Is it True that All Human Rights Have Equal Status and Cannot Be Positioned in a Hierarchical Order?

8 Pages Posted: 7 May 2012

Date Written: May 3, 2011


Human rights are rights a person possesses simply because he or she is a human being; they are the basic entitlements or minimum standards to be met for individuals to live with dignity. In addition to being inherent in the very nature of human beings, human rights are also legal rights enshrined in various international legal documents especially 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).

The UDHR, adopted in 1948, is the first complete and detailed codification of human rights containing civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights however it is non-binding in international law being a declaration of the General Assembly. Shortly after the adoption of the UDHR, attempts were made to translate these rights into a legally binding document however as a result of ideological differences between the capitalist west and socialist east fostered during the Cold War, “intense debates concerning the perceived differences between economic, social and cultural rights (ESC rights), and civil and political rights (CP rights), as well as disagreement over the means of implementation for ESC rights, erupted”. This led to the division of the rights in the UDHR and the subsequent adoption in 1966 of two separate legal documents, the ICCPR and the ICESCR, embodying different categories of rights.

Human rights are based on the principles of universality, indivisibility and interdependence; it is stated that "all human rights have equal status and cannot be positioned in a hierarchical order‟. A lot of controversy exists on whether there is a hierarchy of rights in international law as most governments regard CP rights as superior to ESC rights. An attempt shall be made to critically analyse this statement focusing on the debate around the ICCPR and ICESCR. The first part of this essay will give a brief overview of the ICCPR and ICESCR, the second part will explore the arguments around both covenants and the third part will briefly examine the question of non-derogable rights.

Keywords: human rights, ICCPR, ICESCR

Suggested Citation

Udeariry, Nneoma, Is it True that All Human Rights Have Equal Status and Cannot Be Positioned in a Hierarchical Order? (May 3, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Nneoma Udeariry (Contact Author)

University of Westminster ( email )

309 Regent Street
London, W1R 8AL
United Kingdom

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