What are the two Covenants?
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) list the human rights that everyone is entitled to. They build on the rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Together, the Universal Declaration and the two Covenants form the International Bill of Human Rights.
What rights are covered?
The Covenants set out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that everyone has.
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
What do Governments have to do?
The Covenants also identify the responsibilities placed on Governments to protect and promote those rights. There are three kinds of responsibilities on Governments:
States must refrain from interfering directly or indirectly with your rights. For example, the State must not torture you or make you a slave. The State cannot force you to work in an area you have not freely chosen or stop you from speaking your language.
States must take measures to make sure that others, such as businesses, political groups or other people do not interfere with your rights. For example, the State must stop people using hate speech against you because of where you are from or who you are. And the State has to make sure that private companies provide a fair wage for your work and do not give different salaries to men and women who do the same job.
States must take steps to realize rights. For example, the State has to provide interpretation during trials if the accused cannot speak the language spoken in Court. The State must provide budgets to make sure that everyone can access medicines and be free from hunger.
Many economic, social and cultural rights require Governments to allocate budgets to areas such as education and health care, particularly for poor people (responsibility to fulfil rights). For this reason, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights says States must achieve economic, social and cultural rights progressively. For example, your Government has to take steps to improve conditions in the area of health care, with a particular focus on providing health care to poor people or marginalized people with the aim of achieving universal access to health care as soon as possible.
Sometimes, richer countries should help poorer countries and for this reason, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights includes an obligation of international cooperation.
Do the Covenants apply to your country?
The two Covenants and the International Bill of Human Rights are powerful statements of your rights and should persuade all Governments to respect your rights. For the two Covenants to become binding in your country on your Government must ratify them. This means your Government must expressly agreed to abide by them.
How do we keep track of progress?
Two committees of experts monitor the Covenants. The Human Rights Committee monitors the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights monitors the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
What impact have the Covenants had?
Thanks to the Covenants, countries have changed their laws and policies and the lives of many people around the world have improved. Some examples of impact include:
Why is the 50th anniversary important?
The fight isn’t over. While we are celebrating the Covenants many successes, challenges still remain. Violence, poverty, the financial crisis, and discrimination affect all countries and everyone has a role to play in building better societies that respect human rights.
The 50th anniversary celebrations give us a moment to reflect on how far we have come and how far we have to go. The anniversary also reminds us that they are our rights, our freedoms, always.