Procedural documents

Procedural documents

These notes locate the Convention among UN instruments, discuss the conditions to be met by such an instrument and the necessary steps to be taken. These notes conclude with a question: under what conditions, if any, might a Convention on the Right to Communicate be achieved.

In the United Nations, the Commission on Human Rights has general responsibility for the development of international instruments in the field of human rights. Three types of human rights instruments are of interest here:


An informal and non-binding instrument.


A formal instrument, but one that is non-binding although it has moral weight.

Convention (or Covenant)

A formal and binding instrument. Once adopted by the General Assembly, a Convention is held open for ratification by member States for a specified time period. A Convention comes into force when it is ratified by a specified number of States, and is then binding on those States that ratify it. The domestic law of the State can then be interpreted in light of the Convention. Other States that do not ratify the Convention may nevertheless implement it, although they are not bound to do so.


The development, adoption, ratification and implementation of a formal Convention on the Right to Communicate is complicated by factors such as:

  • Growing awareness that the right to communicate is a pre-requisite for the exercise of other human rights;
  • High cost of a shift from 'everyone has the right to freedom of...' (as in UDHR Article 19) to 'everyone has the right to the resources for ...', even for basic telephone and postal services; and
  • Continuing change in a global society both in the role of communication and in the nature of the Nation State, which may preclude the development of a Convention that attracts broad international support.

Nevertheless, these factors illustrate both the need for and the difficulty in adopting, ratifying and implementing a Convention on the right to communicate.


General Assembly Resolution 41/120 (The Yearbook of the United Nations for 1986, page 736) details the general conditions and the specific guidelines for the development of new human rights instruments, which must:

  • Be consistent with existing human rights law;
  • Be fundamental and derive from the inherent dignity and worth of the human person;
  • Give rise to identifiable and practicable rights and obligations;
  • Provide effective implementation machinery, including reporting systems;
  • Attract broad international support.

A properly drafted Convention on the right to communicate can meet all these requirements. But the pathway leading to adoption, ratification and implementation of any such Convention will be long, as the Tampere Convention cited below illustrates.


On the pathway toward adoption, ratification and implementation of a Convention, different actors perform different tasks at various stages in the process. At a minimum, somehow and somewhere, it will be necessary to:

  • Establish an International Committee to study closely the feasibility of a right to communicate (RTC) Convention and, if deemed feasible, develop a long-term work plan;
  • Draft a 'White Paper' that describes at the global level the present and future communication challenges to be addressed by a RTC Convention;
  • Develop a draft RTC Convention that begins with a preamble and embeds the basic provisions of the right to communicate in a series of articles;
  • Secure in due course UN General Assembly adoption of the proposed RTC Convention;
  • Arrange for the RTC Convention to be available for ratification by Member States within the required time frame.


Under what conditions, if any, might a Convention on the Right to Communicate be developed, adopted, ratified and implemented? That is the question.

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