MHCC Mental Health Rights Manual

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Part 2 Section D: International laws and guidelines

International law is the law that governs the relationships between different countries.

International treaties (sometimes called 'conventions' or 'covenants') are part of international law. Treaties are agreements between many different countries setting out general principles about a particular subject such as human rights. There are a number of international treaties about human rights. For more about some of the main human rights treaties that are particularly relevant to people with mental illness, click here.

Most, but not all, of these are treaties developed by the United Nations. International treaties apply to all of the countries that have 'ratified' them ('ratified' means formally agreed to be bound by).

International declarations are statements of principles or standards in international law that have no legal effect. There are several international declarations about human rights and standards of care that are relevant to people with mental illness. For more about these declarations, click here . There are also a range of international documents that set out standards and principles relevant to people with mental illness.

Human rights treaties sometimes have 'optional protocols' linked to them that either deal in more detail with a specific issue covered in the treaty, or with monitoring of the treaty, and/or with how individuals can complain if they believe their rights set out in the treaty have been breached.

After the government of a country has signed a treaty, it also has to be ratified by the government of the country to give it full force. In Australia, it is the Commonwealth Government that decides whether or not to ratify a treaty. There is a Joint Standing Committee on Treaties of the Commonwealth Parliament that advises the Commonwealth Government on whether a treaty should be ratified or not.

Even if a treaty is ratified, there is often little an individual can do to enforce the terms of a treaty if the terms of the treaty, such as particular individual human rights, are not then included in the laws made by parliaments in Australia. However, some treaties have complaints mechanisms that individuals can use, after they have tried legal options available under their country's laws.

As well as the range of international documents that may be relevant to the rights and needs of people with mental illness, there is also a couple of bodies and people who have particular responsibilities:

  • The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Disability is appointed because of his or her specialist expertise in disability. The Rapporteur reports to the United Nations on key issues affecting people with disability.
  • The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is the international committee of experts appointed under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to receive complaints from individuals about breaches of their rights and reports from countries about their work to implement and uphold this treaty.

2D.1: Key international declarations

Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was first adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. (The General Assembly is like the parliament of the United Nations). It was the first comprehensive international statement of human rights principles. It has 30 articles.

The contents of the articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been elaborated and expanded in later treaties and protocols on human rights.

Following is a summary of the rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

  • Article 1 Right to equality
  • Article 2 Freedom from discrimination
  • Article 3 Right to life, liberty, personal security
  • Article 4 Freedom from slavery
  • Article 5 Freedom from torture and degrading treatment
  • Article 6 Right to recognition as a person before the law
  • Article 7 Right to equality before the Law
  • Article 8 Right to remedy by competent tribunal
  • Article 9 Freedom from arbitrary arrest and exile
  • Article 10 Right to fair public hearing
  • Article 11 Right to be considered innocent until proven guilty
  • Article 12 Freedom from interference with privacy, family, home and correspondence
  • Article 13 Right to free movement in and out of the country
  • Article 14 Right to asylum in other countries from persecution
  • Article 15 Right to a nationality and the freedom to change it
  • Article 16 Right to marriage and family
  • Article 17 Right to own property
  • Article 18 Freedom of belief and religion
  • Article 19 Freedom of opinion and information
  • Article 20 Right of peaceful assembly and association
  • Article 21 Right to participate in government and in free elections
  • Article 22 Right to social security
  • Article 23 Right to desirable work and to join trade unions
  • Article 24 Right to rest and leisure
  • Article 25 Right to adequate living standard
  • Article 26 Right to education
  • Article 27 Right to participate in the cultural life of community
  • Article 28 Right to a social order that articulates this document
  • Article 29 Community duties essential to free and full development
  • Article 30 Freedom from state or personal interference in the above rights

Click here for the full version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

2D.2: International human rights treaties

There are a number of international human rights treaties.

Two of these treaties set out in detail the human rights that are to be protected, promoted and fulfilled for everyone. These are the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

There are also a number of specialist human rights treaties that consider the particular aspects of human rights that affect particular population groups. The following are the key specialist human rights treaties:

The next page has more information about the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

For more about international human rights law and other human rights treaties, click here.

2D.2.1: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Second Optional Protocol and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) are the two main international treaties that expand on the principles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and set them out in far greater detail in a legally binding agreement between countries. Both are treaties developed by the United Nations.

The Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR enables individuals to make a complaint to a United Nations committee if they believe one or more of their rights set out in the ICCPR have been breached.

Australia has ratified (accepted obligations as a country under) both treaties and the optional protocol. Australia has not, with minor exceptions, incorporated the rights contained in the ICCPR and the ICESCR into domestic law (that is, laws made by the parliaments of the Commonwealth, states or territories).

Article 12 of the ICESCR recognises the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

2D.2.2 : Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Optional Protocol

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was developed by the United Nations. Australia ratified this treaty in 2008 and has also ratified the optional protocol. The purpose of the CRPD is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all people with disability, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.

The Optional Protocol to the CRPD allows an individual to make a complaint to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities if they believe one or more of their rights set out in the CRPD have been breached.

2D.2.3: Convention on the Rights of the Child

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CROC) is a United Nations treaty. It recognises the rights of children and that children need special care and protection.

Australia ratified the CROC in 1990.

2D.3: International standards and guidelines

International standards and guidelines are all general statements of principle standards meant to guide governments and service providers. They are not binding or enforceable in any way if they are not followed.

The following international documents set out a range of standards and guidelines that are particularly relevant to people with mental illness.

 

Disclaimer

  • The legal and other information contained in this Section is up to date to 13 September 2010
  • This Manual only refers to the law and practices applying to the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW).
  • MHCC does not guarantee the accuracy nor is responsible for the content or the currency of the content of external documents and websites linked to this Manual.