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Statement by Alfred de Zayas, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order at the 67th session of the General Assembly

Third Committee
Item 69 (b,c)

New York, 2 November 2012

Mr. President,
Distinguished Delegates and Representatives,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank the third Committee for this opportunity to present my first report to the Assembly on a new mandate that entails a generous synthesis of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

Human Rights Council Resolution 18/6 of September 2011 created a mandate inspired by GA Resolution 65/223, reflecting a grand design that to some may appear overbroad or abstract, but certainly the intention here is to arrive at pragmatic results. I intend to deliver on this expectation.

Today more than ever we must reaffirm that human rights are not luxuries we enjoy in times of prosperity, but inalienable entitlements which should be exercised everywhere by all members of the human family.

The Charter of the United Nations, which is the Constitution of the modern world, commits governments and civil society to an agenda of peace, development and human rights. This work in progress is advanced by the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council, its special procedures, the treaty bodies and a multitude of other players. Norms, monitoring mechanisms and actual enforcement on the ground demonstrate that progress has been achieved in implementing our universal pledge to human dignity.

Because the current international order is not very democratic and certainly not equitable, the General Assembly has adopted pertinent resolutions aimed at progressively moving toward a more representative world order in which peoples should have greater opportunity to participate in decision-making at the local, national, regional and international levels, and where the natural resources of the planet and international trade shall be shared in a more equitable manner.

In September 2011 seventeen States in the Council sponsored Resolution 18/6, which established my mandate effective May 2012. On 12 September I presented my preliminary report to the Council, which was well received by States and civil society. Thereupon thirty States sponsored Resolution 21/9, tasking me with the elaboration of an in-depth report on the issue of equitable and effective participation.

I am already working on this report through consultation with States from all regions of the world, inter-governmental organizations and civil society. I have forwarded questionnaires to stakeholders and am cross-fertilizing with think tanks and universities. I am encouraged by the extensive and substantive responses already received.

The mandate requires me to identify obstacles to the realization of an international order that should be more democratic and more equitable, and to formulate concrete proposals and recommendations. This entails building on the work already done and being conducted by other human rights mechanisms and institutions, but it also requires taking distance and thinking outside the box.

From the Social Forum held in Geneva in October 2012 I have drawn valuable insights, particularly from presentations of the Independent Expert on International Solidarity Virginia Dandan and inter-governmental think tanks like the South Centre.1 In his 2005 report “In Larger Freedom” Kofi Annan demonstrated leadership in proposing structural reforms to the United Nations, including the composition of the Security Council, so as to make it more representative. 2 I endorse his proposals.

Among generic obstacles I should mention the unfortunate tendency of some States to apply international law à la carte and the non-respect of international treaties.

With regard to a more equitable world order, it is clear that the financial crisis is also a moral crisis. Many observers have acknowledged the unfair operation of financial and commodity markets and the necessity to impose greater national and international controls. Others have stressed the need to reform the Bretton Woods institutions 3 as well as the possibility of proactive WTO measures for equitable trade 4.

I am exploring proposals for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly in order to enhance the participation of civil society within international institutions 5. I am also studying the implications of the Declaration on Democracy issued in 1997 by the Inter-Parliamentary Union 6 and the Declaration on Democracy recently presented by Federico Mayor Zaragoza and Karel Vasak to the Council of Europe 7.

In terms of general economic policy, everyone agrees that in the long term national budgets should be balanced. But the solution is not necessarily “austerity measures” in the social field, which invariably result in unemployment and constitute retrogression in the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Would it not be more reasonable to have austerity with regard to military expenditures? It is a question of setting priorities and recognizing that waging Peace is also a form of austerity. In this context, I issued a press release deploring the non-adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty last July 8.

Moreover, States must engage in serious disarmament negotiations and recycle resources away from the military-industrial complex and into education, health care and social services. World public opinion should be measured more objectively, and the rejection of war by civil society must be heard, for indeed peace is a condition to the realization of a more democratic and equitable world order. This requires putting an end to propaganda for war and sabre-rattling, which constitute violations of article 2(4) of the UN Charter and article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Among efforts made at the international level I should highlight the creation by the Human Rights Council of an inter-governmental working group tasked with the drafting of a Declaration on the Human Right to Peace, to be submitted to the General Assembly for adoption. This declaration shall build on the draft prepared by the Advisory Committee, which focuses on both the collective and individual dimensions of the right. Other good practices include the Universal Periodic Review, which holds considerable potential, especially if States recognize that it is in their own interest to implement all the recommendations of the Council, and not just a few, and if non-governmental organisations are given a greater voice in the process.

Allow me to propose a change in our thinking models that may help in advancing our agenda. Let us abandon the obsolete division of rights into artificial categories of first, second and third generation rights – with their intrinsic prejudices. Let us consider redefining human rights in functional terms.

I am suggesting a functional paradigm of enabling rights (such as the rights to peace, food, health and homeland), inherent rights (such as equality and non-discrimination), procedural rights (such as access to information, freedom of expression and due process) and what I would call outcome rights, that is, the practical realization of human dignity in the form of the right to our identity, to achieve our potential and to be just who we are, free to enjoy our own culture and opinions. The absence of this outcome right to dignity and self-respect is reflected in much of the strife we see in the world today.

It is my intention to demonstrate the added value of our new mandate and to convince the doubters that it has the potential of serving as a bridge between North-South, East-West. Indeed, as the ILO motto states: if we want peace, we must cultivate justice. Si vis pacem, cole justitiam.

I thank you for your attention and look forward to a fruitful exchange of views.

Notes
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1. Martin Khor, Implications of Some WTO Rules on the Realisation of gthe MDGs, Third World Network, Malaysia, 2005. Martin Khor, Globalization and the South, Third World Network, Malaysia 2002

2. http://www.un.org/largerfreedom/

3. Yilmaz Akyüz, Why the IMF and the International Monetary System Need more than Cosmetic Reform, South Centre, Geneva, 2010., Yilmaz Akyüz, Reforming the IMF: Back to the Drawing Board, Third World Network, Malaysia, 2005

4. Sarah Joseph, Blame it on the WTO? A Human Rights Critique, Oxford 2011

5. Joseph Schwartzberg, Creating a World Parliamentary Assembly, Committee for a Democratic UN, Berlin, 2012. Andreas Bummel, Developing International Democracy. For a Parliamentary Assembly at the United Nations, Berlin 2011. http://en.unpacampaign.org/news/644.php

6. http://www.unesco.org/cpp/sp/declaraciones/democracia.htm

7. http://www.fund-culturadepaz.org/democracia_esp.php, http://www.secretolivo.com/tag/karel-vasak/ 

8. http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12397&LangID=E