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Updated 06/06/2005

International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which entered into force in 1976, is one of two principal human rights covenants adopted subsequent to the Universal Declaration of Human Right. The ICCPR emphasizes individual rights as opposed to collective or group rights. 

Countries who have signed the ICCPR must guarantee certain fundamental human rights to all of their citizens. Under the ICCPR, citizens are granted freedom of religion, thought and conscience, freedom of expression, the right to assemble peacefully, and the right to participate in the political life of their country.   

The covenant protects the right to life and physical integrity, including a prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Detainees must be treated according to their inherent dignity, and any arbitrary deprivation of liberty is prohibited. Persons are guaranteed a fair and public hearing, equality before the law, and the right to compensation in the event of unlawful arrest. 

There are two optional protocols to the ICCPR that countries may elect to sign. The first gives citizens of member states the right to appeal to the UN Human Rights Committee if they have exhausted all possible domestic solutions to a rights violation. The second emphasizes the abolition of the death penalty. 

In the debate over human rights, civil and political rights have been embraced by countries with democratic, free-market governing systems while economic, social and cultural rights have been emphasized by countries with socialist or “developing” systems. During the Cold War, the debate was framed as Western ideology versus communist ideology. Today the debate has taken on a new dimension with divisions between the global North (industrialized, usually wealthier nations) and the global South ("developing," poor countries, many post-colonial).

For more information

Text of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights