International human rights law is different from most areas of international law because rather than governing relations between states, human rights law governs a state’s relations with its own citizens. The modern human rights law movement has its roots in the post-WWII trials of Nazi leaders at Nuremburg. The world community recognized that the mass atrocities committed during WWII were too serious to be handled under domestic laws because the crimes committed were crimes against all of humanity.
Subsequently, the creators of the UN recognized the reaffirmation of fundamental human rights as one of its most important purposes, and in the first year of its existence, set out to ensure that goal. The first step took place when The Human Rights Commission—at the time the lead UN body of human rights—produced the “International Bill of Human Rights,” which is composed of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and two binding treaties, the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
On March 15, 2006, recognizing the need to update its human rights organizations, the General Assembly of the UN created the Human Rights Council. This new body is responsible for further strengthening and promoting human rights around the world. One of the Council’s many tools for protecting human rights is the innovative Universal Periodic Review, which allows for the examination of the status of human rights within all member states. Less than two weeks after the formation of the Human Rights Council, on March 27, 2006, the Commission on Human Rights met for its sixty-second and final session.
A sophisticated system of agreements and monitoring organizations exists to promote respect for the rights enshrined in these documents, both on international and regional levels, as with the European Convention on Human Rights and its Court of Human Rights, and the American Declaration and American Convention on Human Rights and their Inter-American Commission and Inter-American Court on Human Rights.
For more on human rights law, visit our Human Rights In Depth.