International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

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International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) is part of the "international bill of rights" that also includes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) (1976). Drafts of the CESCR and CCPR were completed in 1953 and 1954. The United Nations (UN) General Assembly reviewed those drafts at its ninth session, in 1954, and voted to publish the drafts, circulate them widely, and solicit worldwide feedback. It also recommended that its Third Committee begin a detailed consideration of the drafts at its tenth session, in 1955. It was not until 1966, however, that a consensus was reached on both covenants. The Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) was submitted for state approval on December 16, 1966; it entered into force on March 23, 1976, after thirty-five states had ratified it.

Among the rights of nation-states specified in the CCPR are the right of self-determination , the right of free trade, and the right to subsistence. The rights of individuals in the CCPR include the right to legal recourse when one's rights have been violated; the right to life, liberty, and freedom of movement; the right to equality before the law; due process rights in criminal proceedings; the right to privacy; and freedom of thought, conscience, religion, expression, assembly, and association.

The CCPR also prohibits torture, inhumane or degrading treatment, slavery or involuntary servitude, arbitrary arrest and detention, and the use of debtors' prisons. In addition, it guarantees the rights of children and prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, color, national origin, or language.

The CCPR allows states to suspend (or derogate) some of these rights in the event of a temporary civil emergency, but lists those rights that shall not be subject to derogation. Nonderogable rights include the right to life; the prohibition of torture and slavery; freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; and the prohibition of categorical discrimination. The abolition of the death penalty in the Second Optional Protocol is nonderogable for nation-states that have ratified this provision.

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Rights considered inalienable include the right to life; the freedom from torture and slavery; and the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.

As of 2004, 151 state parties adhered to the Covenant. The CPPR was sent to the U.S. Senate for ratification in 1978, but the United States finally agreed to comply with it after years of delay on September 8, 1992. So far 151 states have adhered to the First Optional Protocol to the Covenant that allows individuals from adhering states to file complaints with the eighteen-member UN Human Rights Committee, which is the institution created by the Covenant for monitoring and implementing the CCPR. The Human Rights Committee hears complaints from individuals in closed meetings and the identity of all complainants is protected. All findings of the Committee are public and included in its annual report to the UN General Assembly. The Second Optional Protocol to the CCPR focuses on the abolition of the death penalty, and it has been ratified by fifty state parties. The United States has not ratified either optional protocol.

See also: International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Ian Brownlie, ed. Basic Documents in International Law, 5th ed. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 2002.

Steiner, Henry J., and Philip Alston. International Human Rights in Context: Law, Politics, Morals. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 2000.

United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights. <>.

Donald W. Jackson

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International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

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International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights