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23 Hum. Rts. Q. 483 (2001)
The Impact of the United Nations Human Rights Treaties on the Domestic Level

handle is hein.journals/hurq23 and id is 495 raw text is: HUMAN RIGHTS QUARTERLY
The Impact of the United Nations
Human Rights Treaties on the
Domestic Level
Christof Heyns*
Frans Viljoen**
I. INTRODUCTION
The success or failure of any international human rights system should be
evaluated in accordance with its impact on human rights practices on the
domestic (country) level. At the beginning of the new millennium, it is clear
that the concept of human rights is widely accepted as the idea of our
time. The conceptual battle is over, and the focus has shifted to the
implementation of human rights. Universal ratification of the main United
Nations (UN) human rights treaties might be appearing on the horizon, but
ratification in itself is largely a formal, and in some cases an empty, gesture.1
The challenge now is to ensure that the promises contained in the treaties
* Christof Heyns is the director of the Centre for Human Rights and professor of human rights
law, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria. He holds the degrees MA, LL.B. (Pretoria), LL.M.
(Yale), and Ph.D. (University of the Witwatersrand).
** Frans Viljoen is a member of the Centre for Human Rights and professor of law at the
Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria. He holds the degrees MA, LL.B. (Pretoria), LL.M.
(Cambridge) and LL.D. (Pretoria). Prof Heyns and Viljoen edit the annual Human Rights
Law in Africa Series and have published extensively on human rights issues in Africa.
1. If universal ratification is understood to mean that every member of the United Nations
has ratified each one of the six main United Nations human rights treaties, then 80% of
universal ratification had been achieved by 1 July 1999 (a total of 905 ratifications had
been achieved out of a possible 1,128). If universal ratification is understood to mean
that the six treaties have been ratified by all member states of the UN, and all these
countries have, in addition, accepted the individual complaints procedures that are
possible under three of these treaties, while not excluding the confidential inquiry
procedure that is possible under CAT, then 62.7% of universal ratification had been
achieved by the same date (1,179 ratifications, declarations and non-exclusion of art. 20
of CAT out of a possible 1,880).
Human Rights Quarterly 23 (2001) 483-535 © 2001 by The Johns Hopkins University Press

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