Human Rights

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HUMAN RIGHTS

We will deal with each of these in turn, with reference to international legal instruments and bodies. We will observe first of all how the rights of individuals, although falling outside the province of international law as it was conceived in the1600s, began to seep into the framework of international legal rules over the centuries, eventually coming to prominence during the 'human rights era' that followed the end of the Second World War. We will consider secondly the various mechanisms that have been put in place by the international community in order to deal with the enforcement and observance of individual rights enshrined in international legal instruments. Lastly, we will critically assess the claim that questions about individual rights should be the sole concern of domestic legal systems. The scholars who laid the intellectual foundations of international law in the Western world, like Hugo Grotius (1625) and John Locke (1690), all stressed in their writings that legal systems, be they domestic or international, were founded in natural law and commonly accepted standards of (Christian) morality. It may seem surprising, therefore, that for centuries the rights of individuals played no significant role in the framework of international law. International law, as the name suggests, was the body of legal rules governing the relations between states - 'the law of nations'. Nation states, and not individuals, were the 'subjects' of international law. The behavior of a state towards individuals within its own territorial boundaries was governed by its domestic legal system. Any interference by one state in the internal affairs of another, for whatever reason, was viewed as a violation of state sovereignty, and as a threat to stability in international relations. It did not take long for international law to begin to concern itself with the welfare of individual human beings. However, when this did start to occur it was not because human compassion and religious morality had risen to the foreign international relations; it was motivated rather by the reciprocal political and economic interests of states. An early concern of nation states was the manner in which their diplomats and other nationals were treated when residing and conducting their business in the territory of another state, as noted by Louis Henkin (1989): Of course, every State was legitimately concerned with what happened to its diplomats, to its diplomatic mission and to its property in the territory of another State. States were concerned, and developed norms to assure, that their nationals (and the property of their nationals) in the territory of another State be treated reasonably, 'fairly', and the system and the law early identified an international standard of justice by which a State must abide in its treatment of foreign nationals. Once such norms were agreed between two states, it was no longer possible for either of them to assert that the treatment of individuals within its borders was a matter exclusively to be dealt with by its domestic legal system, a point that was stressed in an Advisory Opinion on Nationality Decrees Issued in Tunis and Morocco (1923) of the Permanent Court of International Justice (the forerunner to the International Court of Justice).However, although the rights of individuals were thus 'internationalized' to a limited extent, the international agreements in question did not permit states to take action against any state that was deemed to be violating the rights of its own nationals. The position under international law in this respect began to change with the developing doctrine of humanitarian intervention. First expounded by Hugo Grotius (1625), the doctrine of humanitarian intervention allowed for limited exceptions to the rule that states were prohibited from interfering with the internal affairs of other states for the benefit of individuals within those other states. This could be done to stop...
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