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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

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30 October 2001

International Conference
on Globalisation

Remarks by
Mary Robinson,
High Commissioner for Human Rights
Humanising Globalisation: a role for human rights

Ghent, 30 October 2001

Prime Minister,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Prime Minister’s call for ethical globalisation is particularly close to my heart. It implies that we can, and should, shape what we call globalisation.

Human rights are not and do not claim to be the entire answer to all problems raised by globalisation. However, human rights certainly are an essential element in the construction and shaping of an ethical foundation to globalisation. Let me build my remarks around four key human rights ideas –equality, participation, respect for diversity and international co-operation.

Amartya Sen wrote recently that the central issue, directly or indirectly, in the growing scepticism about the global order is inequality: between as well as within nations.

To address that inequality I believe the question we need to answer is this: are the institutions of governance, at every level, progressively guaranteeing for all people the right to health, to adequate housing, to sufficient food, to education, to justice, to freedom of expression and to personal security?

In a globalising world, it is increasingly difficult to compartmentalise governance issues in neat categories of "national" and "international." The international institutions of governance must respond better to the needs of the developing world. But that is not enough. Such reform can only succeed if national institutions meet the test of good governance. Even the most equitable international order will amount to little if a corrupt or unrepresentative government at home fails to ensure equitable sharing of globalisation's benefits.

Respect for human rights at the local and national level – including participation, independence of the judiciary, freedom of opinion and expression - provides the normative framework for democracy. Through true participatory democracy, all people can have a voice and be heard and governments and other actors stand accountable for their actions.

National governments also have responsibilities for how they conduct affairs on the international stage. In the WTO for example, this means negotiating trade rules bearing in mind their responsibilites to protect human rights, not only of their own citizens but of all who may be affected. What does it mean in practice? It means answering questions such as :

- is trade truly free and fair? The LDCs have heard many promises over the years but have too often found that, in practice, access to markets where developing countries hold competitive advantages has been denied. The initiative of the European Union to open up markets to LDC products under the "everything but arms" programme is a positive step forward.

- are intellectual property rules conducive to ensuring access to drugs under the WHO essential drug list? The response to the anthrax scare has revealed a tendency to have one law for rich countries with serious terrorist health scares and another for poor countries with pandemics.

- do intellectual property rules consider the cultural rights of indigenous and local communities?

- does the regulation of agricultural trade ensure food-security and protect the concerns of poor farmers, with access to markets for developing countries and countries in transition?

- what is the effect of the liberalisation of trade in services on the provision of essential services - in particular health and education?

I believe a new ethical globalisation must mean also a world that rejoices in its common humanity yet respects its diversity. The issue of globalisation was addressed recently at the World Conference against Racism. While noting the positive opportunities offered by globalisation, the Programme of Action warned that globalisation can also aggravate poverty, underdevelopment, marginalisation, social exclusion, cultural homogenisation and economic disparities along racial lines.

The Conference called for migration policies not to be based on racism and expressed determination to ensure that the economic growth resulting from globalisation be channeled to eradicate poverty, inequality and deprivation. A central element in the new globalisation must therefore be the fight against all forms of intolerance. The events of 11 September have made this all the more urgent.

Let me summarise the human rights analysis and concerns in the aftermath of the attacks in the US on 11th September. First the analysis : I have characterised the deliberate mass killing of civilians at the World Trade Centre as a crime against humanity. This requires that all countries cooperate in bringing the perpetrators to justice, and it isolates those perpetrators, thereby lessening their opportunity to recruit for a holy jihad.

Secondly, the concerns : while welcoming the unanimous adoption of Security Council Resolution 1373, requiring all countries to take specific measures to combat terrorism, I share the concerns of many human rights organisations. These are as follows : that democracies may introduce measures eroding core human rights safeguards, that non-democratic countries may clamp down on legitimate dissent and freedom of expression, and that refugees and asylum seekers may be excluded on a new and very general ground of being suspected of being involved in terrorism.

We will monitor and share information on how states implement the Security Council resolution, reminding them to balance their approach by a vigorous follow-up of the anti-discrimination agenda of the World Conference against Racism. The patterns of implementation by countries of both, over the coming months, will have a direct bearing on the issue of whether globalisation is becoming more ethical.

Ethical globalisation requires greater international cooperation. I have already mentioned the unprecedented and welcome international co-operation over terrorism. We need to see similar international resolve over the agenda of human rights and development.

One practical expression of cooperation that has been called for repeatedly is for developed countries to halt the slide in Official Development Assistance and to be true development partners for the Least Developed Countries. In June of 2000 at the Copenhagen + 5 conference held in Geneva, Governments reaffirmed their commitment to meet as soon as possible, the target of providing at least 0.7 per cent of GNP of the developed countries as ODA. But only four countries have met that target to date.

If, as I firmly believe, human rights are the rules of the road for ethical globalisation, the international conferences in recent years provide the road map. From Rio to Cairo and Beijing, from Copenhagen to Istanbul, and most recently to Durban, we have cities which evoke memories of progress made in standards and goal setting on key issues that are relevant to ethical globalisation. Last year at the UN Millennium Summit in New York, the international community commited to making the right to development a reality for all and set out a clear programme for action based on our shared values of freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature and shared responsibility.

Next year, there are conferences on financing for development and sustainable development. Commitments at world conferences provide us with the strategy to help shape globalisation, yet experience in the past suggests that commitments made are not necessarily carried through. It will take a new level of coordinated politicial will to ensure effective action and follow up to World Conferences.

Let me conclude by speaking directly to those of you representing civil society. You are the partners and friends of our work for human rights. My message to you is threefold :

First, I encourage you to continue to make your voices heard – but don’t forget that your voices can be powerful forces for change from within democratic structures as well as from outside. For example, at the local level, that means getting involved in your city councils and other local governing bodies. We all know that the impact of globalisation is felt most directly close to home. Don’t underestimate how much change can be made from the bottom-up. For those of us working in the UN and wider international system, it means strengthening our efforts to reach out to civil society, involving you more directly in conferences and events and ensuring that you have a seat at the table.

Second, don’t turn your back on the promise of globalisation. Turn your efforts to influencing the direction of globalisation. The possibility for further reciprocal learning and cultural exchange that globalisation offers, if all people are included, provides the best strategy against the intolerance and hatred that we have seen in the recent terrorist attacks and their aftermath.

Finally, I would urge you to use more actively the body of international human rights standards to make heard your arguments for change in the world. Human rights instruments give legal expression to the promotion of human dignity and human values. A human rights approach places people at the centre of globalisation. It provides a legal as well as a moral imperative to the issues you are raising.

Prime Minister, I am grateful to you for having provided this forum for much needed dialogue on globalisation. I believe that we are at a critical juncture. We can choose to move forward on the basis of a new principled globalisation. Or we can continue on our present path - risking a backlash and a return to the old ways of protectionism. The choice and the challenge is ours.

Thank you.