The United Nations and Human Rights: A Critical Appraisal (2nd edition)

ISBN : 9780198298380

Frederic Megret; Philip Alston
784 Pages
171 x 171 mm
Pub date
Mar 2020


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  • The only up to date and systematic study of the United Nation's human rights activity
  • Most of the contributors have been key participants in the United Nations Human Rights regime and all are ideally placed to critically evaluate its achievements and shortcomings
  • The analysis is highly topical, particularly in view of the last decade of UN reform, including the Human Rights Council, the Committee on Disappearances, and the Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers
  • Offers historical depth and contextualization of the evolution of the UN

The very concept of human rights implies governmental accountability. To ensure that governments are indeed held accountable for their treatment of citizens and others the United Nations has established a wide range of mechanisms to monitor compliance, and to seek to prevent as well as respond to violations.
The panoply of implementation measures that the UN has taken since 1945 has resulted in a diverse and complex set of institutional arrangements, the effectiveness of which varies widely. Indeed, there is much doubt as to the effectiveness of much of the UN's human rights efforts but also about what direction it should take. Inevitable instances of politicization and the hostile, or at best ambivalent, attitude of most governments, has at times endangered the fragile progress made on the more technical fronts. At the same time, technical efforts cannot dispense with the complex politics of actualizing the promise of human rights at and through the UN. In addition to significant actual and potential problems of duplication, overlapping and inconsistent approaches, there are major problems of under-funding and insufficient expertise. The complexity of these arrangements and the difficulty in evaluating their impact makes a comprehensive guide of the type provided here all the more indispensable.
These essays critically examine the functions, procedures, and performance of each of the major UN organs dealing with human rights, including the Security Council and the International Court of Justice as well as the more specialized bodies monitoring the implementation of human rights treaties. Significant attention is devoted to the considerable efforts at reforming the UN's human rights machinery, as illustrated most notably by the creation of the Human Rights Council to replace the Commission on Human Rights. The book also looks at the relationship between the various bodies and the potential for major reforms and restructuring.


Appraising the UN Human Rights Regime, Philip Alston & Frédéric Mégret

Part I: The Human Rights Mandate of the Principal Organs
1: The Security Council, Frédéric Mégret
2: The General Assembly, Andrew Clapham
3: The Economic and Social Council, Frédéric Mégret
4: The International Court of Justice, Bruno Simma

Part II: Subsidiary Human Rights Organs
5: The Council and Commission on Human Rights, Rosa Freedman
6: The Consultative Committee, Laurence Boisson de Chazournes & Andrzej Gadkowski
7: The Commission on the Status of Women, Zehra Arat
8: Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues: Madeleine Heyward

Part III: Organs Monitoring Treaty Compliance
9: The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Patrick Thornberry
10: The Human Rights Committee, Ludovic Hennebel
11: The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, Andrew Byrnes
12: The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Philip Alston.
13: The Committee against Torture, Andrew Byrnes.
14: The Committee on the Rights of the Child, Christine Evans
15: The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Janet Lord & Michael Stei.
16: The Committee on Enforced Disappearances, Olivier de Frouville
17: The Committee on the Human Rights of Migrant Workers, Vincent Chetail
18: Coordination between Treaty Bodies, Suzanne Egan

Part IV The Governance of Human Rights
19: The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Andrew Clapham.
20: Human Rights Co-ordination within the UN System, Georges Minet

About the author: 

Edited by Frédéric Mégret, Full-Professor and Dawson Fellow, Faculty of Law, McGill University, and Philip Alston, John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law, NYU School of Law
Frédéric Mégret is a Full-Professor and Dawson Fellow at the Faculty of Law of McGill University. He holds a Phd in international law from the Université Panthéon-Sorbonne and the Graduate Institute of International Studies of the University of Geneva. He is a graduate of Sciences Po Paris and the author of many articles on international human rights law, public international law, international criminal law and the laws of war.
Philip Alston is an international lawyer whose teaching focuses primarily on human rights law and the law of international organizations. He directs the recently-established NYU Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, part of the Institute for International Law and Justice. He is currently John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law, NYU School of Law.

  • Zehra Arat, Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Connecticut
  • Laurence Boisson de Chazournes, Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Geneva
  • Andrew Byrnes, Professor, University of New South Wales
  • Vincent Chetail, Director of the Global Migration Centre and Professor of International Law at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies
  • Andrew Clapham, Professor of Public International Law, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva
  • Suzanne Egan, Associate Professor, Sutherland School of Law and Director of the Centre for Human Rights, University College Dublin
  • Christine Evans, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
  • Rosa Freedman, Professor of Law Conflict and Global Development, University of Reading
  • Olivier de Frouville, Professor of Public Law, University of Panthéon-Assas (Paris II) and Director, Paris Center for Human Rights (C.R.D.H.)
  • Andrzej Gadkowski, Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Geneva and Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan
  • Ludovic Hennebel, Professor, Faculty of Law, Aix en Provence University
  • Madeleine Heyward, Health Adviser, Permanent Mission of Australia to the United Nations Office and other International Organizations in Geneva
  • Janet Lord, Senior Researcher, Harvard Law School Project on Disability, USA
  • Georges Minet, independent researcher, formerly of the United Nations
  • Bruno Simma, Professor, University of Michigan Law School
  • Michael Ashley Stein, Executive Director, Harvard Law School Project on Disability, Visiting Professor, Harvard Law School, and Extraordinary Professor, University of Pretoria Faculty of Law Centre for Human Rights
  • ​Patrick Thornberry, Emeritus Professor of International Law, Politics, Philosophy, International Relations & Environment Department, University of Keele

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