The enforcement of human rights is first and foremost the responsibility of each State, which is bound to comply in good faith with norms of customary international law and with the treaties in force to which the State is a party (pacta sunt servanda).1 Indeed, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action affirmed that “the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms is the first responsibility of government”.2 If a State fails, by an act or omission attributable to it, to comply with any international obligation, the law of State responsibility requires that such breach cease and generates a new legal duty to afford reparation for any harm caused by the violation.
The law of State responsibility developed in the context of reciprocal inter-State obligations, the breach of which generally produces an injured State or States to complain of the violation. Such a legal framework is not fully satisfactory when applied to human rights law, however, because another State rarely suffers direct injury due to a State’s failure to observe human rights. This lack of reciprocity has led to descriptions of human rights obligations as “unilateral” in nature:3 that is, obligations directed internally at protecting individuals and groups within the territory and subject to the jurisdiction of the State rather than being obligations performed for the benefit of other States. The doctrine of obligations erga omnes serves in part to maintain the framework of State responsibility by establishing that at least some human...
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