March PrinciplesOn March 8, 2023, the International Committee of Jurists (ICJ) with UNAIDS and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) launched a new set of expert jurists’ principles called the 8 March Principles to guide the implementation of international human rights law.

Upholding International Human Rights Law

International human rights law enacts commitment from states to respect, protect and fulfill basic human rights. When states become parties to international human rights treaties, the countries agree to not interfere with the “enjoyment of human rights” and “to protect individuals and groups against human rights abuses” while “[taking] positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of basic human rights.”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that the United Nations General Assembly adopted on December 10, 1948, first codified international human rights law. Today, the UDHR is widely recognized as the fundamental global standard for human rights. It establishes civil, social, cultural, political and economic rights that every human must receive and that all individuals and societies have a duty to uphold.

The UDHR, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) together form the International Bill of Human Rights. Adopted in 1966, the ICCPR and ICESCR strengthened international human rights law by further outlining the rights that every individual is entitled to.

According to OHCHR, states must adopt and implement international human rights law at both the national and international levels to ensure effectiveness. Alongside international treaties, guidelines and principles, most states adopt national constitutions and other laws, which sometimes reflect regionally-specific concerns, aimed at protecting basic human rights.

The 8 March Principles

Introduced on International Women’s Day 2023, the 8 March Principles address overcriminalization in matters pertaining to sexual activity, gender identity and expression, HIV, drug use, homelessness and poverty. The principles apply international human rights law to correct the injustices of criminal laws that allow governments to prosecute individuals and groups on such bases.

The principles are the outcome of a 2018 workshop that UNAIDS, OHCHR and ICJ held to discuss the harmful human rights impact of criminal laws. The meeting clarified the need for a set of jurists’ principles that would guide courts, legislatures, advocates and prosecutors in addressing the detrimental human rights impact that criminal laws can have. Finalized in 2022, the principles took more than five years to develop.

Despite their name, the 8 March Principles include 21 principles divided into three categories: general part one, general part two and special part three. The first two categories apply general principles of criminal law and international human rights law “to proscribe certain conduct in a non-discriminatory way, respecting the rule of law.” Special part three applies these principles to specifically address the criminalization of conduct related to sex and sex work, drug use and possession, HIV, homelessness and poverty.

Implementation and Progress

According to ICJ’s policy director Ian Seiderman, “Criminal law is among the harshest of tools” that states can use “to exert control over individuals,”  and therefore, should be “a measure of last resort.” Yet, across the world, an increasing “trend toward overcriminalization” is notable.

Currently, for instance, more than 130 countries criminalize HIV exposure, non-disclosure and transmission, according to UNAIDS. The 8 March Principles aim to end discrimination and denial of basic human rights on such bases.

While many states are rapidly implementing the principles, those that are not parties to international human rights treaties have yet to adopt them. The constant push to implement the 8 March Principles at both the national and international levels is integral to global progress. The principles will ensure that no individual or group experiences discrimination regarding these matters and will uphold the basic rights and protections of every human being.

Brianna Green
Photo: Flickr