International law gives structure to the global relationships between otherwise sovereign states: to express shared values and shared responsibility, to define rules and limits for engagement, and to describe shared global accountability. International treaties, conventions, protocols, covenants, and declarations formalise these laws between countries who have elected, through a process of ratification, to be legally bound to fulfil their obligations as parties to select treaties.
Many treaties and conventions exist to confer on States that are party to each treaty the legal obligation to protect and provide, domestically, for an array of human rights.
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is organised into two very important Covenants: the ICESCR and the ICCPR. When a State ratifies the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), it adopts legally binding obligations to provide for and protect the rights of its citizens to physical integrity, in the form of the right to life and freedom from torture and slavery or forced labour; to liberty and security of the person, in the form of freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention and the right to habeas corpus (to be brought before a court to determine whether an arrest and detention are legal); to equality under the law that includes procedural fairness in law, in the form of rights to due process, a fair and impartial trial, the presumption of innocence, and recognition as a person before the law, to not to be deprived of liberty unless cause can be demonstrated and defended swiftly in court, and tor treatment with dignity and respect throughout the judicial process.
States Parties to the ICCPR are obligated to make provision for and to protect the rights of citizens to non-discrimination; to freedom of movement; to freedom of thought and expression; to freedom of religion; to freedom of speech; to freedom of association; to freedom of assembly; to privacy; to marry; to political participation, including the right to vote; to a nationality; and to freedom from “national or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence by law”
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is organised into two very important Covenants: the ICESCR and the ICCPR. When a State ratifies the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), it adopts legally binding obligations to provide for and protect the rights of its citizens to, amongst others, decent Work, freely chosen, under just and favourable conditions, and without discrimination so that everyone has access to, potentially, full employment; to social security, including social insurance (some form of social welfare; social assistance; grants, etc.); to form and join trade unions, and to strike (industrial action); to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing, and housing (the right to live somewhere in security, peace, and dignity) with “continuous improvement of living conditions”.
States Parties to the ICESCR are obligated to make provision for and to protect the rights of citizens to family life, including paid parental leave and the protection of children from exploitation; to choose to marry or not, and whom to marry, and whether to have a family, without force; to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; to education, including free universal primary education; and to participate in Cultural Life, including having access to science and culture, language and creative arts.
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
CEDAW is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, developed in 1979. Described as an international Bill of Rights for women, CEDAW is the only international instrument to comprehensively address women’s rights within political, civil, cultural, economic, and social life, covering education, employment, marriage and family relations, health care, politics, finance, and law.
The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (African Women’s Protocol; Maputo Protocol)
The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa was developed in 2005. Under the African Union, the treaty is a supplement to the regional human rights charter, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The protocol provides broad protection for the human rights of women, including their sexual and reproductive rights, freedoms, and choices.
SADC Protocol on Gender and Development (2020)
The objectives of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, developed in 2008, are amongst others, to provide for the empowerment of women, to eliminate discrimination and to achieve gender equality and equity through the development and implementation of gender responsive legislation, policies, programmes, and projects.