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    Human Rights Defenders
      One Voice One People

Human Rights F.A.Q.

1. The importance of Human Rights
2. Importance of Human Rights for Business and Investment
3. Where do human rights start?
4. What is the Bill of Human Rights and what does it mean for me?
5. What do these Economic, Social and Cultural rights embodied in the covenant mean for a person?
6. What is the specific relation of the economic and social rights to Environment Protection?
7. Why does OVOP ask for an Optional Protocol to the Economic Covenant?
8.What is the significance of an "Optional Protocol" to a Covenant ?
9. What are the rights of a person embodied in the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights?
10. Can a signatory government choose and pick one right against another?
11. Why has the United Nations failed to live up to its human rights aims ?
12. Why have so many individual complaints forwarded to the Human Rights Commission been labelled by the Commission as "inadmissible" ?
13. How could OVOP help the individual person whose rights have been violated?
14. What are main violations of human rights in Western Industrialised countries ?
15. The covert methodology and mechanisms for committing human rights violations in developed countries.
16. Why is the support of the worldwide community essential ?
17. How can real change be achieved ?
18. OVOP urge the establishment of an International Human Rights Court equivalent to the European Court of Human Rights with access for the individual person living outside its jurisdiction and with the right to appeal decisions of the UN Human Rights Committee.


1. The importance of Human Rights

We are all custodians of human rights, the birthrights of all human beings!

Human Rights could be generally defined as those rights which are inherent in our nature and without which we cannot live as human beings. Human Rights as fundamental freedoms allow us to develop fully and use our human qualities, our intelligence, our talents and our conscience and to satisfy our spiritual and other needs. They are based on mankind's increasing demand for a life in which the inherent dignity and worth of each human being will receive respect and protection.
Human Rights - civil, cultural, economic, political and social - should be taken in totality and not disassociated from one another.

"Today, in every part of the world, men, women and children of all faiths and tongues, of every colour and creed, will gather to embrace our common human rights. They will do so in the knowledge that human rights are the foundation of human existence and coexistence; that human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent; and that human rights lie at the heart of all that the United Nations aspires to achieve in peace and development. Human rights are what make us human. They are the principles by which we create the sacred home for human dignity." [Kofi Annan, United Nations 10 Dec 1997]

"Human development and well-being, literacy, good health and employment, like civil, political and cultural rights, are not favours or acts of charity bestowed on the poor. They are the human rights, and they are as valid today as they were fifty years ago" [Gustave Speth, Choices, December 1998, UN Publication: Freedom from poverty is a Human Right!]

"The beliefs inscribed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were not invented 50 years ago. They are not the work of a single culture or country. They have been with us forever, from civilization's first light. Sophocles wrote about them 2,500 years ago when he had Antigone declare that there were ethical laws higher than the laws of Theban kings. P.C. Chang, who helped draft the Universal Declaration, pointed out that Confucius articulated them in ancient China. The belief that we must respect our neighbors as we would respect ourselves resides at the core of the teachings of all the major faiths of the world." [Statement by United States First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights]

"Men, by nature free, equal and independent, no-one can be put out of this estate and subjected to the political power of another without his own consent. The only way whereby anyone divests himself of his natural liberty and puts on the bonds of civil society is by agreeing with other men to join and unite into a community for their comfortable, safe and peaceable living on among another, in a secure enjoyment of their properties… The fundamental rights to life, equality, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not drawn from any empirical source or discovered through rational argument; they may be given by God but the proof of their existence is what we all feel and think them - they attach 'inalienably' to the human person, like a shadow. They are not the end product of philosophical inquiry but the starting point for it, imposing a duty on government to order itself in a way which will maximise opportunities for individual fulfillment." [John Locke (1690)]

"The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for amongst old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature by the hand of divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured." [Alexander Hamilton (1787)]

2. Importance of Human Rights for Business and Investment

There is growing interest of business in human rights. More and more investors choose "ethical investments" and by that prefer companies that are responsible and respect human rights including observance of environmental concerns etc.

"Diverse reasons bring business leaders to become active in human rights. Some because of bitter experiences when unacceptable conduct directly affected the bottom-line. For civil society is scrutinising corporate conduct much as it has watched the behaviour of Governments in the past."

"Some business leaders may think that the political and social environment of the country they are doing business in is none of their affair and that whether or not there are human rights abuses is irrelevant. That is a short-sighted attitude and one that is not borne out by experience. The rights in the Universal Declaration contribute, both directly and indirectly, to the social and political conditions conducive to business. The payoff for observation of these rights is a stable business climate and a reliable workforce. Violations of human rights, on the other hand, represent obstacles to business. You can do business in situations were human rights are violated, but without knowing the risks, and taking action to mitigate these risks in the longer term, will it be sustainable? This is the essence of the 'business case for human rights'." (UN Publications)

Governments, which breach the international treaties on human rights, show disregard for commitments and can reasonable, be expected to breach other contracts. Investors should be aware that their investments in such countries are not safe and not protected by law.

In some countries the law - if any protective law exists at all - is not applied unless one has the financial means and the time needed to enforce this law with a court battle. Not that this would guarantee the application of the law! The application of the law depends in countries which use the adversarial system on the cleverness of a lawyer and the willingness of a judge to apply the law. . In cases where contracts are in dispute the courts may 'imply rights' which are not part of the contract at all and were never intended. Such a situation is not only an appalling discrimination and violation of human rights but causes that tremendous amounts of money which otherwise would be invested into productivity have to be spend for the unproductive and destructive fight in the courts, and even if one wins in some countries there is no effective remedy.

In countries with such systems of law a minefield of criminality within the society is created as people lose respect for the law altogether.

Company executives understand that the future protection of shareholder value will be enhanced if the government of the countries they are involved with respect and apply the principals of human rights.

3. Where do human rights start?

"Human rights are not something far away, they start in communities and neighbourhoods" " In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world". [Spoken by Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt, who chaired the Human Rights Commission in its first year.]

4. What is the Bill of Human Rights and what does it mean for me?

Today many human rights instruments make up the international human rights framework. Along with the Universal Declaration (1948), two crucial instruments make up the International Bill of Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) and its two optional protocols. "Thus the International Bill of Human Rights represents a milestone in the history of human rights, a veritable Magna Carta marking mankind's arrival at a vitally important phase: the conscious acquisition of human dignity and worth." [Fact sheet 2 UN]

"Human rights are about collective responsibility, both as individuals and as members of groups, institutions, and governments, to the people we live and work with, to an individual person, to our country, to the global community. Each individual person is accountable and answerable if human rights are ignored and violated." (Human Rights Publications)

5. What do these Economic, Social and Cultural rights embodied in the covenant mean for a person?

International human rights law has been designed to protect the full range of human rights required for people to have a full, free, safe, secure and healthy life. The right to live a dignified life can never be attained unless all basic necessities of life, such as work, food, housing, health care, education and culture, are adequately and equitably available to everyone. Based squarely on this fundamental principle of the global human rights system, international human rights law has established individual and group rights relating to the civil, cultural, economic, political and social spheres. Of all global human rights standards, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provides the most important international legal framework for protecting these basic human rights. [Fact Sheet No.16 (UN Publication)]

6. What is the specific relation of the economic and social rights to Environment Protection?

Under this covenant a person has the right to environmental protection. Rights to food, health, habitat and livelihood depend on environmental protection and the complementary relationships between promoting and protecting human rights and promoting and protecting environments.

These rights include, for example, rights of access to officials responsible for designing or administering development activities; of access to information and to a fair hearing for people who claim to be threatened or harmed by development projects; and to redress and impose accountability on development actors who disregard the rights of affected people.

"Recognising that adequate protection of the environment is essential to human well-being and the enjoyment of basic human rights, including to life itself." [Convention on Access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters]

Unless these rights are implemented in the law of a country environmental protection is not being taken seriously.

7. Why does OVOP ask for an Optional Protocol to the Economic Covenant?

"At present it is not possible for individuals or groups who feel that their rights under the Covenant have been violated to submit formal complaints to the Committee. The absence of such procedure places significant constraints on the ability of the Committee to develop jurisprudence or case-law and, of course, greatly limits the chances of victims of abuses of the Covenant obtaining international redress" [Fact Sheet No.16 (Rev.1), The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights]

"There are numerous arguments supporting the adoption of a complaints procedure under the Covenant. These include the improved enjoyment by people of economic, social and cultural rights; a strengthening of international accountability of States parties; increased congruence in the legal standing and seriousness accorded to both International Covenants; a refinement of the rights and duties emerging from the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and a structural and concrete affirmation of the indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights. It is also argued that such a procedure would encourage States parties to provide similar remedies at the local and national levels." [Fact sheet 16 UN]

8. What is the significance of an "Optional Protocol" to a Covenant ?

In the absence of an optional protocol individuals cannot complain about any violation of their rights under a particular covenant against a government.

Optional Protocols allow a person to lodge a claim with the International Human Rights Committee. Economic and social rights listed in the Universal Declaration which would be appropriate under an optional protocol to be enforced by individuals, or by groups are not only the right to equal pay for equal work, to access a social security system, to join trade unions, for children to have free education at primary level but very importantly the fundamental rights relating to the environment.

9. What are the rights of a person embodied in the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights?

The Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966). In addition to the right of self-determination and the right to equality and freedom from discrimination, this covenant sets out the right to life; the right to freedom from torture and slavery; the right to liberty and security of person; the right to freedom of movement and residence; the right to equal protection of laws; the right to privacy; the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; the right to freedom of expression; the right to freedom of assembly and association; and the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs. This covenant has two optional protocols (one addressing the death penalty and the other allowing for the bringing of individual complaints)

The Covenant on Civil and Political Rights sets up a Human Rights Committee to consider progress reports from States, which have ratified the covenant. The Committee may also hear complaints by such States that other States, which have ratified the Covenant, have failed in upholding the obligations under the Covenant. Under the Optional Protocol to the Civil and Political Covenant, individuals under certain circumstances may file complaints of human rights violations by ratifying States. Under the Second Optional Protocol to the Civil and Political Covenant, States must take all measures to abolish the death penalty. [UN Fact Sheet No 2]

10. Can a signatory government pick and choose one right against another?

Countries cannot pick and choose among these rights, ignoring some while insisting on others. Only as rights equally applied can they be rights universally accepted. Nor can they be applied selectively or relatively, or as weapon with which to control the innocent via punishment for offending the strong and influential.

Some governments set a bad example by demonstrating that they are not bound by the covenants and take the view that they can pick and chose only the bits they like from their contracts with the UN.

A current example from a developed "Western nation" is the Prime Minister of Australia Mr John Howard who said recently in a radio interview "You can ignore your obligations under an international treaty if you choose to."

" The reason why you can ignore them is because in the end there is no sanction against you. Other than the sanctions of being seen as having potentially breached some agreement that you have signed."

Government could be expected to be alarmed if their citizens followed such a path over contracts they had signed and adopted a pick and choose approach over paying or not paying ferderal taxes, council rates, and the like.

"All human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated. The international community must treat human rights globally in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing, and with the same emphasis. While the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind, it is the duty of States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms" [UN Fact Sheet No. 16 ]

11. Why has the United Nations failed to live up to its human rights aims ?

The UN can only be the sum of its parts. OVOP feels the evidence is that some of the very nations that seek to portray themselves as being in the forefront of human rights action actually operate to maintain situations of systemic human rights abuse and also place profit above honesty and respect for human rights.

The reality is that Governments had no intention in the first place of implementing these rights into their national law. Only due to the pressure by the public and non-governmental groups (NGO's) some governments have made a few amendments to their laws.

12. Why have so many individual complaints forwarded to the Human Rights Commission been labelled by the Commission as "inadmissible" ?

From personal experience with an application it is clear that complaints are not analysed or investigated, they receive 'consideration' and that is all. Thus a UNHR Committee 'view' when published lacks detailed reasoning, may well be unrecognisable and indeed fly in the face of the actual facts of a case. It is also clear from what other observers of the process have written that being a very powerless entity the UNHR Committee does not relish or antagonising or even criticising UN members.

The UNHR Committee is not established as a human rights court and has no power to enforce its views. The Human Rights Committee has been starved of funds, with part-time members and a handful of overworked staff.

Its reports fail to transcribe the facts, to recognise the evidence and "side track" into technicalities as a way to avoid adverse decisions.

The extend of UNHR Committee's failure is shown in the following: World-wide only 645 communications were registered from 1986 - 1995. More than half of which were later withdrawn or declared 'inadmissible'.

The Commission hides behind the word 'inadmissible', a term never defined but merely to be an excuse for incompetence and unwillingness.

Because of the failure of the UNHR Committee we have a situation in the world best recognised by the Human Rights Commissioner herself:

"The international system's achievements to date in implementing human rights standards cry out for fresh approaches. As we prepare for the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration ….I do not see this 50th anniversary of the declaration of Human Rights as an occasion for celebration. Count up the results of 50 years of human rights mechanism, 30 years of multi-billion-dollar development programs and endless high-level rhetoric and the general impact is quite under-whelming… there is a failure of implementations on a scale which shames us all."

13. How could OVOP help the individual person whose rights have been violated?

OVOP seek to assist victims over the submission of cases to the UNHR Committee by lodging their complaint and to collect case data so as to map out what is actually happening. As a Non-Government Organisation OVOP express people's will for human rights and by that extend pressure on the UNHRC to act on what they preach.

OVOP will make the details of claims public - internationally. [see Documents-Cases] OVOP want to see results not words on paper!

"NGO's (non-governmental organisations) are essential in providing details and case studies which would not be available from Government sources…Therefore we are dependent on information from the field.." [UN publication]

On 9 December 1998 the UN issued the Declaration on the Rights and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. In this declaration it is stressed that the NGO's …have an important role and responsibility in contributing, as appropriate, to the promotion of the rights of everyone.." ..."In the new Millennium , NGO's would have to lead the way in the quest to advance the new understandings of security, democracy and justice" [UN publication]

14. What are main violations of human rights in Western industrialised countries ?

Governments ignore the legal obligation to comply with the international covenants they have signed and agreed to implement into the law.

The Covenants are international legal instruments and when Member States of the United Nations ratify a Covenant they become a "State party" to it, agreeing to a series of legal obligations to uphold the rights and provisions established. States accept a solemn responsibility to apply each of the obligations embodied therein and to ensure the compatibility of their national laws with their international duties, in a spirit of good faith. Through the ratification of human rights treaties, therefore, States become accountable to the international community, to other States which have ratified the same texts, and to their own citizens and others resident in their territories.

Western industrialised nations that do not adhere to the treaties they signed are not only in breach of contract they also produce an international relations climate that is damaging to the development of human rights. They set a bad example for developing nations.

"The gap between the rhetoric of human rights and the reality on the ground are of concern to everyone. They are the primary concern of national governments which can either vindicate or erode them every day in their laws and policies, in the administration of justice, the workplace, the marketplace." [Stanford University, Wesson Lecture 1999, 3 November 1999 Statement by Mary Robinson United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights]

Legal systems and legal education are at the heart of the universal failure by nations to respect human rights. Some existing legal systems were not designed to respect human rights. Rather they were designed to repress and control populations, and to protect the property of the rich. They are the very means of abuse.

Inconsistent application of the law by the courts, combined with a situation where the law has become the master of the ordinary people not their servant, is a very corrosive mix and leads to the public having no intellectual respect for the legal system. And in response to this gap in understanding officers of the legal system move towards a position of having no respect for the human rights of the public.

Judges, in some systems have a very wide discretionary power to determine whether a person must comply with the law or is exempted, such determinations being based on the status, race, religion etc. of a person. This discretionary power, an open invitation to discriminate and oppress, is a covert and most appalling way for human rights abuse to be exercised by governments against their own people. Courts, via the doctrine of the separation of powers, provide a system of plausible deniability for governments to avoid formal responsibility for abuse of human rights and allows hidden influence to rule. 'Independent' has become synonymous with 'unaccountability' and the legal system thus selectively applied via plausible deniability becomes a major social and political weapon.

15. The covert methodology and mechanisms for committing human rights violations in developed countries

OVOP comes across appalling human rights abuses in so called developed countries and is seeking to try to give these 'silenced victims' a voice. Many of these countries portray themselves as the model human rights defenders whilst in reality they cowardly use their government agencies and legal systems to covertly silence victims. Common features of this scam include the following.


Press and media oppressed by stringent defamation laws dare not report legal process violations encountered by people, which in any case would sound unbelievable to the average 'man in the street' who has become brainwashed by the stream of 'lawyer as hero' TV soap operas plus various 'good news' legal stories that are passed for publication by a handful of sub-editors who act as the unofficial censors of the mass media ensuring that political correctness is a common attribute of all published stories . Today mass media have become an automatic disinformation system that acts, without even needing to be given explicit orders, to protect and hide the more serious state sponsored human rights abuses.


Competent lawyers who wish to have a future in their chosen profession know which cases are supposed to reach the courtroom and which are frowned upon by the powers that be. As the official view is that in countries "free of serious human rights abuse" it follows that one will not find an advocate easily for such a case, particularly if it is the legal system that is the source of the abuse !


Government and government agencies stand by and watch such 'highway robbery' taking place claiming that they have no power to act.( This is where the concepts of independent agency and the doctrine of the separation of powers really come into their own and stop any action being taken by anyone.)

These so-called democratic developed countries scream loudly about human rights abuses elsewhere and their leading legal figures point the finger towards undeveloped nations who use guns and overt violence to suppress their citizens who seek justice and access to human rights.

Ironically it is some of these very same 'legal eagles' who are at the centre of the much more subtle machinery used to destroy dissidents in developed nations.

Corrupt legal process is a most effective and covert means of destroying people, and it has the distinct advantage in this information age that it does not produce images of blood flowing on the TV news.

Mental abuse also kills. It just takes longer and is very painful because it is a long and lonely process over a long period of time. Such victims are discarded by society because it is so easy to classify them as unstable misfits and losers. They need not be recognised officially and need not be integrated back into society after having been abused because the abuse officially does not even exist. Such people become part of an increasing welfare underclass who are not on the official statistics. Society does not wish to see nor hear from such people. They have become invisible . This is the same type of technology and methodology used for many years in Australia to destroy the original inhabitants. And the local 'legal eagles' even had an answer when Australia was found guilty in an international court of genocide over this treatment of a race of people. Their solution was that genocide was not recognised by Australian Law. So it did not exist !

16. Why is the support of the worldwide community essential ?

What is the greatest force in the Universe?

Einstein was asked this. His answer: "compound interest!" OVOPs hope is that "compound interest" in the sense that via today's information technologies millions of people can be exposed to the truth in an ever expanding way and that so informed the "people power" generated will enforce an implementation of human rights.

People around the world working and acting as a world-wide community are the best hope for the individuals, for victims, for future generations to force the establishment of an effective and enforceable human rights environment:

"I come back to the role of the individual. One of the strongest impressions I preserve from the past two years is the importance of the "bottom up" approach to human rights - the role played at grassroots level by communities and individuals. Countless examples from around the world show us the extent to which individuals are willing to give of themselves, to be personally accountable so that rights we tend to take for granted can be assured. And, at the same time, many examples show how easy it can be to forget that without continuous commitment to the fight for human rights, the foundations of democracy can all too easily be eroded. ... The hope for a culture of human rights is rooted in the belief that personal commitments are necessary to support and strengthen the laws and systems that protect such rights." [UN HR Commissioner]

"The input of non-governmental organizations is central to the operation of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights" [Dr. Philip Alston, the Committee Chairman.]

"NGOs are essential in providing details and case studies which would not be available from Government sources. In the case of economic rights, we need to know what is happening in practice because legislation is marginal. Therefore, we are dependent on information from the field. We were the first committee to make NGOs a full partner in the sense that we devote a part of our session at the beginning to information from NGOs which we use in debate with Government representatives. In addition to these functions, committees play a significant part in the mobilization of public awareness with the organization of such activities as international years, decades and world conferences." [UN Publication]

"The involvement of civil society and non-governmental organizations in fighting for and demanding recognition of basic rights has played a central role in the advancement and promotion of human rights around the world. Grassroots movements to encourage entire communities to know, demand and defend their rights will send a positive and strong message: that people everywhere are adamant that human rights should be respected." [UN publication]

17. How can real change be achieved ?

As a first step, human rights abuses and the failure of governments to implement human rights must be exposed by the combined voices and efforts of ordinary people from around the world. This is now becoming possible for the first time due to the availability of better communications systems, particularly the Internet.

18. OVOP urge the establishment of an International Human Rights Court equivalent to the European Court of Human Rights with access for the individual person living outside its jurisdiction and with the right to appeal decisions of the UN Human Rights Committee .

The European Court of Human Rights has become the model human rights court and is an encouraging example on how international human rights law can enforce fundamental rights, freedoms and justice for all European citizens and residents.

Based on the right to equality under the international covenants people in other regions demand to have the same rights as people in Europe to bring their matters before an International Human Rights Court.

People who do not live in Europe have no access to an international court of human rights to have matters of human rights abuse heard. That in itself is not accordingly to the UN Bill of Human Rights which declares that all people have equal rights - without distinction of any kind - to an effective remedy if their rights have been violated. For example under Article 25 of the European Convention, 'any person, non-governmental organisation or group' could bring their matter before the bar of international justice, if their State has accepted the 'right of individual petition'.

OVOP supports the demand for the establishment of an International Court of Human Rights equivalent to the European Court of Human Rights - to be established in the Australian/Asian region - to hold states accountable for upholding the law and implementing their international human rights commitments.

Thus, while securing the rule and enforcement of the law is crucial, so too is adopting measures that enable people to exercise their rights under the law.

"Regardless of their excuses, a country that does not adhere to the principles of human rights is not in a state of civilisation!"
[ONE VOICE - ONE PEOPLE Human Rights Defenders]

ONE VOICE ONE PEOPLE is an independent, non-party-political, non-profit organisation committed to defend human rights and fundamental freedoms and to contribute to the promotion and advancement of democratic societies, institutions and processes.

(C) One Voice One People. Last updated: March 2000