International Human Rights Conventions of the United Nations

Human rights protect human beings and their dignity in war and in peacetime. These rights are protected under international law and it is the duty of states to ensure they are respected, protected and fulfilled. To this end, the United Nations has developed a body of binding conventions, all stemming from the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


There are basically three distinct types of human rights:

  • civil and political rights, e.g. the right to life, peaceful assembly and religious freedom
  • economic, social and cultural rights, e.g. the right to work, to education, and to social security
  • rights of the third generation, e.g. the right to development and to a clean and healthy environment

The principal United Nations conventions on human rights are the

  • The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) covers human rights in the economic, social and cultural spheres.

  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) contains important guarantees for the protection of civil and political rights.

  • The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) is explicitly directed at discrimination based on race, colour, descent, as well as national and ethnic origin.

  • The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) sets out in concrete terms the prohibition of discrimination of women in all stages of life.

  • The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) obliges the states parties to prevent and punish acts of torture.

  • The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) provides a comprehensive guarantee of the human rights of children and young people under 18 years of age.

  • The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) ensures that people with disabilities enjoy all human rights and participate in public, economic and social life.

  • The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CPED) aims to punish and combat the grave human rights violation of enforced disappearance.

  • The aim of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW) is to protect migrant workers and their families.

Unlike the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the above conventions are binding on states parties. Switzerland has ratified all except the last.

Country reports

The principal UN conventions on human rights establish committees to monitor compliance with their provisions. They provide for a mandatory reporting procedure whereby states which have ratified the conventions submit reports to the relevant committee on the way in which they have fulfilled their human rights obligations. The committee examines the reports and formulates recommendations.

Last update 03.05.2023


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