CHILD LABOR: Work performed by children, often under hazardous or exploitative conditions. This does not include all work done by kids: children everywhere, for example, do chores to help their families. The 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child calls for protection “against economic exploitation and against carrying out any job that might endanger well-being or educational opportunities, or that might be harmful to health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral, or social development” (Article 32).

CIVIL RIGHTS: The rights of citizens to liberty and equality (for example, freedom to access information or to vote).

CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS: The rights of citizens to liberty and equality; sometimes referred to as first generation rights. Civil rights include freedom to worship, to think and express oneself, to vote, to take part in political life, and to have access to information.

CODIFICATION, codify: Process of reducing customary international law to written form.

COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS: Body formed by the Economic and SOCIAL COUNCIL (ECOSOC) of the UN to deal with human rights; one of the first and most important international human rights bodies.

CONVENTION: Binding agreement between states; used synonymously with TREATY and COVENANT. Conventions are stronger than DECLARATIONS because they are legally binding for governments that have signed them. When the UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY adopts a convention, it creates international norms and standards. Once a convention is adopted by the UN General Assembly, MEMBER STATES can then RATIFY the convention, promising to uphold it. Govern ments that violate the standards set forth in a convention can then be censured by the UN.

CONVENTION ON THE ELIMINATION OF ALL FORMS OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN (adopted 1979; entered into force 1981): The first legally binding international document prohibiting discrimination against women and obligating governments to take affirmative steps to advance the equality of women. Abbreviated CEDAW.

CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD (adopted 1989; entered into force 1990): Convention setting forth a full spectrum of civil, cultural, economic, social, and political rights for children. Abbreviated CRC.

COVENANT: Binding agreement between states; used synonymously with CONVENTION and TREATY. The major international human rights covenants, both passed in 1966, are the INTERNATIONAL COVENANT ON CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS (ICCPR) and the INTERNATIONAL COVENANT ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS (ICESCR).

CULTURAL RIGHTS: The right to preserve and enjoy one’s cultural identity and development.

CUSTOMARY INTERNATIONAL LAW: Law that becomes binding on states although it is not written, but rather adhered to out of custom; when enough states have begun to behave as though something is law, it becomes law “by use”; this is one of the main source of international law.

DECLARATION: Document stating agreed upon standards but which is not legally binding. UN conferences, like the 1993 UN Conference on Human Rights in Vienna and the 1995 World Conference for Women in Beijing, usually produce two sets of declarations: one written by government representatives and one by NONGOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS (NGOs). The UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY often issues influential but legally NON-BINDING declarations.

ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL: A UN council of 54 members concerned principally with the fields of population, economic development, human rights, and criminal justice. This high-ranking body receives and discharges human rights reports in a variety of circumstances. Abbreviated ECOSOC.

ECONOMIC RIGHTS: Rights that concern the production, development, and management of material for the necessities of life. See SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC RIGHTS.

ENVIRONMENTAL, CULTURAL, AND DEVELOPMENTAL RIGHTS: Sometimes referred to as third generation rights, these rights recognize that people have the right to live in a safe and healthy environment and that groups of people have the right to cultural, political, and economic development.

FREE-TRADE ZONE: An industrial area in which a country allows foreign companies to import material for production and export finished goods without paying significant taxes or duties (fees to the government). A free-trade zone thus decreases a company's production costs.

HUMAN RIGHTS: The rights people are entitled to simply because they are human beings, irrespective of their citizenship, nationality, race, ethnicity, language, sex, sexuality, or abilities; human rights become enforceable when they are codified as conventions, covenants, or treaties, or as they become recognized as customary international law.

INALIENABLE: Refers to rights that belong to every person and cannot be taken from a person under any circumstances.

INDIVISIBLE: Refers to the equal importance of each human rights law. A person cannot be denied a right because someone decides it is “less important” or “non-essential.”

INTERDEPENDENT: Refers to the complimentary framework of human rights law. For example, your ability to participate in your government is directly affected by your right to express yourself, to get an education, and even to obtain the necessities of life.

International bill of rights: The combination of these three documents: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

International Covenant on CIVIL and POLITICAL Rights (Adopted 1966, entered into force 1976): Convention that declares that all people have a broad range of civil and political rights. One of three components of the International BILL OF RIGHTS.Abbreviated ICCPR.

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Adopted 1966, entered into force 1976): Convention that declares that all people have a broad range of economic, social, and cultural rights. One of three components of the International BILL OF RIGHTS. Abbreviated ICESCR.

INTERNATIONAL LABOR OFFICE: Established in 1919 as part of the Versailles Peace Treaty to improve working conditions and promote social justice; the ILO became a Specialized Agency of the UN in 1946. Abbreviated ILO.

MAQUILADORA: A factory, often foreign-owned, that assembles goods for export. From Spanish, the word is pronounced mah-kee-lah-DOH-rah. It is usually shortened to maquila (mah-KEE-lah).

MEMBER STATES: Countries that are member of the United Nations.

NON-BINDING: A document, like a DECLARATION, that carries no formal legal obligations. It may, however, carry moral obligations or attain the force of law as INTERNATIONAL CUSTOMARY LAW.

NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS: Organizations formed by people outside of government. NGO’s monitor the proceedings of human rights bodies such as the COMMISSION ON human rights and are the “watchdogs” of the human rights that fall within their mandate. Some are large and international (e.g., the Red Cross, Amnesty International, the Girl Scouts); others may be small and local (e.g., an organization to advocate people with disabilities in a particular city; a coalition to promote women’s rights in one refugee camp). NGO’s play a major role in influencing UN policy, and many of them have official consultative status at the UN. Abbreviated NGOs.

POLITICAL RIGHTS: The right of people to participate in the political life of their communities and society such as by voting for their government.

RATIFICATION, RATIFY: Process by which the legislative body of a state confirms a government’s action in signing a treaty; formal procedure by which a state becomes bound to a treaty after acceptance.

SIGN: In human rights the first step in ratification of a treaty; to sign a DECLARATION, CONVENTION, or one of the COVENANTS constitutes a promise to adhere to the principles in the document and to honor its spirit.

SOCIAL RIGHTS: Rights that give people security as they live together and learn together, as in families, schools, and other institutions.

SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC RIGHTS: Rights that give people social and economic security, sometimes referred to as security-oriented or second-generation rights. Examples are the right to food, shelter, and health care. There is disagreement whether the government is obligated to provide these benefits.

STATE: Often synonymous with “country”; a group of people permanently occupying a fixed territory having common laws and government and capable of conducting international affairs.

STATES PARTY(IES): Those countries that have RATIFIED a COVENANT or a CONVENTION and are thereby bound to conform to its provisions.

TREATY: Formal agreement between states that defines and modifies their mutual duties and obligations; used synonymously with CONVENTION. When CONVENTIONS are adopted by the UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY, they create legally binding international obligations for the member states who have signed the treaty. When a national government RATIFIES a treaty, the articles of that treaty become part of its domestic legal obligations.

UNITED NATIONS CHARTER: Initial document of the UN setting forth its goals, functions, and responsibilities; adopted in San Francisco in 1945.

UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY: One of the principal organs of the UN, consisting of all member states. The General Assembly issues DECLARATIONS and adopts CONVENTIONS on human rights issues. The actions of the General Assembly are governed by the CHARTER OF THE UNITED NATIONS.

UNIVERSAL: Refers to the application of human rights to all people everywhere regardless of any distinction.

UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS (1948): Primary UN document establishing human rights standards and norms. Although the declaration was intended to be NON-BINDING, through time its various provisions have become so respected by STATES that it can now be said to be CUSTOMARY INTERNATIONAL LAW. Abbreviated UDHR.

Source: Adapted from Julie Mertus et. al., Local Action/Global Change and the Minnesota Partners in Human Rights Resource Notebook.