The establishment of justice worldwide is one of the most complex problems that has been challenging civilizations throughout history. Our society has moved fairly far in enhancing the power of its justice institutions; indeed, within the past several decades, governments have developed a wide scope of effective mechanisms aimed at ensuring justice at both regional and international levels. In this paper, a brief analysis of the general framework of regional and international justice systems will be presented, including a discussion of their strengths and weaknesses. In this context, the analysis will focus on the most salient examples, either of effective justice practices that can be adopted by world governments or ineffective justice practices that feature a critical flaw that needs to be eliminated.
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Human Rights: Definition, Types, and General Framework
Examining justice mechanisms at both regional and international levels is useless unless one has developed a clear understanding of the object of these protective mechanisms. Otherwise stated, it is necessary to first have a complex idea of the essentials of human rights. When people normally think about human rights, they are referring to those activities and freedoms that every person should be able to enjoy. From this perspective, human beings are entitled to a wide range of rights, from civil to cultural. None of these rights can be taken away since they are naturally inherent. As such, the question arises regarding the bodies or institutions that have enough power to guarantee the protection of human rights.
It is rational to assume that the primary and, in fact, the only guarantors of human rights are governments. However, it seems that this protective relationship implies a crucial paradox—as long as governments are empowered to protect human rights, they are likewise free to violate them. Therefore, there appears to be a need for another regulatory body that can protect people from their own governments. In fact, this is the point at which international justice is expected to exercise its power. As such, international laws aim to provide a consistent legislative basis for governing the relations between governments and individuals, ensuring that the former does not violate the rights of the latter. These relations are commonly regulated by human rights treaties that the governments themselves ratify. The treaties allow regional and international bodies to monitor the government’s compliance with the established norms and standards. However, the major problem is that the ratification of such treaties is voluntary. Otherwise stated, there is no such body or institution that could enforce a government to protect human rights properly. Consequently, because it can be assumed that the governments that violate human rights are not likely to ratify these treaties in the first place, the international community has no regulatory tools to enforce its will. This is exactly why the discussion about regional and international justice seems to be so important—there are still critical gaps in the functioning of this system.
Now that the main barrier to the provision of justice has been identified, it is useful to examine the general framework of the current human rights establishment. In other words, it is important to understand what the body has been empowered to define the set of rights that humans are entitled to enjoy. At this point, the major role and responsibility for establishing a framework for international human rights have been granted to the United Nations (UN). In fact, along with the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Council of Europe (COE), the UN was the first institution involved in the resolution of this problem. The question consequently arises regarding how far this organization has managed to progress in its mission to protect human rights.
It should be admitted that progress is notable both at regional and international levels. In particular, success is evidenced by the establishment of new UN treaty bodies, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Another piece of evidence is the drafting of new agreements, declarations, and binding treaties. All of the pieces of legislation have become more narrow in focus to increase its legislative power. As such, we might conclude that society worldwide has moved fairly far injustice promotion, though there are still many areas that need to be improved, some of which will be further examined in this paper.
International Justice Mechanisms
The establishment of international and regional justice systems: A historical perspective
Another curious point that should be discussed in this framework is the triggers that encourage the enhancement of the international justice system. As viewed from a historical perspective, the international justice system has always moved to new levels due to critical changes in the world order and the emerging challenges they implied. For instance, the establishment of the UN was, first and foremost, driven by the consequences of the recently ended World War II. There is no need to explain why the world community was particularly concerned about the protection of human rights at that point in history. Another vivid example is the establishment of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which was closely related to the decline of the Soviet Union and the resulting instability throughout European countries. The vulnerability of the Asian region, in its turn, has encouraged the establishment of such justice bodies as ASEAN and the League of Arab States. In other words, a consistent pattern is evident—the international justice system enhances its power in response to emerging challenges.
On the one hand, such a strategy is fairly rational: the world community exhibits a perfect skill of assessing the crisis and implementing the relevant measures in response. However, upon considering the situation from a different perspective, an opposite conclusion can be reached. Indeed, this consistent pattern can be likewise interpreted as the inability of the world community to foresee potential risks and act proactively to prevent negative outcomes. In order to understand what can be done or what should be revised, it is essential to have a more detailed understanding of the existing international justice bodies, especially because the term “world community” is evidently too vague to allow for valuable insights.
International justice bodies and their functions
Today, the network of international justice bodies is so complex that a consistent framework needs to be developed to apply to its analysis. In order to review this question in a brief and concise manner, the justice bodies will be grouped and discussed according to their regional identities. Hence, the bodies can be roughly classified into those related to the UN, Africa, Europe, America, the Middle East (united with North Africa), and Asia.
It is clear that the only international justice body that is empowered to ensure the protection of human rights around the world is the UN. Moreover, by taking a closer look at these regions and their associated justice bodies, it will become clear that the UN features the most consistent and developed international justice system. Generally speaking, the UN offers four principle mechanisms to ensure and enforce justice: Human Rights Councils, treaty bodies, independent experts, and Universal Periodic Review. Each of these mechanisms has a complex structure that will not be elucidated in the framework of this paper. Instead, the analysis will focus on the functions of these tools and their efficacy in terms of the provision of justice worldwide. Most specifically, the function of the Human Rights Councils will be discussed in most detail, especially as the role of the other three tools is more or less clear—they aim to monitor and regulate the provision of justice. The Human Rights Councils’ function, on the other hand, appears to be much more complicated and, in a sense, more significant.
Despite the many opposing views and controversies surrounding the efficacy of the Human Rights Councils, this mechanism is, in fact, one of the main guarantors of world stability. Fortunately or not, there is currently no other alternative platform that would allow for the same level of international collaboration and, most importantly, communication. The Human Rights Council’s mechanism could be considered flawless except for one critical point: there are 47 members in the Councils to date, which means that more than 200 states are literally excluded from the international dialogue. The disproportion is purely stunning. The question, consequently, arises whether it is fair to expect the excluded governments to comply with the established norms of human rights considering the fact that they have not participated in their establishment. Indeed, it is evident that this crucial imbalance cannot provide for long-term stability—one day, this structure will require a complex reformation to make the international justice system more shared and available. Therefore, when speaking about the progress that the international justice system has made, it would be rational to dial down the optimism given that more than half of world governments are presently left out of this system entirely.
The complexity of international justice as the main barrier to justice provision
As previously discussed in this paper, a myriad of justice systems and structures has been established throughout history. On the one hand, this phenomenon might be interpreted as a positive trend that points to the general improvement of international justice over time. On the other hand, it is rational to suggest that the growing complexity of the international justice institution makes the procedure of justice provision more complicated. First of all, it is essential to understand that each body operates on a dependent basis. For example, a violation of labor rights might be addressed first through the relevant tribunal. The latter, in its turn, will essentially consider the way that the International Labor Organization (ILO) interprets this problem. Because there is no guarantee that consensus will be reached between the tribunal and the ILO, a lack of agreement between the bodies may reduce all of the efforts to nothing.
The problem appears to be even more complicated when it pertains to individual complaints. Indeed, there are numerous examples of the provision of fair justice at national levels (e.g., the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda), though they are associated with global human rights violations that cannot be neglected by the world community. To obtain justice at the international level is a very challenging task for an individual, especially if his or her regional justice system fails to operate properly. While the procedure of making a complaint is very complicated in itself, the method of complaint consideration by international bodies is even more time-consuming and intricate. For instance, an international justice body will not even consider someone’s complaint if it has already been examined by another institution. In fact, this rule means that if the first attempt to obtain justice through the international justice system has failed, the subsequent actions are likewise doomed to failure.
As such, it can be concluded that the complexity of the modern international justice system makes it almost inaccessible for individual appeals. All that the world community has managed to do so far is to point out the most critical human rights violations, while a myriad of equally serious problems remains stuck in the background due to the lack of the relevant mechanisms that could ensure the provision of justice for one and all.
Despite the many identified problems with the current framework, there are some examples of positive practices within the international justice system. For example, the Organization of the American States (OAS) is a fine example of a body ensuring integrity and consistency in terms of the provision of justice. Every member entering this organization is protected by the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, so each member’s rights are clearly outlined and guaranteed to be protected. The procedure of placing a complaint is likewise more efficient within this system, and members are entitled to use the services of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Committee against Torture, and other relevant institutions. The core problem, as previously discussed, is the fact that there are only 35 countries currently registered as members of this organization. From a logical perspective, such a small number may be easily explained; because the organization has a strong regional identity, some governments might refuse to enter it on a political basis. Given the limited scope of the OAS, it is fairly evident that there is a strong need to adopt this effective format in the establishment of similar organizations in other regions and to enhance, in such a manner, the integrity and consistency of justice provision worldwide.
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Regional Justice Mechanisms
The role of regional justice systems
As soon as the most critical weakness of the international justice system has been identified—in this case, its inability to address individual complaints effectively—the role of regional systems can be evaluated. Broadly speaking, the more effectively these systems operate, the fewer problems there are that require consideration at the international level. In terms of regional justice, it seems that society has moved much further than at the international level. Indeed, the network of regional justice institutions exhibits a positive geographic diversity: Africa, Europe, America, the Arab States, and Southeast Asia. It is important to note that the first three regions share a common complaint procedure, which is another sign of enhancing integrity in justice provision.
The introduction of this paper brought up a critical fact: that the ratification of treaties by any given country is voluntary. Otherwise stated, the most critical barrier to enhancing justice provision worldwide is the inability of the world community to enforce justice unless the government in question has ratified the relevant treaty. However, many governments in such problematic regions as Africa and Southeast Asia have voluntarily joined the global justice community by ratifying these treaties. This is a clearly positive sign, which means that the world community has become more concerned about the need for the protection of human rights. Similarly, it means that there is a chance of further improvement—hopefully, more countries in more regions will express their will to comply with international justice norms and standards. However, such optimism might appear to be premature since the practical efficiency of these regional institutions has not yet been discussed.
Regional human rights bodies, their functions, and common features
First and foremost, the principal institutions guaranteeing the protection of human rights at regional levels are the Commission on Human Rights (Africa, Europe, America, ASEAN), the Courts on Human Rights (Africa, Europe, America), and the Arab Human Rights Committee. The significant role of some of these bodies will be discussed further, as well as their key functions and common features that might serve as a clue to their effectiveness.
First and foremost, it should be noted that the common framework within which these bodies have been established, i.e., the OAS, ensures the integrity of their functioning. Under this system, every institution is obliged to provide for the protection of the same rights and freedoms and to impose equal restrictive measures in case of any violation. Likewise, the application procedure has a similar pattern across all of the regions. In the simplest terms, what these bodies have managed to achieve so far is a system in which an African is entitled to enjoy the same rights as an American, just as Southeast Asian governments are equally responsible for the protection of human rights as European states. As such, the framework for further improvements becomes clearer. What needs to be done now is to apply this effective model to other regions to enhance the integrity of common justice worldwide. Therefore, the final part of this paper will offer an overview of some justice models that have proven to be particularly effective and that can be potentially adopted by other governments to strengthen their justice institutions.
The role of The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, The European Court of Human Rights, and The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in regional justice provision
The first two formats or justice systems are shown to be particularly effective are the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. On the whole, both systems operate in a similar pattern by deciding complaints related to the violation of human rights among their member states. Perhaps most important is the fact that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is empowered to make decisions on complaints from 50 governments, meaning that its jurisdiction covers the entire African region. As such, until a more consistent jurisdiction of the international system can be ensured, it might be rational to consider the establishment of effective justice institutions in every region that feature models similar to those in Africa and America. In such a manner, the provision of human rights protection will become more consistent around the world; at the same time, the regional format will allow for the consideration of the special aspects and peculiar properties of a certain government.
Another justice structure that appears to be effective is the European Court of Human Rights. There are several aspects associated with this institution that is very important and appropriate for adoption in other world regions. First and foremost, the European Court is empowered to decide complaints both from its own member governments and those that have agreed to accept its complaint procedure. As such, almost 60 governments are able to apply for justice to the European Court. If this model were to be adopted in another world region, its jurisdiction could potentially cover not only the essential members but the neighboring governments as well. Additionally, the European Court is empowered to establish the so-called “interim measure” that ensures extra protection in case of emergency. Such an instrument might be highly useful in other world regions. Indeed, it can serve to resolve a large scope of critical human rights violations in a very efficient and, most importantly, timely manner.
Based on the tangible progress made so far, it seems clear that our civilization has managed to reach significant success in terms of ensuring the protection of human rights. What the world enjoys to date is a diverse network of both regional and international institutions that aim to promote human rights, each in its own manner. However, it remains equally clear there are still many tasks to be accomplished to improve the international justice system, especially since it covers fewer than half of the world’s governments.