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  4. March 2010 - Volume 59
  5. State Obligation

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FOCUS March 2010 Volume 59

State Obligation


A basic rule in international law is that states must fulfil their obligations under ratified or acceded international agreements in good faith. In the case of international human rights treaties, this means that all state institutions (executive, legislative and judicial) apply human rights principles in performing their respective functions. The executive branch undertakes concrete measures that protect, promote and realize human rights.

But a greater state obligation is that owed to the people by the state. This is an obligation that defines the rationale for the existence of the state, and based on principles akin to human rights. State institutions are meant to protect the people from harm, support the exercise of their people's freedoms, and promote their welfare. Ideally, state institutions must work to ensure that no person is left unprotected from any threat to life, liberty and security. They must also help realize the larger freedoms of the people.

State obligation in relation to human rights is not only based on ratified or acceded international human rights treaty, or on international customary law. More importantly, it exists as a given component of state functions, a crucial element in the agreement between the people and their state.

The people themselves have the right to demand action on such state obligation, as much as state institutions are duty-bound to ensure that the people enjoy their rights and freedoms, and security and welfare.