|Preamble section 4:|
|Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,|
Compliance with International Human Rights Obligations
The international law of human rights, then, cries for special machinery to enforce it, but governments have generally not been eager to create such machinery. Divisions emerged, requiring complex compromises when the law-makers struggled with the methods of implementing and enforcing the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Most governments resisted "activist" international bodies that could scrutinize, investigate, call violators to account. It was provided that parties would report voluntarily on their compliance to a Human Rights Committee created by the Covenant, but it was not clearly provided even that this Committee should scrutinize these reports and interrogate governments about them.
The Committee can hear complaints by one party that another has committed a violation only if the parties have agreed in advance to that effect. That the Committee might hear complaints from private individuals or organizations was relegated to a special optional Protocol to the Covenant. Even when the Committee was accorded this jurisdiction, it could only acts upon complaints discreetly, with public criticism possible only after extended private efforts failed to obtain rectification. Perhaps because enforcement was weak and not threatening, states adhered to these covenants, including some--like the USSR--whose human rights performance was found by outside observers to be less than satisfactory. But few accepted the optional provisions for either state-to-state or private complaint. While the number of states that today allows individual complaints under the Optional Protocol has increased, there has never been a state-to-state complaint under the terms of the ICCPR.
What then are the forces that influence governments toward compliance with the law of human rights?
Human rights have assumed a high place in the rhetoric of international relations and most governments, moved to adhere to international covenants, cannot lightly disregard them. While there is no other state that is directly "offended" by mistreatment of local inhabitants elsewhere, there are external knowledge and reaction to many human rights violations, and offending governments are sensitive to them. Some human rights, e.g., freedom from racial discrimination, have become major international political issues, and many governments will be quick to react and to seek international sanctions against violations. Other human rights, too, become major political issues and subject to sharp scrutiny and reaction. Apartheid in South Africa led to formal sanctions. Gross violations affect relations with some countries, and the subject of attack in the press and by NGOs. The obligation to report on compliance generates some inducement to comply, and international committees receive the reports and might be moved to scrutinize and act upon them. Even in the face of strong resistance, for example by the Communist-Arab bloc during the 1970's, there have also developed special official international mechanisms for "enforcement" "against a consistent pattern of gross violations of human rights" (the so-called "1503 and 1235 procedures") that help deter or persuade offending governments to discontinue them. In the European and Latin systems sophisticated institutions might bring embarrassing condemnation. In many countries domestic forces with a personal or ideological interest in individual rights serve to encourage compliance even by repressive regimes, e.g., vis-à-vis Jews desiring to emigrate or dissidents in the Soviet Union.
Peter Danchin, Columbia University