Human rights, democracy and rule of law: Different organisations, different conceptions?

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Häusler, Katharina
Kállai, Péter
Körtvélyesi, Zsolt
Majtényi, Balázs
Sosa, Lorena
Timmer, Alexandra
Killander, Magnus
Ho Tu Nam, Nora
Okeowo, Adebayo
Gunn, Jeremy
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This report presents an exploration of different conceptualisations of human rights, democracy and the rule of law within international organisations. The report focuses on the United Nations, the African Union, the League of Arab States and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. The eventual aim of Work Package 3, of which this report forms part, is to provide the EU with conceptualizations of human rights, democracy and the rule of law that take into consideration the diverse conceptions found in third countries and in other international organisations. The organisations’ original purpose, moment of creation, and structure inevitably influence the development of their human rights, democracy and rule of law conceptions, and their practical engagement with these concepts. For this reason, the attention devoted by each organisation, and also, by specific bodies within them, to one or other conceptual element varies significantly. The report starts with a detailed description of the methodology used (Chapter II). It clarifies the terminology used, and the methods of data collection and analysis. It also introduces the reader to a basic theoretical discussion of the main aspects pertaining to the conceptualisation of human rights: universality and indivisibility of human rights, and equality. Chapter III is dedicated to the comparative analysis of the conceptions of human rights, democracy and rule of law at the level of the United Nations. Although there are several bodies within the UN dedicated to the elaboration, promotion and protection of human rights, democracy and rule of law, this report focuses on the resolutions adopted by the General Assembly and its third committee, the work of the Security Council, with particular focus on thematic resolutions on the protection of civilian population. The conceptions of human rights, democracy and the rule of law adopted at the Human Rights Council, are also explored, with particular attention to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Finally, the work of Special Rapporteurs is explored as well. The combination of mechanisms, a political one (UPR) and an expert-based one (Special Rapporteurs) has allowed for a more comprehensive review of the conceptions held at the UN. Chapter IV explores conceptualisations of human rights, democracy and rule of law within human rights dedicated bodies of the African Union. This chapter largely focuses on conceptualisations emerging from the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. The contestations surrounding conceptualisations are effectively illustrated in relation to two cases studies: one focusing on accountability for mass atrocities, and one focusing on LGBT(I) rights. Both case studies indicate that the notions of universality of human rights, although formally recognised by the AU, in reality are deeply contested. The case on LGBT(I) rights shows the challenges to the notion of equality, and also, to the notion of indivisibility of human rights. In addition, different conceptualisations exist among the institutions of the organisation. The African Commission often takes a more progressive, universalist approach to issues than what is reflected in statements adopted by the AU political bodies. ii Chapter V explores conceptualisations of human rights, democracy and rule of law within the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the League of Arab States. Both these organisations are first placed in their historical and institutional context. Their similarities are also discussed, namely that they have overlapping memberships; most of their Member States share a legacy of having been under colonial rule; by their own definitions these organisations are ‘identity’ based intergovernmental organisations rather than universal, regional, or ‘interest-based’ organisations; and they have experienced conflicts between two or more of their Member States. In terms of conceptions, the chapter shows that the League of Arab States has recently embraced a more universalist approach to human rights. As regards the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the chapter discusses how the focus on Islam has consequences in terms of conceptualisation of human rights, particularly in relation to fundamental freedoms, equality and the protection of minorities. The report concludes with a summary of the main findings per institution and some reflections on the conceptual analysis.