Glossary of terms – human rights

accession | adhesion | allege | ameliorate | civil society organizations | communications procedures | concluding observations | convention | covenant | declaration | domestic | habeas corpus | implementation | impunity | instrument | International Bill of Human Rights | jurisdiction | member state | multilateral | omnibus | omnibus bill | open treaty / convention | optional protocol | pluralism | protocol | ratification | remedy | repeal | resolution | signature | state party (plural “states parties”) | treaty | writ

accession
The act of joining a treaty by a party that did not take part in its negotiations, as defined by article 15 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.
adhesion
An entrance to an open treaty by a state that did not sign it but is willing to comply with it; this procedure more or less combines signature and ratification in a single act.
allege
To state without proof or before proving.
ameliorate
To make better, less painful, etc.
civil society organizations
Civil society organizations — also known as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) — work to promote universal values around human rights, the environment, labour standards and anti-corruption.
communications procedures
The term for a complaint from groups or individuals who may appeal to a UN commission or committee concerning an alleged violation of human rights. This procedure is done under certain conditions and after all possible domestic remedies have been tried and failed.

Under the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, communications procedures can be filed for alleged human rights violations in countries that have ratified the Protocol. The UN Commission on Human Rights and the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities may also receive complaints concerning a “consistent pattern” of gross human rights violations; this is known as the “1503 procedure”, from the number of the Resolution of the Economic and Social Council which established the procedure.
concluding observations
A set of conclusions given by a UN committee at the end of the committee's review of a country's report on its implementation of a covenant or convention. The emitting of “concluding observations” is a relatively recent innovation but appears to be becoming standard practice. The “concluding observations” may include critical comments and suggestions, and recommendations for future action by the country in question.
convention
Synonymous with covenant or treaty. An international agreement, whether bilateral or multilateral. A convention (covenant, treaty) differs from a declaration in that a convention is an agreement whereby countries agree to bind themselves under international law to conform to its provisions. Countries bind themselves in this way through a process of ratification or adhesion to the convention.

Note that “convention” is never used here as a synonym of “conference”, “meeting”, or “rally”, as in “an Authors’ Convention”.
covenant
See convention.
declaration
In UN usage, a declaration is a statement recognizing a universally valid principle. Unlike a convention, a declaration is a statement of principle rather than an agreement by which countries bind themselves under international law. Declarations also differ from conventions in that declarations are not subject to ratification by countries, and do not require countries to submit reports on their compliance.

Historically, declarations have often been adopted unanimously by the General Assembly. For example, in the case of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 48 countries voted in favour, eight abstained, and none voted against.

Though not legally binding, declarations – and in particular the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – are considered to have an authoritative moral force; the Declaration is also considered to be the clearest and most forceful expression of universally recognized human rights principles.
domestic
Relating to, or originating within a country and especially one’s own country.
habeas corpus
An order to bring a jailed person before a judge or court to find out if that person should really be in jail.
implementation
To give practical effect to, and ensure of actual fulfillment by concrete measures.
impunity
Exemption or freedom from punishment, harm, or loss.
instrument
A general term that includes conventions, covenants, treaties, declarations, protocols, etc.
International Bill of Human Rights
A term which includes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
jurisdiction
The authority of a sovereign power to govern or legislate.
member state
A state which is a member of the UN.
multilateral
Involving three or more countries; as opposed to bilateral, that is involving only two countries (as in multilateral treaties or negotiations).
omnibus
Containing or including many items, for example an omnibus bill. “Omnibus” is derived from Latin and means “for everything”.
omnibus bill
A proposed law that covers a number of diverse or unrelated topics. An omnibus bill is a single document that is accepted in a single vote by a legislature but packages together several measures into one or combines diverse subjects.
open treaty / convention
An international agreement which all countries may sign and ratify if they so wish (as opposed to some treaties that are open only to certain specified countries, for example those located in a particular geographical area.)
optional protocol
In UN usage, an international agreement complementing or supplementing a convention or covenant by adding new elements or requirements. The term “optional” emphasizes that the states which ratified the original convention are not under any formal obligation to agree to the protocol as well, though they are encouraged to do so (for example the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights).
pluralism
The belief that people of different social classes, religious, races, etc., should live together in a society.
protocol
See optional protocol.
ratification
The final approval of an international agreement by the highest authority of a given country (for example the Head of State, Cabinet, or Parliament). In Canada, only the federal government has the constitutional power to ratify international agreements.
remedy
The legal means to recover a right, or to prevent or repair a wrong.
repeal
To officially make (a law) no longer valid.
resolution
An act or statement passed by a majority of votes. The legal validity of resolutions adopted by the UN General Assembly is subject to different interpretations.
signature
An act by which an authorized representative of a country will sign a convention or covenant to indicate that country’s intent to proceed to ratification.
state party (plural “states parties”)
A country which has ratified a given covenant or convention.
treaty
An international agreement concluded between states in written form and governed by international law; see convention.
writ
A document from a court ordering someone to do something or not to do something.
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