Fri, 30 Jun 2000

Challenging the world on rights

The following are excerpts from related material on the Human Development Report 2000, which was released on June 29, from the United Nations Development Program, based in New York.

NEW YORK: National governments and international organizations have been challenged to tackle oppression, discrimination and the new threats to freedom with which the new century has opened.

The challenge comes from the Human Development Report 2000, commissioned by the United Nations Development Program.

"With the establishment of more than 100 multi-party democracies in the last 20 years in a global wave of freedom, bullying and bullets have been giving way to the ballot box. Now it is time to build on that foundation," says Richard Jolly, Principal Coordinator of the Report.

The Report, published by the United Nations Development Program, underlines the inextricable link between development and human rights, and offers a range of suggestions for achieving the goal of "all rights for all." The Human Development Report 2000:

* points out that votes alone do not guarantee human rights. A democratically elected majority can crush minorities;

* insists that poverty is as much a human rights issue as arbitrary arrest-yet the torture of one person causes outrage, while the deaths of more than 30,000 children every day from mainly preventable causes go unnoticed;

* warns that growing national and international inequalities threaten to erode hard-won gains in civil and political liberties;

* urges international bodies, including the World Trade Organization, to be guided by human rights principles and commitments in decision-making to create an inclusive and just global economic system;

* tells global corporations that profit-making is not enough: they have responsibilities to respect human rights, too.

The Report also emphasizes that governments must take the lead in protecting human rights-but cannot expect to be left alone to do the job: "In a globalizing world, the state-centered model of human rights accountability is out of step with the time. Nothing less than a global perspective on human rights is acceptable."

The thrust of the Report is the link between the struggle for economic and social rights and the fight for civil and political liberties-"two sides of the same coin."

"When people have civil and political rights, they are empowered to claim economic and social rights, and vice versa," says Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Director of the Human Development Report Office. "Without economic and social rights, the poor -- and poor women in particular -- are often deprived of education and awareness of what their rights and options are. Discrimination and abuses are endemic when knowledge and recourse are denied."

Even in a structured legal environment, justice for the poor can be remote. The Report cites Bangladesh where, because of a shortage of judges, there was an overwhelming backlog of 5,000 pending cases per judge, in India, more than 2,000.

"Human Rights are not culture-bound. Everyone wants to enjoy seven basic freedoms -- freedom from discrimination, want, fear, injustice and exploitation, and freedom to develop their potential and to participate in decision-making," says Fukuda- Parr. And she stresses that "the call for 'all rights for all people' by UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson in this year's Human Development Report can be met without some vast, expensive, welfare infrastructure."

She observes that changing discriminatory divorce and other laws can be virtually costless. And although other changes, such as the introduction of universal primary education and health care, and better training for judges and police need resources, the costs are not prohibitive.

"These are issues of social justice, human dignity and freedom that all people are claiming in all cultures," she points out. "Human rights is no longer an issue of the West against the rest. The debate is not on what are human rights but on how to achieve them."