The 55th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights opened in Geneva on Monday with the election of Irish Ambassador Anne Anderson as Chairman. A central theme to emerge has been human rights and world stability. This theme was expressed in terms of (1) human rights as a necessary factor for long term economic stability and (2) human rights monitoring and action as tools to prevent armed conflict.

Analysis:

(1) Joschka Fischer, the German Minister for Foreign Affairs, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that long term economic stability can only be achieved through the rigorous application of democratic political standards and adherence to the rule of law – a position long-emphasized by UN Watch.

This point will be particularly important when the Commission considers the Right to Development. Developmental concessions such as foreign debt forgiveness or multilateral financial aid packages should not be advocated in the case of states where fundamental civil and political rights are lacking. As the Foreign Minister stated, this is not a case of “western arrogance.” Global experience attests to the claim that democracy and the rule of law are the foundation of societal structures leading to long term economic growth. Hopefully members of the Commission will not compromise this fundamental principle in the pursuit of narrow national agendas.

(2) Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, suggested that much armed conflict could be prevented by working with regional organizations to achieve observance of universal human rights, reducing the likelihood of conflicts erupting.

UN Watch believes that complex factors lie behind the world’s conflicts and human rights abuses. Many of these factors result from regional peculiarities – be they cultural, historical, environmental, or other. So while the international community can establish broad human rights norms, prevention of future conflicts may be most effective if rooted in specific regional human rights programmes. If the Commission and the UN system invigorate their relationship with regional organizations to ensure respect for human rights, then perhaps future conflicts, and the terrible human rights abuses they generate, can be reduced.

In conclusion, human rights issues are no longer relegated to the sidelines of state policy. In setting a human rights strategy, Member States and the Commission would do well to bear in mind the German Foreign Minister’s assessment, that “a preventive human rights policy is an overarching task linking foreign, development, environment and legal policy instruments.”

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