Monitoring Human Rights

Although these conventions and covenants have been ratified by a vast majority of countries, it is clear that not all countries abide by their provisions. Although the United Nations has the responsibility for monitoring human rights abuses, there is little it can do in terms of enforcement. While each convention has a monitoring body, as discussed earlier, the official body responsible for monitoring violations of the UDHR is the United Nations Human Rights Council. This Council was reorganized in 2006 due to dissatisfaction with the ineffectiveness of its predecessor, the Human Rights Commission, including that notorious human rights offenders sat on it. The new council consists of representatives from 47 countries who are elected by the General Assembly, and it meets almost twice as often as the commission did. Membership is based on population distribution as follows (United Nations, n.d.):

  • • African States: 13 seats
  • • Asian States: 13 seats
  • • Latin American and Caribbean States: 8 seats
  • • Western European and other States: 7 seats
  • • Eastern European States: 6 seats

The United States, under the Bush Administration, originally refused to j oin the new council. However, with the election of President Obama, this view was revised to one that stated change could more effectively occur from within, and the United States joined in 2009 (MacFarquhar, 2009).

The US State Department produces a report each year assessing the level of civil, political, and worker rights, as recognized in the UDHR, in 196 countries. The purpose of this assessment is to promote democracy.

Countries that are consistently assessed as faring poorly in these areas are typically non-democracies such as North Korea, Myanmar, and China. China, in response, has developed its own assessment of the United States that emphasizes more of the violations of social and economic rights but also what it sees as violations of civil and political rights, including the high level of violent crime and high rate of incarceration. The 2011 report is available at content_15392452.htm. Its purpose appears to be that the United States should be cautious about evaluating others’ achievement of rights when it violates rights as well.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) also take responsibility for monitoring human rights abuses; two of the more well known in the United States are Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Both of the organizations regularly investigate and assess violations of human rights abuses around the world. Their reports on many different topics are available on their Web sites. Amnesty International traditionally focused on violations of civil and political rights but broadened its mission to monitor economic, social, and cultural rights as well as civil and political ones as “there are many more prisoners of poverty than prisoners of conscience” (Amnesty International, 2005, p. 3).

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