HR in the Pacific

Human Rights Law

One of SPC RRRT's main aims is to demystify the law – in particular human rights law – making it accessible to everyone and thereby empowering them to address discrimination and injustice.

International human rights standards

International human rights standards were developed to protect people's human rights against violations by individuals, groups or nations. These standards are laid out in declarations and treaties.

Declarations are not legally binding, but many countries have incorporated the provisions of these declarations into their laws and constitutions. They outline the basic ideals to be upheld by governments. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) is the "mother" of all Human Rights Conventions".

International treaties (covenants and conventions) have the force of law for the States that ratify (become party to) them – meaning that if a government signs a convention, it is against the law to violate anything mentioned in that convention.

There are eight core international human rights treaties. Some of the treaties are supplemented by Optional Protocols that deal with specific concerns. Each of these treaties has established a committee of experts to monitor the treaty's implementation by its States parties.

When a country ratifies a treaty, it becomes a State party to the convention and therefore has a moral, ethical and legal obligation to follow the principles or rules of the convention.

The citizens of the ratifying state also have a legitimate expectation that government will uphold the principles of the convention and the obligations that the conventions place on it.

Many Pacific Island governments have ratified these conventions, thereby agreeing to abide by the principles of the convention. (To see if your country has ratified a particular convention, click here).

Human rights law in the Pacific

Human rights law in the Pacific Islands countries is found in most of our national constitutions, legislation and common law.

Constitutions are the supreme source of the law in all the independent Pacific Island countries. They outline the fundamental rights and freedoms of its citizens, citizenship, the executive and legislative powers of the state, the judiciary, the public service, state finance and land. Many of our constitutions contain a Bill of Rights, which outline all the fundamental human rights that every person within a country is entitled.

Constitutions provide the foundation for other laws – which are called legislation. Legislation lays down specific processes and procedures in the running of a country.

Common law is a system of law that results from judges' decisions, rather than codified laws or constitutions written by the legislative arm of government.

Common law refers to the law as it has been interpreted and developed by judges who have considered cases, found there was no law to draw on and therefore had to develop the law themselves.

This is a judicial precedent. Common law may at a later stage become legislation, but until it does it exists only in reports of law cases. It is therefore often called case or judge-made law.

SPC’s Regional Rights Resource Team receives core funding from the Australian Government and additional project support from the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Pacific Leadership Programme (PLP), European Union (EU) and the German Development Bank (KfW).