primary international treaties protecting the rights of all people

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted unanimously by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1948. As of March 18, 1996, 42 countries originally signed the Convention; 142 countries are currently parties through signing and ratification, or accession or succession.

It is available with supportive documents at: Common Rights and Expectations

This edition is dedicated to the memory of an estimated 576,000 children of Iraq who have died since August 1990 due to shortages of food and medical supplies resulting from US/UN imposed Sanctions.

United Nations Texts
Foreword & compilation Copyright © 1996, J.B.Gerald

These United Nations treaties were selected because they affirm rights of all people regardless of sex, race, ethnic grouping, religion, political beliefs, economic status, or nationality. Because the majority of the world’s nations have agreed to be bound, these rights we know to be ours gain the force of law.

Beyond assurances to citizens by individual nations, the treaties present everyone with a minimal standard of people’s rights and expectations. Exceptions, or “Reservations” at signing or ratification by individual World States are not usually noted in presenting the texts of these documents because to the global community exceptions signal problems of the individual country. Because such conditions affect the application of a treaty in or by North American countries, and because exceptions suggest a departure from the treaties, it is necessary for the people of North American democracies to know what these reservations are. Note is made of any reservations by Canada, Mexico or the United States.


If civilization is the increasing empowerment of each of us to find our value in caring for others as we care for self, and of extending that care to all others as if each is a member of our tribe, kin group, and ultimately family, the century teaches us that nothing can be taken for granted. At its simplest and most advanced levels, this weave of understanding and cultures we call civilization is continually torn and rent for the profit of the powerful. It has always been like that, and the people have always looked for ways to protect themselves and each other.

These documents are made by people at the heart of political power, as agreements between nations affirming our rights and protection.

The treaties claim for all people rights beyond the discretion of any single government or political system. To the measure that the treaties are not applied, political leadership becomes unfaithful to its people and humanity.

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide holds all people including those who direct policy, responsible for their own part in what humanity has recognized for centuries is evil. The Convention states the obvious, but by giving the obvious the force of law without limitation by the passage of time, places some restraint on what people might do or encourage others to do. Because it makes criminal policies eventually prosecutable, without a statute of limitations, its application is not under the control of any current government. When genocide is used as a political and military tactic in war and the control of civilian populations, offending parties are held accountable. If offenders are too powerful to prosecute, humanity will still make its judgement.

Countries presenting “reservations” to the Convention, indicate the degree of controls required by their government.

Supporting materials to the Convention presented here, include the “reservations” and “understandings” by the United States at its ratification of the Convention in 1988, after a forty year delay. The interpretations attempted to deny the authority of the Convention, as though its application to the U.S. could be decided only by the U.S.. Many allied nations objected. The primary concern was whether the United States was still committed to a signed treaty which affirms the most basic rights of peoples against mass murder, extermination, and nuclear holocaust.

There followed a new era of genocide as a political and military tactic, in the Gulf war, in former Yugoslavia, East Timor, and Rwanda, to state obvious instances.

Less obvious instances include the continuation of genocides against original peoples in many regions of the world, and corporate as well as military spoiling of ecosystems.

The Convention applied as a punishment has, by 1996 limited itself to prosecution of the guilty in weak or vulnerable nations, to those with no economic consequence to the markets of the powerful nations. Because this Convention stands so directly in opposition to the worst fears of humanity – because it unites everyone against an evil brought home to European culture by the Holocaust of World War II, it may be the essential lesson of a century filled with mass murder, and is a primary law superseding others.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights offers a global consensus of what are considered minimal rights. Denial of these rights risks being criminal, whether prosecutable or permitted by individual governments. The accompanying Covenants move these rights more specifically toward having the force of law.

As a common ethic these have become self-evident, unalienable rights, yet they exist within a tension of oppression or clarifying them would not be necessary.

The difference between the global consensus of what people’s most basic rights should be and what they are in each country is one index of oppression.

The initial five of these documents were gathered and published by Gerald & Maas, Moody Maine, in 1989, when the Convention against Genocide was out of print at the United Nations. Permission to publish United Nations documents was first cleared through the U.N. Publications Board (as it was for this edition). U.S. “reservations” and “understandings” are specifically included in this edition.

Also included here is the Convention relating to the status of refugees, because without it, the citizen’s ultimate recourse of leaving a criminal or persecuting State is in jeopardy. Presented originally for those within an historical context predating 1951, it is largely reaffirmed and extended by the 1967 Optional Protocol.

Together, these treaties in principle assure refugees the same rights as others to whatever degree possible. By attempting to codify and strengthen by force of law, the treatment of strangers, of the persecuted, the most vulnerable of humanity, a step is taken toward mass ethical behaviour. Treaties governing treatment of refugees are less resolved than the more direct statements against genocide, or clarifying human rights. In some areas of the world these are augmented by regional treaties and limited by immigration policies of individual nations which sometimes directly conflict with international law and consensus of the world’s people.

The Convention and Protocol for refugees are also minimal in the few rights and protection offered, because “refugee status” is in many cases a difficult status to obtain, and application for that status requires surrender to the law and risks retribution by the country one has had to leave.

No one or group expects to require refugee status. The agreements were written to protect all as humanity. A difficulty is that when entire groups are persecuted in one nation, the suffering is often acceded to by neighbouring nations. This political convenience allows the containment and persecution of unfavoured groups. It risks breaking the Convention against Genocide. The degree of wrongness increases with any coincidence in denial of refuge or refugee status, and implication in the source difficulties of the refugee group. For example the possibility of genocide increases if a country denies entry or refuge to people its own policies or business practices have forced from their homes into exile.

From humanity’s perspective, the Convention against Genocide and the International Bill of Human Rights apply despite one’s nationality and particularly to refugees whether they are legally admitted to one State or another, or officially designated as “refugees” within States whose international policies may have endangered their survival. In the final days of the Twentieth century nations have still not learned that our treatment of strangers mirrors how we treat ourselves.

Honoured or betrayed, these among many treaties formed through the United Nations, provide attempts to answer the century’s terrible crimes of the Holocaust, the use of nuclear weapons against Japan, the poisoning of the environment, the sub-jugation economically of the third world, the destruction of entire peoples for the comfort of a few,- to answer these with warnings and affirmations of principles recognized internationally for at least half a century, as the simplest human rights, responsibilities and expectations of government.

– J.B.Gerald, Ottawa, May 1996

See also J. B. Gerald’s three part essay: “Confronting the Big Lie.”

Part I. Respect for Life and Respect for People
Part II A Threat against the People
Part III. Our Need for Defences against Crimes of Power