This chapter examines the international legal context of human rights. It first considers the historical evolution of international human rights law, with particular emphasis on the reincarnation of philosophical ideals as international laws (treaties), before discussing the principal sources of international human rights law such as customary international law and ‘soft’ law. It then describes the various forms of expressing human rights, along with the core international human rights instruments. It also explores the mechanisms for monitoring and enforcing human rights, including the United Nations system, regional human rights systems, and national human rights systems. Finally, it explains the process followed for a state wishing to be bound to the provisions of a treaty and the benefits of listing human rights in treaties.
Rhona K. M. Smith
This chapter examines the sources of international law. International legal rules are not as easily located as their domestic law counterparts. Whereas at the domestic level, only a relatively small number of bodies are endowed with law-making powers, at the international level, all states have law-making capacity. Moreover, state acts are not the only source of international legal rules. The result is a mosaic of law-making processes, forums, and regimes. The chapter focuses on the two most significant sources of international law: treaties and customary international law. It then turns to the relationship between international law-making and the principle of state sovereignty. Finally, the chapter considers the body of non-binding norms, which increasingly permeates and regulates all facets of international life. This so-called soft law takes many forms; it is often highly influential in its own right and may harden into binding law over time.