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Monday, December 11, 2023
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NEW YORK, Jan 1 2004 (IPS) - Since September 11, 2001 shook the world, the commitments which ushered in the new millennium have been overshadowed by the threats of terrorism, fears about the future, and questions about the viability of open societies joined by international norms and values, writes Mary Robinson, executive director of The Ethical Globalisation Initiative, former president of Ireland, and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. If we want real human security, instead of putting up walls of fear and resorting only to power politics, we should seek ways to focus on promoting in practice the values of freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect, and shared responsibility which can unite rather than divide. We should also remember that 9/11 did not, in fact, change much in the lives of most people on the planet for whom human insecurity was and is a daily reality. The world\’s economic system has operated largely in isolation from human rights, both at an institutional level and in intellectual terms. The first step to addressing the apparent conflicts between the values of the market and the values of human rights is to recognise that the objectives of international human rights and international trade in fact have much in common. This column was adapted from a lecture given by the author at the Aspen Institute and approved by her in this form.
Given the suddenness and extent of change in the era of globalisation, it is worth recalling that the 21st century started with a shared sense of hope. At the UN in September 2000, the largest gathering in history of world leaders signed the Millennium Declaration, a renewed international commitment to creating a shared future based upon our common humanity in all its diversity.
But just one year and three days later, the terrible events of September 11, 2001 shook the United States and the world. Since that day, the commitments which ushered in the new millennium have been overshadowed by the threats of terrorism, by fears and uncertainties about the future, and by questions about the viability of open societies joined by international norms and values.
If we want real human security, for all people everywhere, we must implement, not cast aside, these commitments. Instead of putting up walls of fear and resorting only to the strategies of power politics, we should seek ways to focus even more on promoting in practice the values of freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect, and shared responsibility which can unite rather than divide North and South, rich and poor, left and right, religious and secular, us and them.
We should also remember that 9/11 did not, in fact, change much in the lives of most people on the planet. Human insecurity, sadly, was a daily reality before 9/11 for the hundreds of millions who live in absolute poverty or in zones of conflict — and it remains so.
Globalisation is exacerbating trends towards a two-speed world. The 1990s marked a period of sustained growth in many Western countries, and China and India made significant strides in bringing millions of people out of poverty. But during the same period, 54 countries –many in sub-Saharan Africa– grew poorer. Infant mortality has increased in 14 countries, and life expectancy has fallen in 34.
How secure can we feel in a ”two speed”, ”haves-and-haves-not” world like this?
As the power to effect change continues to shift in significant ways from the public to the private, from national governments to multinational corporations and international organisations, how should global responsibilities be assigned to different actors — international institutions, governments, business, and civil society?
I believe we can begin to answer these questions through dialogue about values and the search for a new and more enduring interconnectedness. That dialogue requires a common language of respect and solidarity. Equally important, that language must be able to carry the moral and legal force of the international community. It must be able to manage competing claims and embrace gender issues and the diversity of human experience.
It is important to note that the world’s economic system has operated largely in isolation from human rights, both at an institutional level and in intellectual terms. Partly as a result, international trade and intellectual property rules have, for example, led directly or indirectly to the exclusion of many people from access to essential medicines, notably to drugs needed by the developing world to inhibit the spread of HIV/AIDS, Malaria and TB.
Similarly, in many countries economic policies that promote privatisation of public services have made it, in some cases, more difficult for people to send their children to school, secure safe drinking water or have access to health care.
The first step to addressing these apparent conflicts between the values of the market and the values of human rights is to recognise that the objectives of international human rights and international trade in fact have much in common. Both seek to improve standards of living in larger freedom, one through recognition of what is necessary for a life of dignity, free from fear and want, including access to health care, education, and an adequate standard of living — and the other through the practice of free trade leading to growth, which can then fund vital social programmes.
Under international law, all World Trade Organisation (WTO) member states are parties not only to international treaties on intellectual property, trade and services, and agriculture, but also to at least one, and usually more, of the six principal human rights treaties. This means they have voluntarily undertaken to enforce trade rules and to respect and fulfil human rights in their countries (including the rights of women, children and vulnerable groups). They have accepted equivalent obligations in relation to labour and environmental standards.
The challenge therefore is not to stop expansion of global markets but to develop institutions and policies that will provide appropriate governance and protect human rights locally, nationally, and at international level. This will in turn strengthen human development and human security.
Of course, effective governance must begin at the national level. But we must also acknowledge that governance in today’s world is about more than decisions made and laws enforced locally or nationally. There is also a growing international dimension of governance and the protection of human rights which we must consider as well. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)
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