Latest News from the ICA Human Rights Working Group

Subscriber’s to the ICA-Digest will have been informed of the latest outcomes from discussions of the ICA’s Human Rights Working Group with respect to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)Trudy Huskamp Peterson chairs the working group.  The news brief reads:

The following is number ten in a series of brief discussions of the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the archival holdings that relate to them.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 9. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

The substance of Article 9 is rooted in 17th century European ideas of the natural rights of human beings.  In England, for example, the Petition of Right of 1628 claimed the right to be free of arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, and in 1679 the English Parliament passed the Habeas Corpus Act establishing the right to be protected from arbitrary detention or imprisonment.  (Paul Gordon Lauren, The Evolution of International Human Rights:  Visions Seen, p. 14).  Given this long history, the Article’s drafters had little debate over the principle embodied in Article 9; the vexing question was what standard should be used to determine what was “arbitrary.”  Various formulas were proposed by the drafters to establish a standard for legality (the reverse of “arbitrary”), most of which included the notion of a law that had been formally adopted.  At the end of the deliberations, however, the drafters dropped any definition of “arbitrary” because they recognized that formally adopted laws could still unjustly deprive people of their liberty.  Late in the drafting process, the USSR delegation proposed adding the phrase “or exile,” which was adopted. (Johannes Morsink, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights:  Origins, Drafting and Intent, p.50.)

Article 9 is squarely about individual human rights.  Not surprisingly, it has been used as a defense in an enormous variety of cases around the world, from prisoners in U.S. detention in Guantanamo to arbitrary arrests of gay men and women to arrests of illegal migrants.  In 1980 the United Nations established the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and in 1991 established the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; a glance at the work of these two bodies shows the immense reach of Article 9.

http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/disappear/index.htm, http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/detention/index.htm

The primary governmental sources for information on arbitrary arrest, detention and exile are records of courts (open or secret), police, military, immigration services and border control regimes.  Records of temporary government bodies, such as truth commissions, also are important sources, as are the records of United Nations and regional bodies such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  National and international non-governmental organizations monitoring human rights, assisting prisoners, advocating for prison reform, and providing services to refugees all have relevant records.  Churches, too, may hold records of assistance to refugees and to families of those detained or deported.  University archives hold the personal papers of alumni who were involved in a case or cause as well as the records of university human rights centers and law schools that sponsor clinics for the assistance of prisoners and minority groups that are often disproportionately affected by Article 9 violations.  Labor union records have information on arbitrary arrests and detention of union organizers, and business records hold similar information.  In short, almost every type of archives may have holdings with Article 9 information.

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