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Statement to the 8th session of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee by Virginia B. Dandan Independent Expert on Human Rights and International Solidarity

22 February 2012

Mr. Chairperson, distinguished members of the Advisory Committee.

Thank you for this opportunity to meet with you this morning. If you will allow me Chairperson, my intervention will focus on three matters: my personal vision of international solidarity, an update on the activities towards that vision, and my thoughts about the draft paper on human rights and international solidarity that is now before the consideration of this Committee.

Let me begin by recalling the basis for the activities relating to the mandate on human rights and international solidarity which was originally established in 2005 in Commission on Human Rights resolution 2005/55. The Independent Expert is tasked to study the issue of human rights and international solidarity and to prepare a draft declaration on the right of peoples and individuals to international solidarity, taking into account the outcomes of all major United Nations and other global summits and ministerial meetings in the economic and social fields, and seeking views and contributions from Governments, United Nations agencies, relevant organizations and non-governmental organizations as well as with other relevant actors representing the broadest possible range of interests and experiences.

In 2009, the Independent Expert distributed a questionnaire on human rights and international solidarity to Member States, UN departments and bodies, specialized agencies, other international organizations and non-governmental organizations, as well as special procedures mandate holders. The responses were compiled and presented to the Human Rights Council (HRC) in document A/HRC/15/32. That document also identifies salient elements of a conceptual and normative framework drawing from the responses, and the Independent Expert’s observations. In concluding the report, the Independent Expert underlines the value and significance of international solidarity in an interdependent world, and how it may eventually guide the progressive development of international law on human rights and international solidarity. At the end of the term of my predecessor I was appointed to carry on the mandate effective August 2011.

In its resolutions 9/2, 12/9 and 15/13, the Human Rights Council requested the Advisory Committee to prepare inputs to contribute to the elaboration by the Independent Expert of a draft declaration on the right of peoples and individuals to international solidarity, and to the further development of guidelines, standards, norms and principles with a view to promoting and protecting this right. The work of the working group is presently contained as a revised draft paper that is now before the Advisory Committee for its consideration.

It is my intention to work from the point where my predecessor stopped and not to begin all over again. Nonetheless, this mandate of human rights and international solidarity will also be informed my own vision. Solidarity is a persuasion that combines differences and opposites, holds them together into one heterogeneous whole, and nurtures it with the universal values of human rights. International solidarity therefore does not seek to homogenize but rather, to be the bridge across these differences and opposites, connecting to each other diverse peoples and countries with their heterogeneous interests, in mutually respectful, beneficial and reciprocal relations, that are imbued with the principles of human rights, equity and justice. I expressed this view during my first interactive dialogue with the Human Rights Council at its 18th Session in September 2011.

Defining international solidarity is still a work in progress and in fact, the draft declaration should be able to contribute to elaborating that definition. In the meantime, I can only stress the following notions: that international solidarity should be viewed in its broadest sense, that it is about respecting diversity, it is about connecting peoples, it is about oneness and accord despite differences, and it is about human rights as the binding force securing heterogeneous parts together. If we can agree that international solidarity connects diverse peoples, cultures and countries into a harmonious whole, informed by human rights in meaningful ways, I believe there should not be any doubt that international solidarity is itself a human right.

In reference to my mandate, I have already committed to deliver to the Human Rights Council a draft declaration on the right of peoples and individuals to international solidarity before the end of my initial term in 2014. In June this year 2012, an expert workshop will be convened to define guidelines and principles on the fulfilment of the right to international solidarity. Presently, there is recognition among Council Member States that international solidarity is an important moral principle and a commitment, but some of those States also hold the view that international solidarity does not meet all the requirements of a legal concept and of a human right. And yet, there is an abundance of laws, policies and standards that can form the basis for a conceptual framework, on which principles and guidelines on human rights and international solidarity can be constructed. Therefore the goal of my mandate as I see it, not to prove whether the right to international solidarity is right or wrong, but rather to formulate the logic to make the right to international solidarity, rational and legitimate. The forthcoming workshop will be the first step towards that goal. I hope to update you on the next steps when—with your permission Mr. Chairperson and the Members of this Advisory Committee—I return for another visit at some future opportunity.

The expert workshop will discuss some of the most serious constraints to a sustainable future during this century illustrating how readily many States turn their backs on the commitments and pledges they make during world conferences. This reality reinforces the argument for the elaboration of a right to international solidarity that would hold States accountable for their international commitments. The time has come for judiciously moving forward to reach an agreement on the contours, configuration and substance of a draft declaration which will eventually be developed into a right of peoples and individuals to international solidarity.

The expert workshop aims to identify and bring to the fore, a set of good practices, concepts and norms that respond to global challenges in areas including but not limited to: poverty and inequality; water scarcity; food insecurity; inadequate social protection; population pressure; the adverse social and economic effects of globalization including its impact on labour and migration; the misuse of natural resources that is closely linked to increasing social conflict, marginalization and poverty; abuse of the environment; adverse impacts of climate change; imbalances of power manifest in trade, aid, investments and foreign debt; inequality in the enjoyment of the rights to health, to work, to adequate housing, education and culture; and the cross-cutting issues of gender mainstreaming, extra-territorial obligations of States and international cooperation. The expert workshop will also take into consideration the extent to which unregulated trade in arms, corruption particularly in governance, are factors fuelling the unprecedented conflicts occurring in many parts of the world, thereby resulting on violations and deprivations of a range of human rights. I fully recognize that even if the list is very long, it remains non-exhaustive. The major task of the expert workshop is to consolidate these concerns into a comprehensive form that is all-encompassing but that will not go the way of motherhood statements which stop short of concrete and targeted principles.

That same workshop will also be an opportunity for further dialogue on outstanding issues and gaps such as the gender implications of international solidarity, as well as the function of the right to international solidarity in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, and in realizing the Right to Development. It will also occasion a meeting of the minds on points that have been raised between the arguments for and contrary to, the concept of the right to international solidarity. To put it simply, aside from mapping what will consequently become a draft declaration, the expert workshop will establish the right to international solidarity within the human rights discourse.

Chairperson, I have been following the activities of the Advisory Committee since its inception and recognize its role in directing the course that the Human Rights Council takes. It is for this reason that I have sought to be with you as early as possible within my term, and I truly hope that I will be allowed to continue to engage with this Committee as I fulfil my mandate. Interacting with treaty bodies is also important, in particular the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Having been a member of that treaty body for two decades and its former Chairperson, I am aware of the significance the Committee attaches to international cooperation, which it views as an obligation of States. In addition I plan to study and observe firsthand through country visits, how best practices of States actually work on the ground, for example, how aid effectiveness is ensured in practice particularly in terms of achieving development goals. In my experience, the reality on the ground can be very different from what written reports describe.

I read with interest and attention, the draft paper on human rights and international solidarity (A/HRC/AC/8/CRP.1) prepared by the drafting group of this Committee. In particular, I appreciate how section III on Values and Importance of this right in paragraph 11, may well be some of the headings under which the issues in I have enumerated, will eventually find their place. In addition, section V on Promotion and realization of the right to solidarity spells out in paragraph 13, what may well be some of the principles that will guide a draft declaration on the right to international solidarity.

In the year 2009, my predecessor Mr. Muhammad Rizki, circulated a questionnaire on human rights and international solidarity to Member States, UN departments and bodies, specialized agencies, other international organizations and non-governmental organizations, as well as special procedures mandate holders. Responses were compiled in his final report where he observed that some of the respondents made specific suggestions among other things, for the strengthening of the definition, understanding and implementation of international solidarity, for instance that the definition should include actions and persons, going beyond States. Indeed the right to international solidarity, like the right to development, must be people-centred. International solidarity is a precondition to human dignity, the basis of all human rights, and a human-centred approach to development, and has a bridge-building function across all divides and distinctions The linkage of the right to international solidarity to other human rights, makes it reasonable to assume its link to the behaviour of individuals, civil society, the private sector and other components of society, and to the State. Further elaboration of these links is essential.

International Human Solidarity Day is celebrated every year on December 20, by the United Nations, but without fanfare. Last December, I had the honour of making a statement in my capacity as independent expert, along with the UN Secretary General and the President of the General Assembly. Allow me to recall some points I made in that statement.

“This year we witnessed staggering events in various parts of the world, the likes of which we have never seen before. Extreme weather patterns caused unprecedented devastation, from widespread floods in Central and South America and the South and Southeast Asian countries, to droughts and famine in the Horn of Africa, and the tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan. These events—together with the social unrest and political upheavals that continue to spread worldwide, and the financial turmoil within the Eurozone and other rich countries—have all tested the capacity of the international community to come together to help one another.

We have witnessed how disasters—natural or man-made—affect the poor and the rich alike. And we have also witnessed how solidarity has brought people together, across nationalities, and social and cultural differences, to address the threats they must face, and to respond with a sense of oneness, drawing strength from each other to express their common humanity. This belies the criticism that solidarity is mere rhetoric and demonstrates that solidarity is not about charity.

International Human Solidarity Day this year resounds with an urgent call for everyone of us to work together as members of the international community to confront the realities and dangers of the present, so that we can shape a future, founded upon the same fundamental common human values which created the United Nations—peace and security, human rights and development.

Our common future is at risk and our common present is under grave threat and yet, world leaders continue the illusion that the crowds and their loud clamor for justice and fair distribution of resources, will eventually tire and go away in due time. Their level of indifference leads them to believe that poverty, inequality, the disempowerment of women, and youth unemployment will be miraculously solved by sheer economic growth. Their shortsightedness comes with the inability to see the chain that links together climate change, food crises, water scarcity, energy shortages, population pressure and displacement.

Global challenges require multilateral global responses. Efforts undertaken in isolation no longer work in the enormity and expanse of the problems involved. These challenges also require a change of mindset in the way decisions are made, and how actions are taken, to recover and rediscover the time-honoured common values of humanity such as solidarity, which are the vanguards in the boundary between order and chaos. Solidarity should, and must be a positive force in the lives of people and of nations, and must therefore be protected from exploitation and corruption.

On the eve of the Durban Climate Change Conference I called for ‘preventive solidarity’ on the part of the international community, and for action to be taken together, in unison, and as one, in order to make progress in the negotiations and to prepare the world to better respond to the greatest challenge of humankind. The adoption of the Global Green Fund is welcome and is indeed a shining example of solidarity among nations. However, an even stronger solidarity is required to translate this decision into meaningful action to help the nations that are the most vulnerable and hardest hit by the impacts of climate change. These nations are already overburdened, and many of them are also conflict-prone.
The upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development is an opportunity for reason, sense and cooperation to prevail, bearing in mind that climate change is an urgent problem for today, and not just for the future. After two decades of debating and intellectualizing, we have now reached a point where we must finally give practical meaning to, and implementation of, the sustainable development agenda. We must strive for a socially resilient, more equal and more inclusive world community, and the vehicle that will bring us towards that goal is international solidarity.”

The statement that I have just read out touches highlights in so many words how international solidarity and international cooperation are inexorably linked to each other, and in my view, one cannot succeed without the other. Their similarities become obvious without difficulty, but they have one distinct difference. The many years I have worked both with communities in the field, and with the UN human rights system on the international level, have shaped my firm conviction that on one hand, international solidarity emanates from the solidarity of people on the national level as a human right. On the other hand, international cooperation is in the domain of the State whose primary duty it is—to the maximum of its available resources which includes those derived from international cooperation—to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of its peoples, including their right to international solidarity. The task of elaborating the meaning of international solidarity as a right cannot avoid, at the same time and the same breath, similarly elaborating the meaning of international cooperation as a duty.

Mr. Chairperson, distinguished ladies and gentlemen of this Advisory Committee, I have come here not to tell you how you should construct your input but rather, to express to you my deep gratitude for your support and assistance, and to declare my faith and trust that I will benefit tremendously from your wisdom and guidance. I conclude my intervention with an invitation warmly extended for two members of this Advisory Committee to come to the expert workshop to be held on June 7 to 8 this year, here in Geneva. The report of that workshop will be part of my annual report to be presented to the Human Rights Council in September. Chairperson, with your permission, I would be happy to answer questions from the members of this Committee and honoured to exchange views with you.

I thank you for your attention.