"Luminarium", an inflatable walk-through sculpture designed by British artist Alan Parkinson exhibited at United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland, June 2013. ©UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

In 1966, the United Nations General Assembly adopted two multilateral human rights treaties: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Building on the foundation laid in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, these two essential documents set out rights and freedoms to which all human beings are entitled, regardless of nationality, ethnicity or economic situation. These include the right to life, the right to equality between men and women, and the right to education, as well as freedom from hunger, torture and slavery. Many of these rights have been taken for granted in a number of countries, and not fully realized in others. Unfortunately, some of these basic rights, such as the freedom from discrimination, the freedom from arbitrary expulsion, and the freedom of religion and belief, to name a few, are under threat in many parts of the world today. Xenophobia and other forms of intolerance of 'the other' are on the rise, especially in places with nationalist/sectarian tensions.

Contributors to this issue of the UN Chronicle were asked to look back on the half-century since the adoption of the Covenants and take stock of the status of those rights and the functioning of the United Nations human rights machinery—the various treaties, offices and programmes designed to protect and promote the freedoms enshrined in the Covenants and the Universal Declaration, collectively known as the International Bill of Human Rights.

Articles for the issue were submitted by prominent human rights leaders, human rights activists, scholars and independent experts. These include Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Tawakkol Karman, winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Adama Dieng, United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Hardeep S. Puri, former Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations and Akshaya Kumar, Deputy United Nations Director at Human Rights Watch.

We hope that this issue of the UN Chronicle will highlight the contribution of the Covenants to improving people's access to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, and spotlight areas in which more can be done to support the rights of the entire human family.