Human Rights Obligations And Commitments

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Human Rights Obligations And Commitments

The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on 10 December 1948. This declaration outlines all the fundamental human rights for all people that should be respected and protected. The UDHR, together with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), its two Optional Protocols, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) form the so – called International Bill of Human Rights.

These declarations inspired International human rights law, International human rights bodies and mechanisms, national and regional legislation and institutions for human rights protection. This also guides the work of human rights defenders and advocates worldwide.

Treaty bodies play an essential role in ensuring the continued consolidation and elaboration of international standards and protection of rights. Since the early 1970’s Caribbean governments ratified a significant number of agreements related to  the issues of civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights or the (ICPR) and  (ICESCR). After the world conferences on women,  several international agreements specifically on women’s rights and women’s empowerment were introduced, including agreements in which the themes of sexual and reproductive health and rights and violence against women were incorporated.

The Caribbean Observatory on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights works in collaboration with partners to monitor and track progress on  the human rights obligations and commitments of Caribbean countries on the protection of Sexual and Reproductive Rights (SRHR) and protection against Gender based Violence (GBV).

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The following  ratified conventions relates to women and girls, that are in force for more than 25 years:

  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW, 1979)
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC, 1989)  
  • Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (1994), generally known as ‘the Belém do Pará ’ Convention.

The  Belém do Pará Convention is the first binding regional treaty in the world specifically directed at eliminating violence against women with focus on their physical, sexual and psychological integrity, in both the public and private spheres. Ratification obligates states to adopt policies to prevent, punish and eradicate violence against women, and to prevent, investigate and punish violence against women. States are required to ensure that all laws, practices, and policies relating to violence against women follow principles of equality and non-discrimination. Noteworthy is that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) established that the declaration is binding for all members of the Organization of American States (OAS), including those that have not ratified the Convention.

The Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region is recognized as one of the first regions, where all the countries are signatories to the above-listed key conventions that promote the rights of women and girls. These agreements provide a comprehensive legal framework at the international and regional level of the ‘Americas’ to ensure that SRHR is protected and realized and that all women and girls have the right to be free from gender-based violence (ECLAC, 2019).

These conventions are key instruments for wide advocacy as they trigger a broad process of discussion on controversial issues and instigate social change.

Some of the international agreements, also relevant to SRHR and GBV, such as the ‘Beijing Platform for Action’ (BPfA), the  Program of Action of the International Conference on Population and development (PoA of ICPD) and its regional agreement ‘The Montevideo Consensus’ and since 2015 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), do not have the binding legal authority of a convention or treaty. However, they provide strong definitions of key concepts, principles and guidelines to countries for adequate implementation, and are also fully aligned to some of the binding agreements such as CEDAW, CRC and Belém do Pará .

Key human rights conventions relevant to SRHR and GBV by year of ratification/accession

Human Rights (HR) agreements are dynamic. HR committees have the authority to add to the existing text with  ‘General Recommendations’. For example, in 2016 the ICESR launched the ‘general recommendation 22 on the universal right to Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR),  based on the ‘Acceptability, Availability, Affordability, Quality’ (AAAQ) guideline.

For  CEDAW and Belém do Pará, critical additions have been made in general recommendation 35. The concept of ‘Gender-based violence’ was clearly defined and extended with more characteristics that are more in line with the current understanding of the working of violence and aimed to fill identified gaps in responses.

HR Committees also have the authority to introduce Optional protocols, which gives the Committee competence to examine individual complaints with regard to alleged violations of the Convention by States parties to the Protocols.

In the tables below a global overview will be presented of the main international and regional conventions, both binding and non-binding, to which Caribbean states have committed themselves, the key articles speaking to the themes of SRHR and GBV, and the extent to which states comply to reporting obligations, as well as challenges and barriers to adhere.

Binding relevant international agreements by ratification by Caribbean Countries

The Interamerican Convention on the Rights of Older People (ICROP), 2015 has not yet received much attention, also not from civil society. However, it is important to improve the protection of the rights of older women, who are often a forgotten group. Available scarce data show that even at old age, women are subjected to violent behaviors of intimate partners, and others, including family members or caretakers at home or in institutional settings. Especially at old age, elders are at risk of mental abuse and financial exploitation by family members.
By 2021, the ICROP has been ratified by 7 LA countries and 1 Caribbean country, Surinam

Binding relevant regional agreements by ratification by Caribbean Countries

Non-Binding relevant regional agreements by ratification by Caribbean Countries