International human rights legislation

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10 December 1948. Its Preamble proclaims the Declaration as a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”. The Declaration affirms basic civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and many of these rights are now regarded as having achieved the status of customary international law including the right to life, freedom from slavery, freedom from torture and the right to a fair trial.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights(external link)

The Declaration has had a profound influence on the development of international human rights law. Together with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (and its Optional Protocols) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, it forms the International Bill of Human Rights.

Universal Periodic Review

The Universal Periodic Review(external link) is a process in which the human rights situation in all Member States of the United Nations is reviewed by the Human Rights Council once every four to five years. The UPR provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations.

Universal Periodic Review(external link)

Core human rights instruments

Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration, a large number of international human rights instruments have been developed, both within and outside the United Nations. Many of these treaties address matters of concern to particular groups such as women, persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities and children. New Zealand is a party to these core international human rights instruments of the United Nations:


In addition to the international treaties, the United Nations has adopted a wide range of resolutions and declarations in the area of human rights. Although they are not binding in the same way as treaties, these instruments establish standards of behaviour and practice with which States are expected to comply. They can acquire significant status as a result of their moral force and specific application. This is particularly the case with instruments that relate to groups who are not the subject of a specific treaty. For example, there is as yet no treaty dealing with the rights of indigenous peoples. Instruments such as the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples are extremely important in promoting and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples.

Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples [PDF, 166 KB]

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