Proclamation of Tehran Sets Human Rights Goals Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The International Conference on Human Rights adopted the Proclamation of Tehran, setting priorities for the future human rights work of the United Nations.

Summary of Event

In December, 1963, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 1968 as the International Year for Human Rights. In connection with this celebration, the International Conference on Human Rights International Conference on Human Rights (1968) Tehran Conference (1968) met in Tehran, Iran, from April 22 through May 13, 1968. The meeting was seen as an occasion for detached stocktaking and long-term planning, as Secretary-General U Thant put it in his address to the conference, in an environment of recently renewed international human rights activity. Human rights;treaties, conventions, and declarations Proclamation of Tehran (1968) United Nations;human rights [kw]Proclamation of Tehran Sets Human Rights Goals (May 13, 1968) [kw]Tehran Sets Human Rights Goals, Proclamation of (May 13, 1968) [kw]Human Rights Goals, Proclamation of Tehran Sets (May 13, 1968) Human rights;treaties, conventions, and declarations Proclamation of Tehran (1968) United Nations;human rights [g]Middle East;May 13, 1968: Proclamation of Tehran Sets Human Rights Goals[09790] [g]Iran;May 13, 1968: Proclamation of Tehran Sets Human Rights Goals[09790] [c]United Nations;May 13, 1968: Proclamation of Tehran Sets Human Rights Goals[09790] [c]Human rights;May 13, 1968: Proclamation of Tehran Sets Human Rights Goals[09790] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;May 13, 1968: Proclamation of Tehran Sets Human Rights Goals[09790] Pahlavi, Ashraf Schreiber, Marc Thant, U [p]Thant, U;human rights Daphtary, C. K.

The adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December, 1948, was followed by more than a decade of little progress in U.N. human rights activity. Like most other issues in international relations, human rights became subordinated to Cold War rivalry. Each bloc focused its attention on violations in the other and raised issues of human rights primarily as a matter of ideological struggle. In such an environment, even the further development of international human rights norms became problematic. For example, drafting of the international human rights covenant, which attempted to give binding legal force to the rights proclaimed in the Universal Declaration, was largely complete by 1953. Nevertheless, the covenant was tabled because of insuperable ideological rivalry over the status of economic and social rights.

By the mid-1960’s, however, the political context began to change. A large part of the explanation lies in the one area of human rights in which the United Nations had been active, that of self-determination and decolonization. In 1945, when the United Nations was founded, most of Africa and Asia were Western colonial possessions. That situation began to change with the independence of Indonesia and India in 1947. The process of decolonization took off dramatically, with the active support of the United Nations, in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. By 1970, more than 99 percent of the world’s people lived in independent states.

The Afro-Asian bloc became the largest voting bloc in the United Nations during the 1960’s. These countries, which had suffered under colonial rule, had a special interest in reviving the issue of human rights. They also found a sympathetic hearing from at least some Western European and Latin American countries. There was thus a renewed flurry of activity, beginning in 1960, when the General Assembly adopted resolution 1514, the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (1960) . In 1961, the Nonaligned Movement Nonaligned Movement (NAM) first met on a formal basis, in an attempt to organize the political power of what became known as the Third World. Developing nations

The political subordination of colonialism was usually associated with pervasive discrimination against indigenous people of color. Therefore, it is not surprising that racial discrimination was another high-priority item for the new states of Africa and Asia. In 1963, the General Assembly adopted a Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and in 1965 it completed work on the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

The momentum generated by these new initiatives on self-determination and racial discrimination spread into the general human rights work of the United Nations. In 1966, the International Human Rights Covenants were finally completed. The Tehran Conference reflected this reinvigoration of international human rights activity.

The Tehran Conference was in its day the largest intergovernmental human rights conference ever held. Eighty-four states participated, along with representatives or observers from fifty-seven nongovernmental organizations, seven other U.N. bodies and specialized agencies, and four regional organizations. In addition to the Proclamation of Tehran, a statement of human rights priorities for the international community, the conference adopted twenty-six substantive resolutions on a great variety of human rights issues.

The operative paragraphs of the Proclamation of Tehran begin by stressing the importance of states fulfilling their human rights obligations as laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The goal of human rights activity should be “the achievement by each individual of the maximum freedom and dignity.” In pursuit of this goal, freedoms of expression, information, conscience, and religion, as well as the right to participate in political, economic, cultural, and social life, are proclaimed to be particularly important.

The proclamation also gives specific attention to apartheid and racial discrimination; self-determination; international cooperation to avoid aggression and war; the widening gap between rich and poor countries; the special importance of economic, social, and cultural rights and economic and social development; illiteracy; women’s rights; the rights of families and children; the rights and contributions of youth; scientific and technical developments; and disarmament. It concludes by urging “all peoples and governments to dedicate themselves to the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to redouble their efforts to provide for all human beings a life consonant with freedom and dignity and conducive to physical, mental, social and spiritual welfare.”

The fact that the Proclamation of Tehran covers so much ground in just a few pages suggests its extreme generality. For the most part, each topic receives only a short paragraph that reiterates general and often-expressed principles and aspirations. There is little that is innovative, but the special priorities of the conference and the proclamation do reflect changes in the makeup of the international community in the twenty years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Much the same is true of the resolutions of the conference, most of which are short and very general. In addition to the topics covered in the proclamation, the conference adopted resolutions on human rights in Israeli-occupied territory, Nazism and racial intolerance, opponents of racist regimes, nondiscrimination in employment, model rules of procedure for human rights bodies, cooperation with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, rights of detainees, family planning, legal aid, human rights education, an International Year for Action to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination, publicity for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and sporting boycotts of South Africa.

Article 4 of the proclamation noted that considerable progress had been made in the elaboration of international human rights standards but that much remained to be done in the area of implementing these rights. Likewise, Secretary-General U Thant, in his opening address to the conference, noted that it “must find new means of carrying out the continuing struggle for the recognition and enjoyment of human rights.” In this endeavor, however, the International Conference on Human Rights achieved little or nothing. It made no suggestions for new international institutions or procedures to implement internationally recognized human rights. In fact, the conference did not even vote on, let alone adopt, draft resolutions by Haiti and the Ivory Coast suggesting the creation of an international human rights court, and it would be another thirty years before such a court emphasizing punishment of international criminal activity would be realized.

Significance

The lack of both substantive and procedural innovation in the products of the International Conference on Human Rights might suggest that it was of ephemeral importance. Nevertheless, it (along with the completion of the International Human Rights Covenants in the fall of 1966) marks an important turning point in international action on behalf of human rights.

By the mid-1960’s, there was a growing recognition that if the United Nations was to continue to contribute significantly in the field of human rights, it would have to move into new areas of activity. Through 1966, the principal human rights work of the United Nations was focused on creating international norms, supplemented by efforts to publicize and promote these norms. The United Nations simply did not have the power to require states to implement internationally recognized human rights.

If there was to be major progress in international action on behalf of human rights after 1966, it would have to come primarily in the area of implementing, or monitoring the implementation of, these standards. In the late 1960’s, the United Nations did launch a number of new initiatives that attempted to monitor national human rights performance. In 1967, the Commission on Human Rights was given the authority to discuss human rights violations in particular countries.

In 1968, a special committee of investigation was created to consider human rights in the territories occupied by Israel after its war with its Arab neighbors in 1967. In the same year, the Security Council imposed a mandatory blockade on the white minority regime in South Rhodesia. The 1965 racial discrimination convention, which was the first international human rights procedure that required states to submit mandatory periodic reports on implementation, came into force in 1969. In 1970, Economic and Social Council Resolution 1503 authorized the Commission on Human Rights to conduct confidential investigations of communications (complaints) that suggested “a consistent pattern of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

None of these new initiatives appears to have been directly influenced by the International Conference on Human Rights. They do, however, reflect the human rights concerns of the new majority in the United Nations, a majority composed of developing nations, many of which are ironically noteworthy for gross violations of human rights. As the place at which these concerns were first given international prominence, the Tehran Conference almost certainly had some indirect influence.

The other major objective of the conference was to emphasize economic, social, and cultural rights and the linkage between human rights and economic and social development. This was an attempt to redress a serious imbalance in past U.N. work. Efforts to redress the imbalance began in the early 1960’s. They were given a significant boost by the International Conference on Human Rights and the Proclamation of Tehran. Paragraph 13 of the proclamation states: “The achievement of lasting progress in the implementation of human rights is dependent upon sound and effective national and international policies of economic and social development.”

Critics have contended that in the 1970’s, the U.N. majority, rather than establish a balance between civil and political rights and economic, social, and cultural rights, in fact attempted to subordinate civil and political rights to the pursuit of economic development and struggles for a new international economic order. This argument was supported by the fact that the attainment of robust economic, social, and cultural rights in any country was directly tied to its ability to finance such things as quality health care, education, counseling services, and promotion of the arts.

On the other hand, respect and promotion of civil rights were much less a matter of economics and much more a matter of political will. Any country, developing or developed, could easily protect civil and political rights. Indeed, some even argued that the failure to respect these rights was one major factor in the ongoing economic and social instability of many nations. Whatever the validity of such claims, it is clear that the Tehran Conference was a significant event in the rising prominence of economic, social, and cultural rights in international human rights discussions. This was probably the most important contribution of the International Conference on Human Rights. Issues of race and colonialism had already been placed at the center of international human rights agendas prior to the conference. After, and partly as a result of, the International Conference on Human Rights, economic, social, and cultural rights also had prominent places on the U.N. human rights agenda.

The International Conference on Human Rights was an important event in the genesis of the human rights policies and priorities of the United Nations in the 1970’s. It effectively marked the close of the period of norm creation and Western domination of the human rights work of the United Nations and the opening of a new phase that would be politically dominated by the developing world, with the support of the Soviet bloc. Much of the human rights work of the United Nations in the 1970’s reflected the priorities of the Proclamation of Tehran and the political processes that shaped it. Human rights;treaties, conventions, and declarations Proclamation of Tehran (1968) United Nations;human rights

Further Reading
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    Development, Human Rights, and the Rule of Law. Oxford, England: Pergamon Press, 1982. This is a report of a conference held in The Hague, April 27-May 1, 1981, convened by the International Commission of Jurists. Although the link between human rights and development was a central theme at Tehran, little was done until the early 1980’s. This book, and the conference that it records, were important first steps toward concrete action on this central objective of the Tehran Conference.
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    xlink:type="simple">Ebady, Shirin. History and Documentation of Human Rights in Iran. Translated by Nazila Fathi. New York: Bibliotheca Persica Press, 2000. Study of human rights in Iran, including both domestic stuggles for human rights and international conferences and laws involving Iran. Includes a chapter on the Tehran declaration.
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    Final Act of the International Conference on Human Rights. New York: United Nations, 1968. The Final Act includes a brief review of the organization and operation of the conference along with the texts of the Proclamation of Tehran and the resolutions adopted by the conference.
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    xlink:type="simple">Firestone, Bernard J. The United Nations Under U Thant, 1961-1971. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2001. This scholarly text provides a concise account of U Thant’s administration as U.N. secretary-general. Bibliography.
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    xlink:type="simple">Moskowitz, Moses. International Concern with Human Rights. Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana, 1974. A good general introduction to the evolution of international action on behalf of human rights. Provides a useful discussion of the context in which the Tehran Conference took place.
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    xlink:type="simple">Van Dyke, Vernon. “Self-Determination and Minority Rights.” In Human Rights, the U.S. and World Community. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970. A useful contemporary overview of self-determination, which was both a central theme at the Tehran Conference and one of the principal political factors that led up to it.

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