Aspects of Domestic Implementation of International Human Rights

Though discussions about the status of international instruments in the national legal system and their direct applicability in domestic courts is important to assess the domestic implementation of international human rights standards, it should be complemented by other dimensions, including the non-legal ones, to have a fuller picture.

Many recent constitutional reforms and amendments around the world, at best incorporate international human rights norms as part and parcel of the constitution, at worst are developed by using international human rights instruments as a starting point for their work. This has led to the growing role of international human rights standards in the interpretation of domestic legislation, which further contributes to the harmonization of international and constitutional provisions. There is also a growing tendency to secure the observance of international human rights through special clauses in national constitutions.

State obligations notions with regards to international human rights

Where states incorporate the ‘horizontal effect’ and positive State obligations notions with regards to international human rights norms within their domestic legal system, the observance of human rights will also extend to individuals and other private parties; i.e., in addition to the State that have the duty not to intervene. In addition, the State will have the duty to take adequate measures to create a conducive environment where individuals can fully exercise their rights. For instance, in order for individuals to exercise their rights to education, the State has to build new schools where there are none, or ensure that
access to existing ones is made available by building roads, among others.

Furthermore, the duty of States to respect and protect human rights might entail the enactment of the legislation, calling for the legislature to take measures for the adequate protection and promotion of human rights at the domestic level.

In addressing the topic of enforceability of human rights at the national level, there is usually a presupposition that there is some understanding of how those laws actually work and some level of respect and identification with them. However, very few people are aware about their basic human rights and know about the organs of state and their respective duties. Human rights education is thus very vital to inform the society so that people may be able to pursue their rights more vigorously. In the absence of adequate knowledge of rights and the mechanisms available to realize them, violations cannot be recognized and rights cannot be protected.

Human rights institutions and commissions

Human rights institutions, such as ombudsmen and human rights commissions, also play major role in the domestic implementation of international human rights norms. Whether their decisions are legal or quasi-legal, these institutions are in a better position than courts of law to take into account the positive obligations of the State with regards to international human rights. In some countries, such institutions also have the jurisdiction to make recommendations that relate both to issues of law and policy. The domestic implementation of international human rights norms is thus not a matter for the judiciary alone.

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