Skip to Main Content
Research Guides United Nations Office at Geneva Library & Archives

Universal Declaration of Human Rights for Children and Youth: Glossary

Glossary (Language difficulty - youth)


When a State has not previously signed a treaty, it cannot RATIFY it. In this case a State can agree to be bound by this treaty through ACCESSION.

CONVENTION, also Covenant, also Treaty

Agreement between States, a form of a treaty, usually multilateral. It is binding only on the States that have agreed to be bound by it. A convention is stronger than a declaration because it is legally binding for governments that have ratified it.

For example,  the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

COVENANT, see Convention


Refers to international obligations of the states that arise from established state practice or custom, as opposed to the obligations arising from international treaties. This is law that becomes binding "by use". In case of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which in itself is not binding, most of its provisions have the character of customary international law.


Document whose authors (the legal representatives of governments) express their agreement with given aims, objectives and principles. The content of a declaration constitutes a moral obligation, a recommendation, but it is not legally binding.


The process through which a treaty becomes fully binding on the states that have ratified it.


The evolving, and interrelated body of international instruments that define human rights and establish mechanisms to promote and protect them.


Any formal, written document drafted by states that sets forth rights as non-binding principles (a declaration) or codifies rights that are legally binding on those states that ratify them (a covenant, treaty, or convention).


Refers to rights that belong to every person and cannot be taken from a person under any circumstances.


It is insufficient to respect some human rights and not others. A person cannot be denied a human right on the grounds that it is 'less important' or 'non-essential'. The violation of one right will often affect respect for several other rights. All human rights have equal importance.


The International Bill of Human Rights consists of (a) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, (b) the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and (c) the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its two Optional Protocols.


An introductory statement.


1. A form of a treaty or convention

2. Additional text, optional or not, which modifies or supplements a treaty.


Procedure by which a State signifies its agreement to be bound by a treaty or a protocol.
Only a State that previously signed it can ratify it. Ratification is a two-step process. First the treaty has to be approved within the State by the appropriate constitutional organ, usually the head of State or Parliament. After that the instrument of ratification - or a document signed by the official of the government - should be transmitted to a depository. The depository can be a State or an international organization, such as the United Nations.


The exceptions that States Parties make to a treaty or a protocol.


Signature is a preliminary agreement of a treaty or protocol. It is a fest step in RATIFICATION. Signature does not bind a State legally but does demonstrate the State’s intention to examine the treaty or protocol and consider ratifying it. While signing does not commit a State to ratification, it does oblige the State to refrain from acts that would be against the treaty or protocol’s objective and purpose.

TREATY, also Covenant, also Convention

An agreement by States to be bound by particular rules. International treaties have different designations such as covenants, charters, protocols, conventions, accords and agreements. A treaty is legally binding to those States that have agreed to be bound by the provisions of the treaty; in other words these States are party to the treaty.


Adopted by the General Assembly on December 10, 1948. Primary UN document establishing human rights standards and norms.




ABC: teaching human rights - practical activities for primary and secondary schools2nd ed. New York, Geneva: UN, 2004

COMPASITO - Manual on human rights education for children. Budapest: Council of Europe, 2007