United Nations treaties and conventions factsheet
We, the Scottish Government, update the United Nations on progress towards implementing and observing international human rights standards by including a distinctive Scottish contribution in formal UK reports.
1. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly Resolution 2200 A (XXI) of 16 December 1966. It came into force on 3 January 1976 and was ratified by the UK in the same year.
The Covenant contains some of the most significant international legal provisions establishing economic, social and cultural rights relating to:
- work in just and favourable conditions
- social protection
- an adequate standard of living
- the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health
- enjoyment of the benefits of cultural freedom and scientific progress
United Nations Monitoring Committee: Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
2. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was adopted in 1966 and came into force in 1976. It was ratified by the UK in the same year.
Many of the rights covered by the Covenant are also included in the European Convention on Human Rights. ICCPR obligates countries that have ratified the treaty to protect and preserve basic human rights, such as:
- the right to life and human dignity
- equality before the law
- freedom of speech, assembly and association
- religious freedom and privacy
- freedom from torture, ill-treatment and arbitrary detention
- gender equality
- the right to a fair trial
- minority rights
The UK has signed the second Optional Protocol to ICCPR, aiming at abolition of the death penalty. However it has not signed the first Optional Protocol, which allows individuals who:
- claim that their rights under the Covenant have been violated
- who have taken their case through the UK courts
to write to the Human Rights Committee to ask for their case to be considered.
United Nations Monitoring Committee: Human Rights Committee
Scottish Government position statements: 2015
3. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment was adopted in 1984 and came into force in 1987. It was signed by the UK in 1988.
The Convention sets out a definition of torture and means States must take all necessary legislative, judicial, administrative and other appropriate measures to prevent acts of torture.
Its main features include:
- torture can never be justified, even in exceptional circumstances
- torture must be included as a specific crime in national criminal law
- each State Party must establish universal jurisdiction over any person found in its territory who is alleged to have committed the crime of torture - irrespective of their nationality or where the offence was committed
- systematic review of interrogation rules, instructions, methods and practices, as well as custody procedures
- each State Party to establish prompt and impartial investigations whenever there are reasonable grounds to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction
- victims of torture have the right to complain and to have their case investigated promptly and impartially, as well as to receive redress and compensation
The UK has signed the Optional Protocol to UNCAT ('OPCAT'), which establishes a system of unannounced and unrestricted visits by independent international and national monitoring bodies to all places where persons are deprived of their liberty.
The UK National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) established under OPCAT includes six Scottish bodies: HM Inspector of Prisons, HM Inspector of Constabulary, Care Inspectorate, Mental Welfare Commission, Scottish Human Rights Commission and Independent Custody Visitors Scotland.
United Nations Monitoring Committee: Committee Against Torture
Scottish Government position statements: 2019
4. International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination was adopted in 1966 and entered into force in 1969. It was ratified by the UK in the same year.
The Convention defines racial discrimination and sets out a framework for ensuring that civil, political, economic and social rights are enjoyed by all, without distinction of race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin.
United Nations Monitoring Committee: Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
Scottish Government position statements:
5. Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women
The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was adopted in 1979 and came into force in 1981. It was ratified by the UK in 1986.
The Convention focuses on equality between women and men in all areas of life. Discrimination against women is defined as any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.
The UK has signed CEDAW's Optional Protocol, which gives individuals and groups of women the right to complain to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women about violations of the Convention. It also allows the Committee to investigate potentially serious abuses of women's human rights.
United Nations Monitoring Committee: Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
Scottish Government position statements: 2018
6. Convention on the Rights of the Child
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted in 1989 and came into force in 1990. It was ratified by the UK in 1991.
The Convention grants all children and young people (aged 17 and under) a comprehensive set of rights.
It is the only international human rights treaty to include civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. It sets out in detail what every child needs to have a safe, happy and fulfilled childhood, regardless of their sex, religion, social origin, and where and to whom they were born, including the rights to:
- special protection measures and assistance
- access to services such as education and health care
- develop their personalities, abilities and talents to the fullest potential
- grow up in an environment of happiness, love and understanding
- be informed about and participate in achieving their rights in an accessible and active manner
The UK has signed two Optional Protocols to CRC: On the involvement of children in armed conflict, and On the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
However, the UK has not signed the third Optional Protocol, which allows children to bring complaints directly to the Committee on the Rights of the Child so that the Committee can investigate and direct governments to take action.
United Nations Monitoring Committee: Committee on the Rights of the Child
7. International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was the first human rights treaty of the 21st century. Adopted in 2006, it came into force in 2008 and was ratified by the UK in 2009.
The Convention asserts that disabled people should be able to enjoy their human rights on an equal basis with non-disabled people.
It recognises that disabled people continue, in practice, to face a wide range of barriers, and sets out the measures governments are expected to take to remove them and to ensure that the rights of disabled people are respected. The Convention covers rights in areas such as: health, education, employment, access to justice, personal security, independent living and access to information.
The UK has ratified the Optional Protocol to CRPD, which allows people to bring a petition to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities if they:
- believe their Convention rights have been breached
- have exhausted means of redress via the UK or European Courts
This step also gives the Committee authority to undertake enquiries, when reliable information is received, into allegations of grave or systematic violations of Convention rights. Such an inquiry was conducted in response to a formal request from disabled people’s organisations concerning the cumulative impact of legislation, policies and measures adopted by the UK Government on social security schemes and on work and employment since 2010. The UN Committee issued its report in 2016and the UK published a formal response.
United Nations Monitoring Committee: Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
UN Committee recommendations/concluding observations: 2016
8. Universal Periodic Review
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process that involves a review of the human rights records of all United Nations member states.
The UPR is a state-driven process, co-ordinated by the UN Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each state to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations.
We update the UN on progress towards implementing and observing international human rights standards by including a distinctive Scottish contribution in formal UK reports to the Human Rights Council.
Relevant United Nations body: Human Rights Council
Scottish Government response to recommendations: 2017
Scottish Government mid-term reports: 2014 (NOTE: submitted to UK Government prior to Scotland's independence referendum - references to proposals for an independent Scotland should be read accordingly).
Telephone: 0300 244 4000
Equality, Human Rights and Third Sector
Directorate for Local Government and Communities
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