The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was approved without dissenting vote on December 10, 1948 by the newly formed General Assembly of the United Nations, and thus the second half of the 20th century began with an unprecedented consensus in the international community in support of human rights. In the next two decades two comprehensive covenants were written and endorsed by the U.N. General Assembly to implement the Declaration, and both were ratified by a sufficient number of States, as binding treaties under international law, to "come into force" in 1976. In the last quarter of this century, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its two main implementing treaties, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, have defined international human rights law and for that reason are at times referred to as "The International Bill of Rights."
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was submitted to the US Senate for its advice and consent by President Carter in 1978 with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which had been submitted to the Senate by President Truman in 1949, was resubmitted by President Reagan and ratified in 1989. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was ratified in 1992, and the Convention against Torture and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination were ratified in 1994. The United States, however, has not yet ratified the American Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
In this paper I will explain why the United States has yet to embrace the International Bill of Rights. Then I will examine what it might mean for the United States to consider ratifying the International Covenant on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights and arguments that may be developed in support of ratification. This analysis will: review the history of support by the U.S. government for international human rights law, evaluate the procedural barriers to effective U.S. ratification of human rights treaties, and consider the effect that being a party to the treaty might have on U.S. policy with respect to education, housing, food, health, labor and women's rights.
- A Second Bill of Rights?
- The Ghost of Senator Bricker
- What Would Ratification Mean?
- NGO Ratification Strategy
- Lessons from the Rights of the Child Fight
- Delegating Implementation to the States
- A New Strategy for Ratification
This entire essay is published in Promises to Keep: Prospects for Human Rights, edited by Charles S. McCoy (Berkeley, CA: Center for Ethics and Social Policy, Graduate Theological Union and Literary Directions, 2002).