The United Nations has been adapting its human rights machinery in order to better respond to the changing demands of the international community. During the cold war, the United Nations created the normative and institutional structures for international human rights protection, steadily broadening its competence in this area. At the same time, it supported the vast process of decolonization, which led to the birth of over 80 new independent nations. Landmark United Nations actions, such as the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (1960), provided the blueprint for universally establishing the collective right to self-determination. The United Nations also concentrated its efforts on the human rights abuses resulting from the policy of apartheid in South Africa, overseeing international action which eventually helped to end this gross abrogation of fundamental rights. Despite these successes, however, the effectiveness of the United Nations was severely restricted by the cold war, both in terms of the range of human rights to be defended and in terms of ensuring their respect in practice. The world political situation did not allow for much concerted human rights activism in the field. Doctrines of national security and sovereignty were often invoked to conceal, excuse or justify human rights abuses.
Today, there is widespread recognition that the 50-year investment in development and human rights promotion requires new impetus to secure broader realization of economic and social rights. Extreme poverty and exclusion from economic, political and cultural life continue to be the fate of millions in both developing and developed countries. Currently, there are 48 countries where more than one fifth of the population live in “absolute poverty”, with little prospect of dramatic change in the short term. Breaking the cycle of poverty thus continues to be a formidable task for the international community. For this reason, the United Nations has increasingly emphasized the right to development, which can provide the basis for a strategy for a more comprehensive human rights programme.
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Ms. Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland, assumed her post as the second High Commissioner for Human Rights in September 1997. The High Commissioner’s mandate has four essential components:
? Building global partnerships for human rights;
? Preventing human rights violations and responding to emergencies;
? Promoting human rights, together with democracy and development, as the guiding principles for lasting peace; and
? Coordinating the system-wide strengthening of the United Nations human rights programme.
United Nations policy on human rights is governed, through the General Assembly, by a number of intergovernmental bodies, which also provide guidance to OHCHR. The main intergovernmental policy-making body concerned with human rights issues is the Commission on Human Rights. Established in 1946 by the Economic and Social Council, the Commission provides overall policy guidance, studies human rights problems, develops and codifies new international norms, and monitors the observance of human rights around the world. Made up of 53 Member States elected for three-year terms, the Commission provides a forum for States and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to voice their concerns about human rights issues.
The Commission originally concentrated its efforts on defining and codifying international human rights standards. In the past two decades, however, the Commission has set up a system of special procedures to investigate alleged violations of human rights, and routinely dispatches fact-finding missions to countries in all parts of the world. Today, the Commission’s annual six-week session in Geneva provides a unique global forum for raising, discussing and clarifying allegations of a wide range of violations. States as well as NGOs present information on situations of concern to them; the Governments involved often submit replies. In the light of the examination of such situations, fact-finding groups of experts may be designated, on-the-spot visits may be organized, discussions with Governments pursued, assistance provided and violations condemned.
In recent years, the Commission has increasingly turned its attention to the promotion of
economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development. It has established a
number of subsidiary bodies to assist its work in this area, such as the working groups on the effects of foreign-debt burdens and the impact of extreme poverty on the enjoyment of human rights.
High on the Commission’s agenda are the promotion of women’s rights and the protection of the rights of the child. Special attention is given to children in situations of armed conflict, to violence against women, including against women migrant workers, and to trafficking in women and girls. The Commission has further sought to protect the rights of vulnerable groups, particularly ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous people. For this reason, it is seeking to create a permanent forum for indigenous people within the United Nations system.
Since 1948, the Commission has been assisted by the 26-member Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, composed of independent experts from all regions of the world. The Subcommission, in turn, has established several working groups, which serve as forums for interaction between Governments and civil society concerning the rights of indigenous people, minorities and groups vulnerable to contemporary forms of slavery. Among other issues, the Subcommission focuses on contemporary forms of slavery, including forced labour, illegal and pseudo-legal adoptions aiming at the exploitation of children, and sexual slavery during wartime. It also considers human rights issues concerning domestic and migrant workers and examines preventive measures for the elimination of violence against women, in particular in situations of armed conflict.
The woman’s nature as the mother means that there are certain virtues which Allah has made specific to her such as the protection of her honour and the honour of her offspring. For example, religious texts ordained that the woman’s body, except for the face and the hands, should be covered in front of all except those who are a mahram (those she is forbidden to marry). And that a woman should not sit in private with a man who is not mahram. Furthermore, the female has a greater sense of modesty and sensitivity. Hence, though she should demand her rights and practise them accordingly, this practice should be such that her modesty, dignity, virtue and sanctity be preserved.
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