4 The law of human rights
The stated purpose of the UN and other intergovernmental organizations to promote respect for and observance of human rights depended on first reaching agreement on the meaning of the term human rights along with defining the corresponding obligations, followed by the construction of appropriate institutions and procedures to ensure compliance with the adopted international norms. The law-making process that helps develop these aspects of human rights law involves an array of participants interacting in complex ways; civil society organizations and other non-State actors are increasingly involved, but the international legal system continues to be one primarily comprised of laws made by, and governing the relations between, States.
The exercise of State sovereignty includes entering into binding agreements to act or refrain from acting according to the terms of the agreement: in other words, to limit by law the scope of discretion to exercise future State sovereignty. The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT) largely codifies the customary law of treaties and is widely applied by national and international tribunals and human rights bodies.1
The VCLT Article 2 defines a treaty as “an international agreement concluded between States in written form and governed by international law, whether embodied in a single instrument or in two or more related instruments and whatever its particular designation”. Human rights treaties carry various designations, including convention, covenant, protocol and treaty. The name is sometimes chosen to indicate the degree of solemnity attached to the commitments, but the choice of...
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