Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Human Rights

RIGHTS: UN’s Robinson Departs Repeating Criticisms against US

Gustavo Capdevila

GENEVA, Sep 10 2002 (IPS) - Mary Robinson ends her term as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reiterating her condemnations of the policies the United States implemented after the Sep 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

Robinson noted that following the suicide attacks against the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, numerous countries introduced reforms in their legislation and legal procedures that were not in keeping with the basic international standards for human rights.

The United States has the duty to establish higher standards because other nations use the loopholes in U.S. legislation to justify their own rights abuses, she said Tuesday, her second-to- last day as the UN’s chief human rights official.

She explained in a press conference delivered in French that it is necessary to criticise Washington’s policies first and foremost, because when she censures other countries for their human rights records, “they say look at what is happening in the United States.”

Robinson, who served as Ireland’s president from 1990 to 1997, ends her tenure as the UN’s maximum human rights authority Wednesday. Her successor is Brazilian diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello, who has had a long career within the UN apparatus.

In early 2001, she conceded to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s request to remain in the four-year post for an extra year.

Although she had subsequently expressed willingness to serve even longer, in March of this year she announced that she would step down, citing the fact that the U.S. government was opposed to a further extension of her term.

Robinson’s stances on the Israel-Palestine conflict, the World Conference against Racism (held in 2001 in the South African city of Durban), and the U.S. treatment of prisoners from the Taliban and Al Qaeda imprisoned at its base in Guantánamo, Cuba, caused friction in her relations with Washington.

She stated Tuesday in Geneva, at her last official press conference, that the “root cause” of the human rights problem in Palestinian territories lies in the Israeli occupation of those areas.

Robinson also repeated her condemnations of continued suicide attacks against Israeli civilians, while expressing satisfaction that the possibility of a Palestinian state has found a place on the agenda of the international community.

At the Conference against Racism last year, the United States and Israel walked out on the deliberations because the draft of the final declaration contained statements about Zionism that the two delegations objected to.

The references to Zionism were eliminated from the final text, but Robinson was unable to convince the U.S. and Israeli diplomats to back the declaration.

The outgoing UN official said she is encouraged by the existence of critical voices within the United States and other industrialised countries about government human rights policies.

In her statements Tuesday, Robinson recommended a new report by the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, an independent U.S.-based organisation that highlights the contradictions that exist between the laws and security measures dictated by Washington after Sep 11, 2001, and the country’s fundamental values.

Michael Posner, executive director of the Lawyers Committee, said that the “mode of operations” of the George W. Bush administration since the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York and on the Pentagon (U.S. State Department) in Washington are “at odds with core American and international human rights principles”.

The Lawyers Committee report, released last week, is an “incredibly strong” criticism of the United States and describes quite a serious situation, said Robinson, who will move to New York in October to work on the project known as the Ethical Globalisation Initiative.

But beyond the criticisms, she applauded the strength of the U.S. democracy, the fact that society and Congress question the Bush administration’s policies, and the independence of the judiciary.

The Ethical Globalisation Initiative is run by two U.S. non- governmental organisations, the Aspen Institute and the State of the World Forum, and also by the Switzerland based International Council on Human Rights Policy.

Robinson described the project as an attempt to incorporate the legal framework of human rights into the international debate on globalisation.

“Human rights is not about words and especially not about rhetoric,” she said, commenting that there is too much of both in the globalisation debate. There is “too little substance” to what we need in order to work for fair globalisation.

The initiative’s goal is to foment protection and promotion of human rights at the local level because “we are not placing enough attention on helping developing countries to build their own national protection systems for human rights,” Robinson added.

Her own efforts, she said, will be focused on Africa, where she hopes to bring government and civil society organisations together to work on reinforcing respect for human rights.

The alliance created by the African governments, known as the New Economic Partnership for African Development, says in its founding document that the continent’s leaders give priority to strengthening administration of justice and rules of law, as well as the validity of human rights, noted Robinson.

The outgoing UN official said she “will be drawing from that document” in her future work.

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