Geneva, 7 July 1999
HUMAN RIGHTS: FROM LAW TO ACTION
UN/ECE Year 2000 Hearings for the Millennium Assembly of the
United Nations Opened Today
The European Regional Hearings for the UN Millennium Assembly organized by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE) opened this morning in the presence of over 400 representatives of the civil society and of UN/ECE member States to discuss the role of the United Nations in the twenty-first century and in particular in this morning's session, the issue of Human Rights and Globalization. His Excellency Mr. Guido de Marco, President of Malta, chaired the meeting.
In his opening statement Mr. Yves Berthelot, Executive Secretary of the UN/ECE, stressed the tight interrelationships among three segments of the Hearings, namely human rights, sustainable development and peace and disarmament. "Human rights is an abstract concept for a person who is starving, which means that sustainable development is indispensable for achieving human rights. In turn, sustainable development is only possible in a context of peace", said Mr. Yves Berthelot.
Mr. Miles Stoby, Assistant Secretary-General, Coordinator for the Millennium Assembly, mentioned that in preparation for the new millennium, and at the request of the General Assembly, the United Nations has designated its fifty-fifth session as the "Millennium Assembly of the United Nations" with an accompanying Millennium Summit. This is expected to be the largest gathering of Heads of States and Governments ever to be organized. It will be held in New York in the autumn of the year 2000. In this context, the Secretary-General of the United Nations has requested the five Regional Commissions to organize Hearings in order to prepare for this forthcoming event.
The outcome will make a substantive contribution to the Millennium Assembly. In particular, the Secretary-General will use the outcome of these hearings to prepare the agenda of the Assembly and his own report to the General Assembly. He called for the Hearings to be open, frank and constructive.
The Chairman of the meeting, His Excellency Mr. Guido de Marco, stressed that there were a number of challenges which the United Nations had to face in the coming years. He considered of the utmost importance the need to revitalize the General Assembly. "If the General Assembly is not strengthened the United Nations runs the risks of being marginalised". Another challenge facing the United Nations which was directly related to the issue of Human Rights was how and when should the international community intervene when human rights were violated in a country? Who should authorize such interventions and under which chapter of the Charter?
The opening of the two-day meeting was immediately followed by the first thematic session of the hearings on the question of human rights in the age of globalization. Mrs. Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, acted as moderator. Mr. Theodoor Van Boven, Professor, Faculty of Law, Mastricht University, Netherlands; Mrs. Anne-Marie Lizin, Senator, Belgium; Mr. Anders B. Johnsson, Secretary-General, Inter-Parliamentary Union, Geneva; Ms. Limanovska, Executive Director, National Women Information Center, Poland; Mr. Robert Davies, Chief Executive, The Prince of Wales Business Leaders Forum, United Kingdom, acted as panellists.
It was clear for all participants that in the field of human rights, the UN offered a comprehensive set of instruments which should contribute to enabling the international community to ensure that human rights be respected throughout the world. However that was not the case. The twentieth century had witnessed little progress in this context, and even setbacks in some cases.
An essential reason for this failure was that these instruments were not implemented. Speakers considered it as absurd to make new proposals if the existing ones were not enacted. By enacted they meant not only ratified but translated into practical actions at the local level. How to better implement the UN instruments was therefore at the centre of the debate.
One of the first reflections in this context was "how can the UN do so without being more democratic?" How can governments committing the violations be the only interlocutors of the UN in this domain? The answer to this concern could come from a fuller integration of civil society, i.e. NGOs, business and parliamentarians in the UN affairs. This integration could take the form of a People's Assembly formed of NGOs. In this context, the representativity of NGOs was questioned by certain speakers who felt that NGOs were not transparent enough and that elected parliamentarians would be better interlocutors.
The second concern was related to the inadequate amount of resources dedicated to human rights in the United Nations context. "How was it possible for such a small team to monitor and to react to what is happening throughout the world?" said one participant. This problem of resources is one of the reasons why there appears to be a double standard in applying human rights. Human rights should be the same for all and there are no reasons why a region of the world should retain the attention and resources of the UN when others are neglected.
The participation of business was also highlighted. Privatisation is going on throughout the world, the state is reducing its participation in the economic activity. It is therefore important to associate more and more business to whatever is going on in the United Nations bearing in mind, however, that the goals of the two entities are not the same; therefore, certain limits and criteria for this participation should be drawn. Private sector alone will not solve the development problems. Partnership with business can nevertheless be a legitimate way to mitigate human rights problems.
Participants also stressed the importance of a better monitoring of what is happening in the field of human rights, as well as better information. Last but not least, the prosecution process in the case of violation of human rights should become an important instrument for implementing human rights principles.
For further information, please contact:
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE)
Palais des Nations, Room 356
CH - 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Tel: +41 22 917 44 44
Fax: +41 22 917 05 05