Human rights law imposes a complex set of binding obligations on States. Global and regional instruments variously call for States Parties to “respect”, “ensure”, “secure”, “prevent and punish”, “adopt measures”, “guarantee”, and, often, “cooperate with each other” to achieve the full enjoyment by everyone of the rights set forth. The language adopted in the texts makes clear that in many instances it is not enough for the State to abstain from directly infringing rights; authorities must also take positive action to secure the exercise of the rights. In addition, certain human rights obligations demand results, for example, to end torture or abolish the death penalty without exception. In contrast, other rules impose obligations of conduct, such as to exercise due diligence over the actions of non-State actors. Both types of obligation are legally binding.
A nuanced set of obligations, developed by scholar Asjborn Eide1 and taken up by various human rights bodies,2 distinguishes the duties of States to respect, protect, promote and fulfil guaranteed rights. The duty of respect means that States Parties must refrain from restricting the exercise of rights when not expressly permitted to do so. The obligations to protect, promote and fulfil indicate the positive character of some rights, requiring States Parties to take positive steps to give effect to or realize the rights guaranteed, through adopting necessary legislative and other measures, including providing effective remedies and redress. Numerous cases have explored the scope of positive State obligations to prevent, investigate, prosecute and punish...
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