications on Israeli human rights policy and practise in the territories.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, for example, prohibits any discrimination “irrespective of the child’s or his or her parents’ or legal guardian’s race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.”

Accordingly, any Israeli government facility (or private facility with a government connection) that refused to admit an Ethiopian child, or discriminated against such a child once admitted, would be in breach of the convention’s non-discrimination undertaking. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child sets standards relating not only to non-discrimination, but also to social security, adequate standard of living, labor, family reunification, adoption and foster care; the child’s rights to freedom of expression, religion, association, privacy and identity; protection from abuse, exploitation, torture and inhuman treatment, protection from narcotic drugs, pornography, abduction and trafficking in children and participation in armed conflicts.

The convention’s provisions will serve now as an important standard for those in charge. Take for instance the “right of children placed by the state for reasons of care, protection or treatment to have all aspects of that placement evaluated regularly.” This important guide of the UN convention has now to be translated into a new policy.

Dr. Anita Weiner, of the Council for the Child in Placement, told us that “regular” children who are neither of the pre-school age, nor emotionally disturbed nor delinquent, do not always have access to systematic periodic review of their situation.

The ratification of the convention will also have consequences for children in the territories. The convention’s undertakings can be expected to affect Israeli conduct – or monitoring of the conduct – in the territories, because article two stipulates that the convention applies to “children under the State’s Party’s jurisdiction.”

Clearly, then, the Israeli ratification can be expected to have “consequences that even the most sanguine observers cannot now foresee.”

ONE OF THE most important – and enduring – of these consequences may be the development and advancement of a “culture of human rights.”

For many people, human rights is a vague concept and almost the exclusive domain of the legal profession. Others may understand that they have rights, but feel powerless to assert them. The Children’s Rights Convention is a beautiful tool to teach human rights at an early age.

Indeed, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child mandates a particular educational role for human rights, as states ratifying it are required to make the principles and provisions of the convention known to adults and children alike.

Furthermore, at a time when we are witnessing the “internationalizing” of human rights and “humanizing” of international law, ratification of these human rights treaties can be regarded not only as an entry into that process, but as holding out the possibility of making a contribution to it.

Some have expressed the fear that the ratification of these conventions will provide “only another instrument for putting Israel in the dock.”

Hopefully, this fear will be unfounded.

Jerusalem Post – Jerusalem
Author: Irwin Cotler and Philip Veerman
Date: Oct 7, 1991
Irwin Cotler, an international human rights lawyer, is professor of law at McGill University in Montreal; Philip Veerman is coordinator of the Israel Section of Defense for Children International.

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