How are Human Rights Protected?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is considered a statement of principles for states to follow, just like the Singapore Declaration of Principles, but it was not initially seen as being legally enforceable. It was necessary to put human rights into some kind of international treaty to make them legally binding. These treaties are usually called ‘covenants’ or ‘conventions’. Once a state signs a treaty, in terms of international law it is legally required to observe its terms and to implement it, and it has to report on its progress to some kind of treaty-monitoring agency.

In many Commonwealth countries, a treaty only becomes binding under national law if a local law specifically provides for this. For example, it was only after the Human Rights Act (1998) was passed that judges in the United Kingdom became bound to enforce the European Convention on Human Rights: this despite the fact that the UK had been a party to the Convention for many years.