International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights


The United Nations General Assembly adopted the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on December 16, 1966 – along with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The Covenant on Civil and Political Rights entered into force on March 23, 1976. Its Preamble notes that the “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

Invoking the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Preamble to both Covenants states that “… the ideal of free human beings enjoying freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his economic, social and cultural rights, as well as his civil and political rights.”

The Covenant has six signatories, and 173 countries have ratified or acceded to it. The 53 Articles of the 7,044-word Covenant are arranged in six parts. Articles 1-27 (in Parts I, II and III) cover recommendations to State Parties on securing the civil and political rights of all people. Articles 28-45 (Part IV) propose establishing a Human Rights Committee composed of nationals of the State Parties to the Covenant. They prescribe the manner in which State Parties shall report the measures they have adopted to observe the rights recognised by the Covenant. Articles 46 and 47 (Part V) clarify that nothing in the Covenant shall be interpreted as impairing the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations, the constitutions of its specialised agencies and “...the inherent right of all peoples to enjoy and utilize fully and freely their natural wealth and resources.” Articles 48-53 (Part VI) discuss the process by which the Covenant is to be ratified and amended. (In UN documents, a ‘State Party’ to a treaty is a country that has ratified or acceded to that particular treaty, and is therefore legally bound by the provisions in the instrument).

The following are excerpts from 12 of the 27 Articles in Parts I, II and III that remain especially relevant to the present times:

Article 1: Each person has the right to self-determination, by virtue of which they freely determine their political status and pursue their economic, social and cultural development. They may freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources regardless of obligations arising out of international economic cooperation and “In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.”

Article 3: States Parties shall ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights set forth in the Covenant.

Article 4: In time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation, the States Parties may take measures derogating from their obligations under the Covenant to the extent required by the exigencies of the situation.

Article 6: Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law – no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of their life. In countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in accordance with the law in force when the crime was committed. Anyone sentenced to death shall have the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence. Such sentences shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age and shall not be carried out on pregnant women. “Nothing in this article shall be invoked to delay or to prevent the abolition of capital punishment by any State Party to the present Covenant."

Article 9: Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of their liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law. Anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for their arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against them.

Article 14: All persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals. Everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law. The press and the public may be excluded from all or part of a trial for reasons of morals, public order or national security in a democratic society, or when the interest of the private lives of the parties so requires, or to the extent strictly necessary in the opinion of the court in special circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice. Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall have the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.

Article 18: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of their choice, and freedom to manifest their religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching – individually or in community with others, in public or private. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair their freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief of their choice. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

Article 19: Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference; the right to freedom of expression – including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers – orally, in writing or print, in the form of art, or through any other media. This is subject to restrictions concerning the rights or reputations of others, the protection of national security or public order, and public health or morals.

Article 20: Propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law. “Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.”

Article 21: The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in the interests of national security, public safety or public order; the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights of others.

Article 26: All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law, and the law prohibits “any discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

Article 27: “In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language.”

Focus by Vaishnavi Iyer.


United Nations


United Nations


16 Dec, 1966