University of Minnesota

David Weissbrodt, Joan Fitzpatrick, and Frank Newman
, International Human Rights—Law, Policy, and Process (3d ed. 2001).

Supplement to Chapter 5: State Reporting under International Human Rights Treaties (November 2003)

Section C.1. The Civil and Political Covenant’s Human Rights Committee 

There was an election in 2002 for nine members of the Civil and Political Covenant’s Human Rights Committee. The Committee now consists of members from the following countries: 

Members serving until December 31, 2004:









United Kingdom


Members serving until December 31, 2006:









United States


Section C.2.d. Emergency Reports: Arbitrary Detention in the U.S. and Derogation without Notification 

            In its ongoing “war on terrorism” the United States government has declared that it has the right to declare any individual an “enemy combatant” and to detain that individual indefinitely without access to legal counsel.[1]  Article 4(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights requires “any State Party . . . availing itself of the right of derogation immediately [to] inform the other State Parties of the provisions from which it has derogated and of the reasons by which it was actuated.  A further communication shall be made, through the same intermediary, on the date on which it terminates such derogation.”  The United States has not presented any such notification. 

The Human Rights Committee General Comment No. 29 on States of Emergency addresses the issue of derogation in detail. [2]  The full text is available at (last visited November 16, 2003).

In its “war against terror” the United States detained at least a thousand persons suspected of allegiance to the al-Queda organization that took responsibility for the attacks of September 11, 2001, on New York and Washington, D.C.  The U.S. has also detained individuals who were associated with the Taliban army and al-Queda forces captured during the international armed conflict that occurred when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan. Once the U.S. and Northern Alliance forces prevailed and established a new government, the U.S. continued to assist the new government in combating and detaining former Taliban and al-Queda forces in the context of an internal armed conflict. U.S. and other countries have detained others suspected of terrorist activities.  The U.S. has held over 600 persons in a detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and has labeled them “enemy combatants” even though no such category exists in the Geneva Conventions on the protection of victims of armed conflict. [3]  Article 5 of the Geneva Conventions states that the detaining power should convene a competent tribunal to determine whether they qualify as prisoners of war and must treat them as POWs until otherwise authoritatively determined, [4]  Nonetheless, the U.S. military has refused to convene such a tribunal. The Bush Administration may be reluctant to recognize the detainees as prisoners of war, because POWs must be released once hostilities are concluded. There is some question, however, as to when the “war against terror” may conclude. Further, the U.S. has indicated that it is preparing to try some of the detainees in a military tribunal not affording the procedural projections required by the Geneva Conventions or courts-martial in the United States. [5]   

U.S. courts have thus far refused to recognize the ability to exercise jurisdiction over individuals held by the U.S. government in Guantánamo, as well as in Bagram and Kandihar Air Force bases in Afghanistan. In a case brought by a coalition of clergy and lawyers requesting access and knowledge of the charges against the detainees, a U.S District Court ruled that Guantánamo Bay is foreign territory over which U.S. courts can have no jurisdiction. The appeals court overturned that decision, stating that since the plaintiffs had no standing, the court did not have authority to decide whether it had jurisdiction over Guantánamo Bay. [6]   

Representatives of Guantánamo bay detainees also sought relief from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.  In March 2003 the Commission requested precautionary measures from the U.S., asking that the legal status of the Guantánamo bay detainees be established as soon as possible by a competent tribunal and that they should be treated as prisoners of war until determinations are made by a competent tribunal pursuant to Article 5 of the Geneva Conventions.  The request, available at (last visited November 16, 2003), notes that 

“Where persons find themselves within the authority and control of a state and where a circumstance of armed conflict may be involved, their fundamental rights may be determined in part by reference to international humanitarian law as well as international human rights law.  Where it may be considered that the protections of international humanitarian law do not apply, however, such persons remain the beneficiaries at least of the non-derogable protections under international human rights law.  In short, no person under the authority and control of a state, regardless of his or her circumstances, is devoid of legal protection for his or her fundamental and non-derogable human rights.” 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has also issued a report on terrorism and human rights that establishes the human rights and humanitarian law responsibilities of states conducting a “war on terrorism.” Available at (last visited June 4, 2003). The Commission’s report focused particularly on  

-         Rights to due process and a fair trial, including the right to be presumed innocent, and the right to a hearing within a reasonable time by a competent and impartial tribunal;

- Right to Judicial protection. 

Section C.5. The Prospects for Creating Reporting Mechanisms for Established Treaties: The Refugee Convention 

The Refugee Convention, unlike other international human rights conventions, does not have a free-standing mechanism to determine accountability for failures to comply with the obligations it imposes. Accordingly, the International Council of Voluntary Agencies and the University of Michigan’s Program in Refugee and Asylum Law have established a collaborative project to examine whether and how the Refugee Convention should have a reporting system. See James Hathaway, Who should watch over refugee law?, Forced Migration Review, July 2002, at 23; available at (last visited November 16, 2003). The project has created the following working papers that review the record of such mechanisms for other conventions and make recommendations for a treaty monitoring system for the Refugee C 

Archana Pyati, Working Paper No. 1: Reporting (December 2001). Available at (last visited March 31, 2003). It emphasizes the value of carefully targeted, thematic reporting, rather than routine, generic reports. It also suggests review processes. 

Vanessa Bedford, Working Paper No. 2: Complaints (December 2001). Available at (last visited March 31, 2003). Bedford recommends a group-based petition complaint system based on the ILO and the European Social Charter. The system would allow selective complaints by those representing significant numbers of comparably situated persons with the aim of aiding interpretation of the convention rather than the aim of doing justice in individual cases.

Elizabeth Marsh, Working Paper No. 3: General Comments (December 2001). Available at (last visited March 31, 2003). Marsh reviews the practice of General Comments by treaty bodies and recommends a staged process for developing General Comments by a body overseeing the Refugee Convention.

Barbara Miltner, Working Paper No. 4: Investigative Capacity (December 2001).  Available at (last visited March 31, 2003). Miltner recommends that a supervisory body for the Refugee Convention have an investigative capacity. 

Jennifer G. Pasinosky, Working Paper No. 5: NGO/National Linkages (December 2001).  Available at (last visited March 31, 2003). Pasinosky reviews other treaty bodies’ work with national and international NGOs and their links with national courts and agencies. 

Aiman Mackie, Working Paper No. 6: UN Linkages (December 2001). Available at (last visited March 31, 2003). Mackie emphasizes the need to cooperate with other treaty bodies so as to avoid overlap and fill gaps in the existing human rights system. 

Tracey Glover & Simon Russell, Working Paper No. 7:  Coordination with UNHCR and States (December 2001).  Available at (last visited March 31, 2003). Glover and Russell differentiate the work of the UNHCR from the proposed supervisory body for the Refugee Convention.

Section D.2. The Situation in Iran

There have been several recent NGO reports that shed light on current human rights conditions within Iran. 

HRW World Report 2003 Report:  Iran (last visited October 20, 2003) 

 “Human rights progress in Iran was caught in a continuing political power struggle between popularly elected reformers, who controlled both the presidency and Parliament, and clerical conservatives, who exercised authority through the office of the Leader (held by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei), the Council of Guardians, the judiciary, and the armed forces. Despite landslide electoral victories in every major election from 1997 to 2002, the reformers were unable to dislodge repressive policies favored by the clerical leadership, including far-reaching restrictions on freedom of expression, association, and political participation.”  

Amnesty International Reports

Amnesty International (USA) and Amnesty International maintain webpages devoted to human rights in Iran.  They include links to Amnesty International’s Annual Reports on human rights for 2003 and many past years.  Find updates at: (last visited October 20, 2003) 

U.S. State Department:  Country Reports on Human Rights Practices  

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, March 31, 2003.  The United States does not have an embassy in Iran.  This report draws heavily on non-U.S. Government sources. (last visited October 20, 2003) 

Female Iranian Lawyer Wins 2003 Noble Prize for Peace 

 The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize to Shirin Ebadi, a female lawyer who has worked fought for human rights causes—including women's rights—in Iran. She is the first woman from a Muslim country who has received this award. 

Shirin Ebadi's Biography on the Nobel Foundation Website: (last visited November 10, 2003)

3. The mandate of the Special Representative to Iran was terminated by the 2002 Commission on Human Rights. [7]  

Section G. Further Materials on Cultural Relativism 

The Development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [8]  

In June 1946, the UN Commission on Human Rights (“the Commission”) was established.  Chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt of the USA, it recommended that the first project of the Commission should be the writing of an international bill of rights.  Its permanent members were the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America). An additional thirteen members were selected for three-year terms (Australia, Belgium, Byelorussia, Chile, Egypt, India, Iran, Lebanon, Panama, Philippines, Ukraine, Uruguay, and Yugoslavia). [9]

In January1947, the Commission held its first meeting and appointed a Drafting Committee to prepare a draft of the international bill of rights. [10]  The Drafting Committee was chaired by Mrs. Roosevelt, who was representing the United States. Its other members were from Australia, Chile, China, France, Lebanon, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom. [11]

The Drafting Committee was assisted by John Humphrey, a Canadian international lawyer. His staff studied all of the world’s existing constitutions and rights instruments as well as suggestions from all over the world and tried to construct a set of common core concepts.  Humphrey was particularly impressed by the draft of a Pan American declaration of human rights then under consideration and by the 1944 Statement of Essential Human Rights produced by the American Law Institute (ALI). The ALI’s Statement was based, in part, on consultations with experts from Arabic, British, Canadian, Chinese, French, pre-Nazi German, Italian, Indian, Latin American, Polish, Soviet Russian, and Spanish countries and cultures. [12]  Humphrey’s initial draft contained extensive annotations to existing rights instruments. [13]  

Also assisting Humphrey’s work was a Committee on the Theoretical Bases of Human Rights that had been appointed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It distributed a questionnaire to diplomats and scholars around the world and received 70 responses from U.S., European, and Socialist points of view as well as from Chinese, Indian, and Islamic sources. [14]  Bengali Muslim poet and philosopher Humayin Kabir stated: 

“Early Islam had ‘succeeded in overcoming distinction of race and color to an extent experienced neither before nor since.’ In the world today . . . ‘[t]he first and most significant consideration in the framing of any charter of human rights  . . . . is that it must be on a global scale . . . . Days of closed systems of divergent civilizations and, therefore, of divergent conceptions of human rights are gone for good.’” [15]   

The main features of the Declaration were in place by the end of June 1947 and in June 1948, the Commission gave its final approval to the draft of the Declaration, 12-0, for consideration by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). [16]  In August 1948, ECOSOC was unable to approve the draft of the Declaration. Instead, it unanimously voted to forward the draft to the General Assembly’s Third Committee, which had delegates from every UN member state. After much debate, on December 7, 1948, the Third Committee unanimously approved the draft for submission to the General Assembly with seven abstentions (Byelorussia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Ukraine, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia). One of the main points of debate was the Soviet Union’s complaint that the draft lacked sufficient regard for national sovereignty. Another issue was whether specific parts (marriage and religious freedom) were based largely on Western concepts at variance with cultures in other parts of the world. Saudi Arabia was a major advocate for the position that the Declaration had a Western bias, particularly because Article 18 recognizes the right to religion that Saudi Arabia opposed as not permissible under Islam. [17]  In response, Chang (China) and Santa Cruz (Chile) argued that everyone had to see things from each other’s standpoint and that the document was meant for all people; this position received some support from delegates of nations with large Islamic populations. [18]  

On December 9, 1948, the General Assembly unanimously approved 23 of the 30 articles of the Declaration. There were negative votes on the nondiscrimination article (one vote), the article on the family (six votes), and the article on freedom of expression and opinion (seven votes) as well as some abstentions on articles 1 and 2. The Declaration as a whole was then adopted, 48 in favor, 0 against, with 8 abstentions (Byelorussia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the Soviet Union, the Ukraine, and Yugoslavia). [19]   

During the General Assembly debate, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan (then the UN member with the largest Muslim population) and head of its UN delegation, Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, stated that the article on religious freedom  

‘involved the honor of Islam.’ He cited a passage from the Koran for the proposition that faith could not have an obligatory character: ‘Let him who chooses to believe, believe, and him who chooses to disbelieve, disbelieve …’ Islam was a proselytizing religion that strove to persuade others to change their faith and to alter their way of living . . . . The freedom to change beliefs . . . was consistent with the Islamic religion.” [20]  

The Declaration was also defended by the Syrian representative as “the achievement of generations of human beings.” [21]  

Statement by the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, H.E. Mohammad Khatami, at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York City, November 13, 2001. [22]  

Two months after the attacks of September 11, 2001, President Khatami, an Islamic cleric, participated in a conversation at New York’s Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine, an event significant in itself.  After criticizing “terrorists who concoct weapons out of religion” President Khatami said:

“The eruption of two catastrophic world wars has amply demonstrated that purely materialistic concerns cannot suffice in laying the foundation for human rights. The discourse of human rights is apparently a secular discourse with no eventual connection with a religious outlook.  However, for those familiar with the deeper layers of religious reason and understanding, it is clear that the concept of human rights is both ontologically and historically rooted in religious thoughts.  We should free human rights from the bounds of diplomatic negotiations and regard it as a discourse for defending human life, dignity, and culture.  In doing so we ought to realize its deep religious aspect.  Christian, Jewish, Muslim, as well as thinkers from other divine traditions, can collaborate on this important issue.”

Other materials regarding Islam and Human Rights: 

The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam
available at (last visited November 17, 2003)

The Arab Charter on Human Rights
available at (last visited November 17, 2003)

These materials are also relevant to the issue of cultural relativism covered in chapter 15 of the coursebook.

[1] Statement of Barbara Comstock, Director of Public Affairs, Department of Justice, on the José Padilla Decision: December 4, 2002: “[The President] has both constitutional and statutory authority to exercise the powers of Commander in Chief, including the power to detain unlawful combatants, and it matters not that Padilla is a United States citizen captured on United States soil.” Available at (last visited April 4, 2003).

[2] General Comment No. 29 States of Emergency (Article 4), U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.11 (2001).

[3]  The U.S., instead, relies upon a U.S. Supreme Court case, Johnson v. Eisentrager that was decided before the adoption of the Geneva Conventions and before the acceptance of many important due process protections in U.S. courts (Johnson v. Eisentrager, 339 U.S. 763 (1950)).

[4] “Should any doubt arise as to whether persons, having committed a belligerent act and having fallen into the hands of the enemy, belong to any of the categories enumerated in Article 4, such persons shall enjoy the protection of the present Convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal.” Article 5, Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, 75 U.N.T.S. 135, entered into force Oct. 21, 1950.

[5] Article 118, Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.

[6] See Coalition of Clergy v. Bush, 310 F.3d 1153 (9th Cir. 2002), cert. denied, 71 U.S.L.W. 3721 (2003).

[7] Statement by Mr. Maurice Copithorne, Special Representative of the Commission on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, 03/04/2002, available at (last visited November 17, 2003).

[8]  This section is based on Mary Ann Glendon, A World Made New—Eleanor Roosevelt And The Universal Declaration Of Human Rights by (2001). 

[9] Glendon at 32.

[10] Id.

[11] Glendon at 45.

[12] Glendon at 56.

[13] Glendon at 58.

[14] Glendon at 73.

[15] Glendon at 74.

[16] Glendon at 99.

[17] Glendon at 141.

[18] Glendon at 142.

[19] Glendon at 163.

[20] Glendon at 168.

[21] Id.

[22]  The full text of President Khatami’s statement at an Interfaith Conversation, “Dialogue Among Civilizations,” Press Release, November 12, 2002, is available at (last visited April 19, 2003).


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