Research Handbook on International Human Rights Law
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Research Handbook on International Human Rights Law

Edited by Sarah Joseph and Adam McBeth

This innovative and timely Handbook brings together the work of 25 leading human rights scholars from all over the world to consider a broad range of human rights topics.
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Chapter 4: Non-state Actors and International Human Rights Law

Robert McCorquodale


Robert McCorquodale* 1 Introduction Non-state actors cannot breach international human rights law. Actions by any organization, group or individual that is not a state, irrespective of the severe impact that those actions may have on the human rights of others, cannot cause a violation of international human rights law. This disturbing situation arises because international human rights law has been created to place the legal obligations on states, and states alone. This chapter will examine the reason for this legal position and demonstrate the attempts taken, especially by the international human rights treaty monitoring bodies, to deal with the actions of non-state actors that violate human rights. It will also offer ways forward, both conceptually and practically, to ensure the greater protection of human rights, no matter who is the perpetrator of the violation. 2 Non-state actors There have been many definitions offered for those participants in the international legal system which are not states. Some of these definitions have focused on a particular context, such as internal armed conflict or trade, with the European Union defining non-state actors as those in the private sector, economic and social partners (including trade union organizations) and civil society ‘in all its forms according to national characteristics’.1 A broaderbased definition includes all organizations: • Largely or entirely autonomous from central government funding and control: emanating from civil society, or from the market economy, or from political impulses beyond state control and direction; * The author is grateful for the research work of Fiona Adolu, Ningthi...

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