International tools

To promote and protect human rights, States draw up and adopt standards on the subject within different international and regional forums. Human rights agreements impose obligations on the States which ratify them. They also often establish control mechanisms for the observance of these obligations.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948 by the General Assembly of the UN. For the first time, the different human rights were listed and proclaimed for all humankind. Since its adoption, this Declaration has been a referential text of great moral value. The great principles and standards established in this basic text have since been codified in a series of binding international and regional instruments. These have enabled us to develop and specify human rights standards.

International and regional agreements

Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of human rights, several specific agreements on fundamental rights or groups of human beings have been drawn up. Since then, most of these agreements have been followed by optional protocols which set out the States’ obligations on each of these issues even more specifically. The standards drawn up at UN and Council of Europe level are extremely close and complementary in content.

At UN level:

Belgium is party to the main human rights agreements and optional protocols. Below is an overview of these different instruments:

Agreements ratified by Belgium:

  • International Covenant on Civil and Political rights (ratified on 21 April 1983)
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights (ratified on 21 April 1983)
  • International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ratified on 7 April 1975)
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (ratified on 10 July 1985)
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child (ratified on 16 December 1991)
  • Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (ratified on 25 June 1999)
  • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (ratified on 2 July 2009) 

Optional Protocols ratified by Belgium:

  • Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ratified on 17 May 1994)
  • 2nd Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty (ratified on 8 December 1998)
  • Optional protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (ratified on 17 June 2004)
  • Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, on the involvement of children in armed conflict (ratified on 6 May 2002)
  • Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (ratified on 17 March 2006)
  • Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (ratified on 2 July 2009) 

Conventions and Protocols signed by Belgium in the process of being ratified:  

  • International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (signed on 6 February 2007)
  • Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (signed on 24 October 2005)

National reports to UN committees

For each ratified Convention, it is incumbent on the States to regularly submit reports on their observance of these obligations to the committees of independent experts with jurisdiction (also known as “Treaty bodies”). These committees may then provide the States with recommendations. These mechanisms make it possible to verify and ensure that national legislation, policies and practice are compliant with the provisions of the Convention in question. In Belgium, the writing of these reports is coordinated by the FPS Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation.

At regional organisational level:

At European level, the Council of Europe is the most active organisation in the development of instruments for the protection of human rights. As a founding member of this organisation, Belgium has ratified most of the conventions drawn up by the Council.

Agreements ratified by Belgium:

  • Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ratified on 14 June 1955)
  • 12 of the 14 additional Protocols to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights.
  • Revised European Social Charter (ratified on 2 March 2004)
  • European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (ratified on 23 July 1991).
  • Convention against Trafficking in Human Beings (ratified on 27 April 2009)

Conventions and Protocols signed by Belgium in the process of being ratified:

  • The additional Protocols to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights no. 7 and no. 12.
  • Convention on Cybercrime (signed on 23 November 2001) and its additional Protocol concerning the criminalisation of acts of a racist or xenophobic nature committed through computer systems (signed on 28 January 2003)

The 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 

UN human rights instruments 

Belgian reports on observance of UN instruments

Council of Europe human rights instruments