Published March, 1976

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 99 U.N.T.S. 171

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the “ICCPR”) represents one-third of what is informally referred to as the “International Bill of Rights.” The other two thirds consist of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the “ICESCR”) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

The ICCPR outlines universal civil and political rights; particularly relevant for HIV/AIDS issues are: the right to marry and found a family (Article 23); the right to privacy (Article 17); freedom of expression and information (Article 19); freedom of assembly and association (Article 22); freedom of movement (Article 12); the right to liberty and security of person (Article 9); and freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 7). State parties to the convention must also guarantee that any person whose rights under the convention are violated shall have an effective remedy and shall have her right to such a remedy determined by a competent authority provided by the legal system of the state, and that the state will develop the possibilities of judicial remedy specifically.

As a convention, the ICCPR is binding on all parties that ratify it; those who sign but do not ratify it are obligated not to act contrary to the purpose of the convention under Article 18 of the Vienna Convention. Article 40 of the ICCPR requires state parties to submit reports on the national human rights situation every five years, which are studied and commented on by the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Article 41 establishes an optional procedure by which states grant other states the right to bring a complaint against them before the Committee alleging a violation of human rights; the result is an attempt at a “friendly solution.”

There is also an optional protocol, available separately in the Resource Bank, to allow individuals who are victims of violations of ICCPR to present complaints before the Committee against a state that has ratified the convention and violates its obligations.

The United States is a party to the ICCPR, but not to the optional protocol, and has made several “reservations”—a declaration that purports to exclude or modify the meaning of certain provisions of the treaty. However, the validity of some of these reservations is subject to debate; many states objected to the reservations as contrary to the object and purpose of the ICCPR, and as impermissibly citing domestic law to dodge obligations under the ICCPR.