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United Nations Human Rights Council 21st Session - Statement by the UN Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, Ms. Virginia. B. Dandan

Geneva, 12 September 2012

Madame President,
Distinguished members of the Human Rights Council,
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour to present to the Council for its consideration, my first report in my capacity as the mandate holder for human rights and international solidarity. Allow me to begin by recognizing with deep appreciation, the work done by my predecessor Mr. Rudi Muhammad Rizki, who passed away in December last year. To a large extent, he was responsible for laying the groundwork for this mandate and it is my task to carry on where he left off.

This present report summarizes the activities I have endeavoured in response to the Council’s requests contained in resolutions 17/6 and 18/5, among them—cooperation with the Council’s Advisory Committee; participation in relevant international conferences and events with the aim of promoting the realization of the right of peoples and individuals to international solidarity; and, taking into account the outcomes of major UN and other global summits and ministerial meetings.

I had the pleasure of engaging with the Advisory Committee during its eighth session in February this year, and discussed with the Committee members the draft paper prepared by its drafting group as input to the work of the independent expert on a draft declaration on the right of peoples and individuals to international solidarity, pursuant to the Council’s resolutions 9/2, 12/9, 15/13, and more recently resolution 18/5. At that session of the Advisory Committee I also extended the invitation for two of its members to participate in a workshop on human rights and international solidarity to which I will come back shortly.

Subsequently in its ninth session held last month, the Advisory Committee adopted its final paper on human rights and international solidarity, and submitted it to the Council for its consideration at this present session. Madame President, through you and the Council, I would like to thank the Advisory Committee for its support and assistance in my task of elaborating a draft declaration on the right to international solidarity.

In the same resolution 18/5, the Human Rights Council requested the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to convene a workshop for an exchange of views on, inter alia, the gender implications of international solidarity, the impact of a right to international solidarity in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, and the realization of the right to development. The workshop was held in Geneva on June 7 and 8, 2012, and as requested by the Council, a summary of the discussions during the workshop is presented in the Addendum to this report.

With your permission Madame President and bearing fully in mind my time limits, I invite the attention of the Council to only a very few highlights drawn from the wealth of perspectives generated by the workshop, contributed by the participants based on their actual experiences relating to various aspects of human rights and international solidarity. With regard to the content, nature and added value of international solidarity, one of the challenges most commonly identified was how to define the legal content of the right to international solidarity, the duty bearers and the means of establishing accountability and monitoring mechanisms.

It was pointed out in the discussions that, among other things, it would be a right of peoples and individuals, and that it would serve as a framework for extraterritorial obligations of States, implying coordination between States in implementing human rights. It would allow for other human rights to be enjoyed, and change the approach to cooperation, from being driven by profit to being based on solidarity thus contributing to peace and security. Participants stressed the importance of the concept of “preventive solidarity” as a normative framework, in particular to minimize the negative effects of various crises. The work of the International Labour Organization on the social protection floor was cited as a good example of preventive solidarity.

A dual nature was attributed to international solidarity, having instrumental value while at the same time being an end in itself. It is instrumental in the sense that it involves interdependence as well as collective action. It also provides the means to measure the end, which is the full realization of all human rights, and would guide collective action by States towards a desirable outcome. Reference was made in this regard to the Maastricht Principles on Extraterritorial Obligations of States in the area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, specifically Principle 30 on coordination and allocation of responsibilities.

On the relationship between the right to international solidarity and international cooperation, it was pointed out that the logic of actions of one country affecting others holds for international solidarity as well as international cooperation, both negatively and positively. Examples would be in the areas of financial derivatives, technology transfer, conflict, trade in weapons, media, and information and communications technology. International solidarity therefore goes beyond simply international cooperation, especially in terms of the way in which it is used. Although cooperation derives from solidarity, solidarity does not necessarily derive from cooperation. Since it was earlier posited that international solidarity qualifies international cooperation by moving it away from being driven by profit, the right to international solidarity would thus serve as a “corrective principle” for international cooperation.

The most recent among my activities was my first country study mission conducted in Brazil, for the purpose of exchanging views with the Government and other actors, and gathering information on the experiences of Brazil in international solidarity, including in the context of international cooperation activities. It is my view that States are vital conduits of international solidarity and are the driving force of international cooperation. Therefore, in developing a draft declaration on the right of peoples and individuals to international solidarity, it is critical to take into account the policy and actual practice of States and the most effective and appropriate way to understand policy on and practice of international solidarity, is through empirical methods of study and observation on the ground. Madame President, please allow me take this occasion to express my deep appreciation to the Government of Brazil for providing me the opportunity to observe and learn first-hand about the policy and practice of “solidarity diplomacy” and for the generous latitude to meet and speak with whomever I wished.

This present report features a summary account of that country study mission to Brazil, illustrating the value of best practices as portals to the inherent interface between the policy and practice of international solidarity and the realization of human rights. The full report of the country study mission is forthcoming and will be submitted in time for the 24th session of the Human Rights Council in 2013.


I have mapped out my work plan in three stages towards developing a draft declaration on the right of peoples and individuals to international solidarity, or simply, the right to international solidarity. The past work of my predecessor Mr. Rizki constitutes Stage One where international solidarity had been affirmed in various ways, including as a fundamental conception of mutually reinforcing relations among persons, groups and nations, as an essential binding element that underpins global partnerships, as a key approach to poverty eradication, and as an indispensable component of the efforts to realize all human rights including the right to development and the Millennium Development Goals.

Stage Two involves empirical methods in exploring and examining issues, principles, standards and norms, and in consulting with States and various stakeholders, civil society and people from the grassroots. Stage Three will be devoted to consolidating and analysing the results of Stages One and Two, and to elaborating the draft declaration, culminating in its submission to the Human Rights Council by the year 2014. The activities described in the present report as well as its addendum, are all part of Stage Two where my efforts in implementing my mandate are presently located.

International solidarity has been defined and redefined in the course of Stage One as inspired by and drawn from the historical and philosophical foundations of the concept or principle of international solidarity and to a certain extent, it established its value in international relations. Stage Two aims to build the momentum necessary to move beyond the bounds of international cooperation and assistance which in my view, have held down and constrained for too long, the elaboration of a right to international solidarity.

The Human Rights Council itself in paragraph 2 of its resolution 18/5 of October 2011, affirms that “international solidarity is not limited to international assistance and cooperation, aid, charity or humanitarian assistance; it is a broader concept and principle that includes sustainability in international relations, especially international economic relations, the peaceful coexistence of all members of the international community, equal partnerships and the equitable sharing of benefits and burdens.” And further “...that much more is needed owing to the magnitude of global and local challenges, the alarming increase in natural and man-made disasters and the continuing rises in poverty and inequality; ideally, solidarity should be preventive rather than simply reactive to massive irreversible damage already caused, and must address both natural and man-made disasters.”

This Council resolution is the touchstone that grounds Stage Two, and defines what the mandate of human rights and international solidarity is all about. Stage Two has shifted the focus from the concept or principle of international solidarity to a right to international solidarity.

Having said that, let me now share with you some preliminary considerations emerging within Stage Two so far, regarding what the draft declaration would include. These considerations have been drawn from various sources including the activities described in my report and its addendum, as well as from my informal consultations with various actors, personal research and engagements with global civil society. However, these considerations should not be misconstrued as pre-empting the flow of my work plan but could at best serve as the starting points in elaborating a draft declaration on the right to international solidarity.

  • The draft declaration will embark from a level playing field mirroring the current international political and economic realities which have now blurred the previous stereotype relationships between developed and developing countries and economies. I stress in this regard, as has been pointed out by a young scholar, that a right to international solidarity reaches beyond the economic sphere to the humanitarian, environmental and other fields where the North/South distinctions have become less clear-cut.
  • The draft declaration will invoke the legal bases of a right to international solidarity that have been pointed out a number of times in the past, and document the details of international law and international human rights law on which the right is founded. The principles that will inform the declaration will evolve from the substantive content of relevant resolutions of the Commission on Human Rights and the Human Rights Council, from the interests that States share in common and those from various civil society actors including non-governmental and grassroots groups.
  • The configuration of a right to international solidarity requires more than relying solely on rationality. Since international solidarity stems from the lived experience of interdependence and interrelatedness that inform social relations in these contemporary times, a right to international solidarity therefore takes into account, how good practices of collective action on the ground—whether among individuals, groups of individuals or States—give rise to desirable outcomes towards the realization of human rights. People and institutions can and do engage in what one author has called “solidarity relations” across distances. Even without having met face to face, modern technology has given them the means for finding commonalities as their basis for empathy and for taking collective action. This phenomenon is evident in the recent social movements spanning the globe, the astounding outgrowth of social networking along with the virtual and the real communities it spawned. Best practices in this regard can validate a right to international solidarity.
  • Precisely because international solidarity resides in such a fragile balance of empathy, openness and readiness to take action, its outcomes can either be directed towards the realization of human rights, or manipulated, misused and abused to further perpetuate pervasive asymmetries and inequalities. A right to international solidarity would provide a mechanism to prevent, protect against and manage this risk.
  • A right to international solidarity will establish and strengthen space for participation and at the same time, increase the accountability of national and international stakeholders by creating duties and obligations, including the respect for cultural diversity and the right to peace. It should not be interpreted as replacing the obligations of national governments to respect, protect and fulfil human rights within their territories. It would support national policy choices, and at the international level, could take the form of supporting participation for example by making data available to all including through transfer of technology, capacity building, and sharing the benefits of research and scientific progress. As a minimum core obligation, States must desist from actions that violate human rights in other countries.
  • A right to international solidarity will identify obligations that extend beyond the question of establishing mechanisms at the international level for the distribution of resources. Positive obligations would include taking concrete steps to regulate financial markets; cooperating to regulate migration on the basis of solidarity; guaranteeing access to information and communications technology especially for the marginalized and disadvantaged; implementing measures that guarantee participation in decision-making; countering systemic violations of human rights. Negative obligations would include not adopting free trade agreements that have the effect of undermining peoples’ livelihoods or other rights; not increasing or contributing to global warming; not causing the depletion of or irreparable damage to, natural resources and biodiversity; not engaging in irregular weapons trade; and not impeding access to information and communications technology.
  • The achievement of the MDG’s require international solidarity and cooperation. The proposed declaration on the right to international solidarity could inform and strengthen the targets of the MDGs especially those related to MDG 8, as they presumably evolve into the Sustainable Development Goals that are already in the planning stage. Looking beyond the deadline for the achievement of the MDGs, the declaration on the right to international solidarity could provide a framework in which international commitments such as that of fostering Goal 8, could be pushed forward, along with the preventive value of a right to international solidarity, in addressing global poverty and inequality. The MDGs and the corresponding targets are interrelated and should be seen as a whole. They represent a partnership between the countries irrespective of the status of economic development, “to create an environment – at the national and global levels alike – which is conducive to development and the elimination of poverty”. A right to international solidarity has the potential to progressively create such an environment.

In closing, I would like to assure the Council, that Stage Two of my work plan is proceeding well and that I will continue on the activities on which I have embarked, including consultations with various stakeholders and undertaking country study missions. I earnestly hope to be given the opportunity in terms of time and resources, to be able to consult with member States’ delegations of the Council, as well as with regional groupings, so that I can listen to them directly regarding their views and expectations of the draft declaration on the right to international solidarity.

Madame President, distinguished members of the Council, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your kind attention.