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26 March 1996

Press Release


19960326 United Kingdom's Minister of State For Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Also Addresses Panel

GENEVA, 26 March (UN Information Service) -- As the United Nations Commission on Human Rights continued a general discussion on the realization of the right to development, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Pakistan told the panel this morning that this right must not remain an empty slogan.

Sardar Asseff Ahmad Ali said that despite the well-advertised spread of prosperity in developing countries, absolute poverty was also growing. To address that problem, the Commission should, as a first step, appoint a special rapporteur with a mandate to review current economic and social policies of States and propose ways in which the right to development could be promoted universally.

Also addressing the Commission this morning, Nicholas Bonsor, Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom, said democracy remained the best guarantor of human rights and fundamental freedoms. But there was a depressingly wide gulf between the commitment of governments to ratify international instruments on human rights and the actions of many of them. They were indifferent to their obligations to the United Nations, to the Commission and, above all, to their own citizens.

Following Mr. Bonsor's statement, the Commission resumed its discussion of three other items on the agenda of this fifty-second session, in addition to the realization of the right to development: the realization of economic, social and cultural rights; the status of the International Covenants on Human Rights; and the effective functioning of bodies established pursuant to United Nations human rights instruments.

Several speakers touched on what should be the responsibility of the international community in promoting development in poor countries. Delegates also addressed the effects structural adjustment programmes could have on economic, social and cultural rights.

The representatives of Hungary, China, Ethiopia, Cote d'Ivoire, members of the Commission, spoke at this morning's meeting, as did the following observers: Israel, Poland, Morocco and Sudan. Representatives of the following non-governmental organizations also contributed to the debate: International Movement ATD Fourth World; International Organization for the Development of Freedom of Education; Zonta International; International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples; Movement against Racism and for Friendship among Peoples; United Towns Agency for North-South Cooperation; Asian Cultural Forum on Development; and African Association of Education for Development.

Statement by Minister for Foreign Affairs of Pakistan

SARDAR ASEFF AHMAD ALI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, said that at the dawn of the new millennium, the Commission was destined to play a critical role in enabling human civilization to develop to a higher plane marked, it was hoped, by coexistence, international cooperation and universal progress.

The last 50 years had been a period of a relative global peace, unprecedented economic growth and technological advance, he continued. There had been an expansion of prosperity which now encompassed most of the shattered battlegrounds of Europe and east Asia. But since the end of the cold war, the world had entered a new phase in history when, among other things, theories of free markets held unquestioned sway internationally. The world was being consumed by proliferating conflicts, frictions and tensions; poverty was spreading faster than prosperity; the seeds of future conflict and confrontation were being sown by new hatreds, prejudice, intolerance and arrogance.

Yet, he went on, also since the end of the cold war, the world had welcomed the triumph of freedom in south Asia and progress towards peace in the Middle East. On the other hand, conflicts had proliferated all over the world, including in Kashmir, Bosnia, Chechnya and Azerbaijan. The people of Jammu and Kashmir were among the first to have their right to self-determination recognized by the Security Council. They had been promised the determination of their own destiny under a United Nations-supervised plebiscite, but after almost 50 years, the Kashmiri people still awaited the fulfilment of that promise. For six years, India had attempted vainly to suppress the Kashmiri freedom struggle through brutal force, adding another 100,000 troops to its 600,000 strong force in occupied Kashmir since last year. India had promoted traitors and renegade mercenaries to subvert the Kashmiri freedom movement. It was now seeking recourse to yet another device to legitimize its occupation -- the organization of fraudulent elections in Kashmir.

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India must revise its course on Kashmir, he continued. It could not crush the will of the Kashmiri people. His message to India was: "Let us overcome the history of acrimony and confrontation and join the global tide of reconciliation and peace". Pakistan and India must undertake genuine dialogue to reach a just and final settlement of the Kashmir dispute, and he called upon the international community to help them commence and sustain the south Asian dialogue for peace with justice.

Despite the well-advertised spread of prosperity in the Third World, absolute poverty was also growing, he said. Many developing countries might succeed in a more competitive world; many others would not.

"Can we afford the chaos created in a series of 'failed' States?", he asked. "Must Somalia and Rwanda be followed by other instances where poverty ferments ethnic and national tensions into genocide?" The right to development must not remain an empty slogan. Pakistan suggested that as a first step, the Commission should appoint a special rapporteur with a mandate to review current economic and social policies of States and propose ways in which the right to development could be promoted universally.

NICHOLAS BONSOR, Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom, said it was right to take stock of what had been achieved over five decades and identify the many challenges that still faced the Commission. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights had stood the test of time and remained the standard for the protection of human rights in all regions, societies and cultures. Two international covenants had put into treaty law the fundamental principles of the Declaration, and the vast majority of member States had now voluntarily acceded to those instruments. However, there was a depressingly wide gulf between the commitment to ratification and the actions of many countries.

Tens of thousand of innocent civilians had perished in senseless massacres across the globe, he said. Torture, discrimination against women and the institutionalized abuse of children and other vulnerable members of society were endemic in countries too numerous to mention. Some governments were indifferent to their obligations to the United Nations, to the Commission and, above all, to their own citizens, whose rights they violated.

He said that recent atrocities had jeopardized fragile peace processes. The British Government remained determined to counter that threat. It was a commitment widely shared. The recent Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh had demonstrated the determination of the international community to take joint, effective action to combat terrorism and its threat to peace and democracy.

Democracy remained the best guarantor of human rights and fundamental freedoms, he said. The British Government fully supported the practical help the United Nations could give, ranging from electoral assistance to measures

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designed to enhance the rule of law. The British Government had responded to the High Commissioner for Human Rights' urgent appeal for further contributions to the field operation in Rwanda by making an immediate payment of $1.5 million, bringing its total bilateral contribution to $5 million. The United Kingdom would also continue to contribute to the General Voluntary Fund in support of the activities of the Centre for Human Rights.

His country's support for the United Nations human rights system was also clear from its participation in the work of the intergovernmental bodies, such as the Commission, he declared. It attached great importance to the United Nations campaign to make equality for women a reality. It was in that spirit that Britain had put forward its candidature for membership of the Commission on the Status of Women.


AGNES HEVESI (Hungary) said reservations to covenants, treaties and protocols, especially when they contravened the essential points of the documents, gave cause for great concern. Certain reservations to certain treaties should be declared incompatible with international law. Duplication of government work related to information flow to committees connected with international human rights instruments should be discouraged, because it imposed unnecessary and avoidable burdens of paperwork on governments and was itself a cause of late submission of reports, although it should never serve as a pretext for that. Hungary favoured more preventive approaches to human rights problems and favoured establishment of an early warning mechanism.

ZHANG JUN (China) said that up to now, of the 33 rapporteurs of the Commission, only one dealt with economic, social and cultural rights. Of the 93 resolutions adopted at the last sessions, only seven were directly related to such rights. The amount of time allotted to agenda items on economic, social and cultural rights was far from what they deserved. A few countries that claimed to be "human rights defenders" talked globally on some agenda items, but refused to recognize the right to development, and actively watered down consideration by the Commission of items on economic, social and cultural rights. Those countries concocted many resolutions on supposed "violations" of human rights in developing countries and undermined political stability in such countries, yet went on to dump toxic wastes in other countries and create further obstacles to development. There should be a new mechanism for bolstering development based on a fair and equal approach.

FISSEHA YIMER (Ethiopia) said the commitment by the international community to the right to development not only made it a generally accepted human rights norm, but also a way of making all human rights operational through programmes such as those related to: the provision of health services; education; housing; protection of the equal rights of women;

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safeguarding the rights of the child, the elderly and minorities; the protection of environment; and the alleviation of poverty.

At the national level, the prevalence of democracy and the full enjoyment of all human rights were prerequisites for development in the broadest sense, he continued. Structural inequalities in the international system, the external debt burden, protectionism, deteriorating terms of trade and declining aid flows characterized the present international environment, which was not conducive to the full realization of the right to development. The international community must come up with a strategy to resolve the external debt problem, which constituted a major impediment to the development efforts of developing countries.

KOVASSI FLORENT EKRA (Côte d'Ivoire) said the country had ratified important international instruments on human rights over the past year. Other texts of importance were in the process of being ratified. Côte d'Ivoire was working patiently and resolutely to construct a society that would respect human rights and foster the well-being of all its citizens. There was a constitutional council, for example, designed to guarantee the fairness and impartiality of elections and thereby guarantee the fundamental choices of the people. Other steps were being taken to augment education, health, housing, job creation, and development in the country. Such measures were considerable given the resources available. Foreign-debt burdens led to poverty problems for many countries, and the debt problem must be approached with greater concern and solidarity by the international community.

RAPHAEL WALDEN (Israel) said that despite their original intent, human rights concepts, unfortunately, were frequently no more than the verbal trappings of political debate. It was essential that the United Nations system should include an institution in which full respect was shown to the concepts by treating them as having a precise legal content. Relating to them as law required the development of a consistent body of norms through the meticulous, fair, careful interpretation and application of treaty provisions. Reservations that contravened the substance of treaties should not be allowed. In other cases, surface commitments were made but nothing in substance done by countries acceding to treaties, and in fact there was no intention to do anything; international supervision of human rights standards clearly must be done with vigour to make sure that the treaties were substantive rather than cosmetic.

KRZYSZTOF DRZEWICKI (Poland) said he was deeply convinced that the demands of the principle of indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights needed further promotion and hoped that all human rights bodies would further pursue an integrated approach within their mandates. His delegation also wished to see further improvement of international monitoring of social, economic and cultural rights. As far as the reports of the working group on the right to development were concerned, the delegation of Poland appreciated

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their contribution in identifying obstacles for the enjoyment of the right to development, recognizing that not only words, but also action, were required. Although the responsibility for the right to development rested principally with individual States, the international community should, in equal measure, contribute to effective international cooperation for the realization of the right to development and eliminate obstacles to it. Structural adjustment programmes could not be separated from the provision of social safety nets. If they were, such programmes could generate further social injustice.

MOHAMED MAJDI (Morocco) said the 1986 Declaration on the Right to Development had been accepted and given greater importance as time had passed. The consensus achieved at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna had been a great step forward, but it would be much better if commitments and action actually matched what was said and promised. Unfortunately, the list of least-developed countries, far from decreasing, was lengthening from year to year. Contributions by donor countries was not proportionate to the revenue targets per inhabitant, and the shift in imbalance in wealth in favour of the North continued to grow. While development was primarily the responsibility of States, international aid and goodwill were critical ingredients for success, as was a practical, long-term solution to the foreign debt burden crushing so many least-developed countries.

ABDEL MONEIM HASSAN (Sudan) said the least-developed countries needed a redoubled international effort to overcome the obstacles of poverty and all the economic, social and political problems that grew out of poverty. The least-developed countries could not make progress because the international community had not shouldered its commitments. The international community had not kept its promises to these countries, first made a quarter century ago, concerning aid amounting to 0.7 per cent of the gross national product of donor nations. Sudan also urged donor States to take effective, practical measures to relieve the heavy foreign-debt burdens hindering least-developed countries. An international conference perhaps was required on the topic, or a special session of the General Assembly. Also needed were measures to make the international trade system more fair and open.

GUGEN BRAND, of the International Movement ATD Fourth World, said the International Year for the Eradication of Poverty, now under way, was a source of hope and pride for the poorest and a true embodiment of the effort to make human rights available to all. No longer should such people be forgotten and deprived of the most basic rights, nor should they be kept from living full lives and from contributing fully to their societies. There should be a special item on the agenda for the International Year, as there had been for other international years. Much more extensive and accurate statistics and indicators were needed on the world's poorest people. There was a great lack of knowledge of this topic. Follow-up measures should be proposed by the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty, and followed by the Commission and the United Nations system.

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ALFRED FERNANDEZ, of the International Organization for the Development of Freedom of Education, speaking also on behalf of World University Assistance, said delay in the implementation of economic, social and cultural rights was still considerable. Moreover, there was hesitation on the part of some States to take part in an open discussion on the issues. Joint action of all partners was essential, particularly among non-governmental organizations. Two complimentary types of action were required, intellectual and practical. Firstly, at the intellectual level, the conceptualization and individualization of the principles of economic, social and cultural rights and an involvement in the debate of all players -- international financial institutions, academics and centres of research, and non-governmental organizations. Secondly, at the practical level, extension of time devoted to discussion of those rights at the Commission, the development of indicators applicable to those rights, the adoption of an Optional Protocol and the holding of seminars on the principle rights referred to in several Commission resolutions. It was also important to ensure that the Centre had the resources it needed to carry out its work.

DANIELLE BRIDEL, of Zonta International, said it was not surprising that a women's organization wished to speak on the subject of extreme poverty. Statistics showed that most of that population consisted of women. To combat such poverty, the subject had to be better known -- research was needed, along with statistics. To reach the poorest, one had to locate them, meet them, establish relations of confidence with them and give them time to learn partnership. Zonta had carried out studies on the world's poorest and was compiling the results, and looked with interest to other studies conducted by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Special Rapporteur. It was critical that the Commission and other relevant agencies drew up practical policies for helping these people based on the facts and information contained in these studies.

GENEVA ARIF-BERRYMAN, of the International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples, said obstacles to trade relations among States persisted, despite agreements and objectives backed by the World Conference on Human Rights. The embargo imposed for more than 36 years by the United States against Cuba, which in practice amounted to an international embargo, violated fundamental human rights. The embargo had created nutritional deficiencies for children and pregnant women and caused difficulties in the provision of health care and medicines. The embargo was a case of politics damaging human rights. The international community must not allow one State to impose its will on another in such a manner. Embargoes, blockades and sanctions were inappropriate tools because they hit the wrong targets. The powerful survived while the poor, women and children suffered.

LAZARO PARY, of the Movement against Racism and for Friendship among Peoples, said the new international economic order imposed by western Powers on developing countries constituted a major obstacle to sustainable

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development. The new economic order was based on neo-liberalism. That neo-liberal formula -- imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund -- had worsened the economic crisis in developing countries. It was a policy that would lead to genocide and the annihilation of indigenous communities. Throughout the American continent, indigenous peoples had felt the impact of neo-liberal policies. That impact had been compounded by galloping corruption in the corridors of power and the unconditional handing over of natural resources to transnational corporations. Within that context, it was impossible to realize economic, social and cultural rights.

HENRY BANDIER, of the United Towns Agency for North-South Cooperation, said the Declaration on the Right to Development deserved review and careful reading by all. It was sad to see that it and related texts were still being discussed. It was not out of line to say there were doubts about how effective they had proved to be. Millions of people continued to live in sub-human conditions, while the resources of the planet, if carefully and equitably managed, could guarantee a full and comfortable life for everyone. The frustration of those left behind was apparent not only in widespread poverty, but in the violence of terrorism that so often sprang from lack of development. Problems of development should be the focus of a world summit, and sufficient attention should be paid to the social inequities that so often rendered useless efforts made to spur development.

SUZY LIM, of the Asian Cultural Forum on Development, said it was important, in pursuing development, not to ignore the rights of the individual. Individual identity could easily be lost, as could the identities of small and often helpless groups, such as indigenous peoples, in the rush to rapid development. The voice of the people must be reflected in the process of development. Yet, the structure of the current world economy did not seem to reflect such a voice, especially the voice of the poorer inhabitants of the world. One could not find such a voice in the results of the Uruguay Round of international trade negotiations. Often, States strongly suppressed individual rights in efforts to achieve development, and the suffering of workers was such that any progress made could not be justified. Sustainable human development could not be neglected in favour of economic development.

GHENNET GIRMA, of the African Association of Education for Development, said ethnic conflicts in Africa had been instrumental in hampering the realization of economic, social and cultural rights. In some countries, those rights were only a dream, and more and more people in all walks of life were being excluded. Moreover, structural adjustment programmes became a pretext for denying those rights. The result was that the most highly skilled people left those countries, thus exacerbating the problem.

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For information media. Not an official record.