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As a relatively general and vague designation, “commitment” means a state’s nonbinding adherence to a principle of behavior or its statement of will to comply with it. Common principles that states agree upon in the form of “declarations,” “basic principles” and “minimum rules,” for example, are often referred to as non-legally binding “commitments,” even though they already may be grounded in existing rights and treaty obligations and/or general principles in the major legal systems of the world. Typically, distinguishing between levels of committed action, a state may enter into a theoretical agreement with other states on common values that may be considered “commitments,” falling under a heading of “general principles” or “basic principles.” Another habitual term found in such instruments, “goals,” can express intent, however at a more-abstract level. The expression of those values and intents in practical application often appear under the heading of “commitments.” (See Vancouver Declaration (1976), Habitat Agenda [1996], Doha Declaration [2001], Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness [2005], etc.) Some legal scholars may consider the Millennium Development Goals to be part of international law, for example, but they are not yet universally found to be legally binding,[1] even though legally binding treaty obligations apply consistent with the goals.[2]

[1] Philip Alston, “Ships Passing in the Night: The Current State of the Human Rights and Development Debate Seen through the Lens of the Millennium Development Goals, Human Rights Quarterly 27 (2005), pp. 755–829.

[2] See Closing the Human Rights Gap in MDG 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability, Tools and Techniques Series, No. 3(Cairo: Habitat International Coalition – Housing and Land Rights Network, 2007).