12 September 2012
Madame Chairperson, distinguished delegates,
representatives of civil society, fellow Rapporteurs,
By adopting Resolution 18/6 in September 2011, the Human Rights Council acknowledged that joint efforts should be undertaken to render the current international order more democratic and more equitable. The resolution recognizes the interrelationship of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and tasks the mandate holder with the identification of obstacles and good practices, and with formulating appropriate recommendations.
This preliminary report is an exploratory essay into the conceptual and legal framework of the mandate, highlighting some of the epistemological challenges inherent in the notion of democracy both at the international and domestic levels, as well as the implications of a culture of equity based on common sense and solidarity. The report is inspired by the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations as proclaimed in the Charter, which can well be considered as a World Constitution. It views international law as the expression of humanity’s agreement to live together, and human rights treaties as universal commitments binding States and individuals.
Recalling that the Preamble of the Charter begins with the words “We the people”, greater voice should be given to civil society, and world public opinion should be measured more objectively, so as to ensure that economic and geopolitical interests do not supplant the needs of peoples.
In order to better understand different points of view, I have sent questionnaires and conducted consultations with stakeholders. I have been encouraged by the sheer volume and depth of responses already received, and look forward to continuing fruitful consultations over the years to come.
Bearing in mind that I assumed my functions on the first of May, this report should be taken as a tour d’horizon. While the mandate may appear overbroad or abstract, the intention of the Council is to give practical application to human rights norms in the international order, thus requiring the formulation of pragmatic solutions that take due account of the individual and collective dimensions of the resolution, recognizing the inter-State commitment to respect each other’s sovereignty, and to ensure equitable participation in the international order, including global decision-making and equitable commercial and financial relations.
While pertinent norms and mechanisms exist, an important implementation gap prevails. In performing my tasks I build on past and on-going work of other Special Procedures, of the Advisory Committee, the treaty bodies, as well as pertinent Council resolutions and General Assembly pronouncements, particularly resolution 65/223 on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order.
Madame Chairperson, distinguished delegates,
There is a real need for greater democracy at the international level, which entails participation by all peoples in global decision-making, with due respect for the principles of self-determination and for the cultures and identities of peoples . As an Independent Expert, I am committed to address the existing links between the international democratic order and domestic democracy.
Traditionally democracy has been understood in terms of the relationships of the State with its inhabitants. However, it is imperative that we move beyond the national boundaries and adopt a holistic approach towards the notion of “democracy”. Its vital elements, which include, equity, participation, the rule of law and an independent judiciary backed up by accountability - are hardly present at the international level. A serious obstacle to the realization of an international democratic order is the ability of some powerful States and non-state actors to subvert the clear will of the majority of the people and States.
Resolution 18/6 declares that democracy, as a form of Government, is a universal value that includes respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms, “based on the freely expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives”. This resolution further underlines “the need for universal adherence to and implementation of the rule of law at both the national and international levels”.
I am aware of the frequent disconnect between people and Government, and the dysfunctions prevalent in many countries, both in Government and within civil society itself. States and civil societies are invited to review the degree of correlation between the will of the people and the policies actually implemented. Everyone should enjoy the opportunity peacefully to articulate approval or disapproval of government policies, free from any act of harassment, intimidation, violence or fear.
As a democratic international order demands a well-functioning inter-action between the democratic will of peoples and the concrete policies that affect them, an equitable international order requires a correlation between production and wealth, performance and reward, and rejects the excesses of the uncontrolled financial markets that more than once have adversely impacted the world economy, causing depression, unemployment, loss of savings and pensions of millions of people. Efforts in many countries to regulate the financial markets are commendable but risk to remain insufficient.
We are in a unique period of history. Almost 10 years since global civil society gathered at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, to demand a better world, hundreds of thousands of persons from all corners have begun marching the streets peacefully to claim their democratic rights which corruption and external factors had taken away. Regrettably some governments have reacted by clamping down on dissent, applying restrictions of fundamental freedoms which are impermissible under international law.
Madame Chairperson, distinguished delegates,
The present mandate reflects aspirations expressed by leaders and thinkers of many countries, even before the creation of the United Nations, including Franklin Roosevelt, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mikhail Gorbachov, Nelson Mandela, Rigoberta Menchu, Aung San Suu Kyi and others.
Certain conditions appear necessary to achieve an international order that is more democratic and more equitable. Foremost among them is peace in the holistic sense, encompassing not only the absence of war but also of structural violence, cultural hegemonism and discrimination -- in other words, positive harmony domestically and internationally and the eradication of extreme poverty as envisaged in the Millennium Development Goals.
At the request of the Human Rights Council, the OHCHR conducted a workshop on 15/16 December 2009 in which experts and civil society participated. Its report was presented to the Council in June 2010 and led to the adoption of Council resolution 14/3 establishing a working group of the Advisory Committee tasked with drafting a Declaration on the Right to Peace, which was submitted to the twentieth session of the Council in June 2012, and resulted in the creation of an open-ended working group to continue the codification process.
An international order that is more democratic and more equitable can only evolve if every State commits to respect the right to peace. Military expenditures, the power of the military-industrial complex, the overt and covert trade in weapons, international organized crime, in particular drug trafficking, terrorism, money-laundering and corruption of government officials and non-State actors continue to have a deleterious effect on the proper functioning of democracy in many countries. The expert deplores the failure of States to adopt a landmark UN arms-trade treaty in July 2012, which would have regulated the more than $60 billion industry. Further talks and a UN General Assembly vote are urgently needed.
The ritual invocation of the word “democracy” does not make it happen. Aware that the status quo itself hampers the realization of an international order that is more democratic and equitable, I intend to explore ways and means to overcome these obstacles. The dynamics of economic power must change if progress and a more inclusive and balanced growth paradigm are to be achieved. The process of establishing a democratic and equitable international order is not likely to move ahead as long as Governments are not truly representative of their constituencies, and as long as economic exploitation and neo-colonization persist, and territories continue to be occupied for strategic, military or economic purposes.
The progress achieved in the empowerment of women in many countries, the greater transparency shown in elections, and the added value of election monitoring is welcome. I am also in the process of studying the democratic traditions of many countries and practices of popular initiatives, referenda, recall and impeachment. The feasibility of using aspects of the “direct democracy” experience more broadly will be explored, as will be progress in the enhancement of press freedom, access to the internet worldwide, and regular elections. Current developments in the social media may contribute insights.
Among good practices in the United Nations system I intend to study more closely the successes of the UN and international organizations in providing advisory services and technical assistance to countries in transition to democracy, as well as the operation of the ILO tri-partite system in achieving more equitable labour conditions worldwide. I will also study the fruits of the Council’s Universal Periodic Review, which is one step toward international democratic order through dialogue among stakeholders.
A preliminary report cannot formulate conclusions. I look forward to receiving and analyzing feedback from stakeholders, including think-tanks and universities. In order to advance in the realization of an international order that is more democratic and more equitable, a change of currently prevailing ways of thinking and behaviour is necessary, possibly even a semantic reformation must be undertaken, since words are powerful weapons that often perpetuate prejudice and injustice. A new human rights paradigm should replace the artificial division of human rights into rights of the first, second and third generations, with its inherent value judgment, which is both obsolete and misleading. A new paradigm of rights could be envisioned: enabling rights (peace, food, homeland, development), immanent rights (equality, due process) and end rights (identity, the right to achieve one’s potential).
As all human rights derive from human dignity, it is important to recognize that human dignity is not a product of positivism but an expression of natural law and human rationality. Although an abstract concept, human dignity has engendered concrete norms of human rights, a practical mode d’emploi strengthened by enforcement mechanisms. Similarly, this mandate may also appear abstract, but it aims at formulating pragmatic solutions.
Governments and civil society can best advance a democratic and equitable international order by acknowledging that the Charter of the United Nations together with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the human rights treaties are our universal Constitution, based on a vision of justice and human dignity. A better world is indeed possible if all honour that Constitution, defend it and, where necessary, undertake constructive reform to address today's needs and give concrete application to the Purposes and Principles of the Charter in larger freedom.
As I conclude, Madame Chairperson, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to stakeholders for all the support I have received since I took up my functions in May 2012. I feel immensely privileged to have been appointed as Independent Expert on such a promising and interesting mandate, and wish to acknowledge the endorsement that I have received from stakeholders.
The International Labour Organization has long been promoting social justice through standard setting and monitoring; its motto si vis pacem cole justitiam (if you desire peace, cultivate justice) could well be the motto of this mandate and report.
I thank you for your attention and I look forward to our deliberations.