Sixty-third General Assembly
26th & 27th Meetings (AM & PM)
Presentations Also Address Foreign Debt, Right to Development, Internally Displaced Persons, Transnational Corporations, Health
Any solution to the global food crisis -- which had driven over 100 million more people into extreme poverty and had reversed progress towards the eradication of hunger and extreme poverty -- must be grounded in a human rights-based approach and the principle of the right to food, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today.
As delegates continued their final week of discussions on the promotion and protection of human rights, the notion that all social, economic and cultural goals should be realized through a human rights-based approach was a common theme among the Independent Experts and Special Representatives who addressed the Committee today. In addition to the Rapporteur on the right to food, the Committee also heard presentations by the Special Rapporteur on the right to health, the Chairperson of the Working Group on the right to development, the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt on human rights, the representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.
"Grounding the search for solutions to the global food crisis in the right to food means, first of all, that Government will have to devise solutions, taking into account the needs of those who are most vulnerable", said Olivier de Schutter, Special Rapporteur on the right to food. The increase in food prices over the previous year and a half had hit the poorest households severely, leading them to switch to poorer diets and to cut back on schooling and health. Even more important than boosting production and lowering food prices was the need to raise the incomes and purchasing power of the most vulnerable groups in society, especially landless labourers, pastoralists and the fishing community.
By recognizing the right to food, he said Governments would be required to accept their responsibility to work towards solutions that would stabilize the prices of food commodities. They would be driven to regulate international trade to prevent it from jeopardizing food security and to ensure that trade agreements would allow States the flexibility to protect their population's right to food, especially when import surges threatened to destroy the livelihood of local farmers. That approach would favour the establishment of recourse mechanisms against Governments that neglected or ignored their obligations towards the right to food and would strengthen the rights of land-users to have equal access to productive resources.
Leading the discussion on financial issues, Cephas Lumina, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, also stressed the centrality of human rights to the United Nations development agenda. Though many developed countries contested whether the United Nations human rights mechanisms were the appropriate forum in which to deal with foreign debt, the impact of foreign debt on human rights was irrefutable. The diversion of scarce public resources to servicing foreign debt often meant that highly indebted countries were unable to fulfil their human rights obligations to their citizens. In some countries, more was spent annually on debt service than on human rights-related public services, such as education and health combined. To address the issue, he called on Member States to consider making extrabudgetary allocations to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to enable it to support a proposal to undertake a thematic study on foreign debt and human rights.
Corporate responsibility to enforce human rights could also not be overlooked, said Anand Grover, the Special Rapporteur on the right to health, referring to pharmaceutical companies and their obligation to uphold the right to health. Though his predecessor had laid the groundwork for applying a human rights-based approach to the right to health, almost all past reports had addressed the obligations of States. Noting that the human rights responsibilities of non-State actors, such as pharmaceutical companies, had previously been unclear, the Rapporteur had annexed a set of human rights guidelines for pharmaceutical companies to his report, which set out the human rights responsibilities of pharmaceutical companies consistent with, and complementary to, the work of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, John Ruggie.
Elaborating further on the responsibility of companies to respect human rights, Mr. Ruggie drew attention to the obligations of corporations, as had been stipulated in soft law instruments, such as the International Labour Organization (ILO) Tripartite Declaration and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Guidelines. However, the majority of those companies had yet to implement the necessary due diligence process, whereby companies became aware of, prevented, and addressed adverse human rights impacts, ensuring compliance. At the same time, Governments must manage corporations in such a way that would allow for human rights concerns to be considered when shaping national commercial policy, investment policy, securities regulation and corporate governance. The right to development included both social and economic rights, since they were inextricably connected.
The Chairperson of the Working Group on the right to development, Arjun Sengupta, who also spoke to the Committee today, said his work was aimed at promoting the implementation of that right in the policies and practices of partner institutions, through progressively refining and developing the criteria in a manner that benefited all concerned. The Working Group was also considering the possibility of evolving a comprehensive and coherent set of standards to assess the implementation of the right to development into an international legal standard of a binding nature, through a collaborative process of engagement. However, such complex work needed time, adequate resources, and substantive inputs by Member States, experts and institutions. It also needed political commitment and the recognition of the value of a human rights system accompanied by a set of obligations that would ensure the implementation of the right to development.
The Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced person, Walter Kalin, highlighted the success of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement -- first presented to the former Commission on Human Rights in 1998 -- in integrating a rights-based approach in the work of international humanitarian agencies during natural disaster and armed conflict emergencies, especially in the early recovery and reconstruction phases. He urged donors to discuss ways to reform funding mechanisms, so as not to neglect longer-term needs. He would also soon develop, with the Department of Political Affairs' Mediation Support Unit, a guide for peace mediators as a practical tool in consulting with internally displaced persons, as well as a manual for law and policymakers to support efforts by Governments to reflect the Guiding Principles in their national law and policy.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m., Tuesday, 28 October, to resume its wide-ranging discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights and hear the introduction of three draft resolutions on the rights of the child, indigenous issues and torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to resume its two-week-long discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights and to engage in a dialogue with the Special Rapporteurs on the right to food, on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and the chairperson of the Working Group on the right to development. It will also hear from the independent expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, the representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.
Documents before the Committee included: a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the interim report of Olivier de Schutter, Special Rapporteur, on the right to food (document A/63/278), a report of the independent expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights (document A/63/289), a report of the Secretary-General's Special Representative on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises (document A/63/270), and a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Walter Kälin (document A/63/286). (For background, see Press Release GA/SHC/3925 of 22 October.)
Also before the Committee was a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the interim report of Paul Hunt, Special Rapporteur, on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (document A/63/263). The report is the Special Rapporteur's last thematic report and includes brief observations arising from his tenure between 2002 and 2008. In particular, he discusses the importance of effective, transparent, accessible and independent accountability mechanisms in relation to the right to the highest attainable standard of health. He also includes, annexed to the report, the Human Rights Guidelines for Pharmaceutical Companies in relation to Access to Medicines, which set out the human rights responsibilities of pharmaceutical companies in that context. The Guidelines consider such issues as transparency, management, accountability, patents, licensing and pricing.
The Special Rapporteur's final report also includes a brief summary of his previous reporting, including thematic reports on a human rights-based approach to health indicators, impact assessments, and applying the right-to-health framework to issues such as maternal mortality, essential medicines, and water and sanitation. He also recommends that the Special Rapporteur's reports be considered not only by the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council, but also by the World Health Assembly and the World Health Organization Executive Board, as the General Assembly and Human Rights Council might not always be the most effective forum to discuss the right to the highest attainable standard of health, due to their respective sizes and the numbers of diplomats and lawyers as members.
Statement by Chairperson of Working Group on Right to Development
ARJUN SENGUPTA, Chairperson of the Working Group, said that the consensus achieved in the Working Group in previous years had allowed for the creation, in 2004, of the high-level task force on the implementation of the right to development, and for the development of a set of criteria to examine the performance of different international development partnerships. In 2007, the Working Group had adopted a challenging road map to progressively improve and refine those criteria, a road map that was subsequently endorsed by the Human Rights Council. The right to development criteria was to be operationalized for the periodic evaluation of global development partnerships, as identified in Millennium Development Goal 8, and its application had already proven to be an excellent entry point in the mainstreaming of right to development and the Working Group.
The road map and its three-phase work plan consisted of the progressive development and refinement of right to development standards, their application to a wider range of development partnerships, and their extension to all components of Millennium Development Goal 8 and regions not covered thus far, he said. The consensus included the possibility of evolving a comprehensive and coherent set of standards to assess the implementation of the right to development into an international legal standard of a binding nature, through a collaborative process of engagement. In 2007, the task force undertook technical missions and began consolidating its findings and progressively developing and refining the criteria to make it methodologically rigorous.
Now, in 2008, the Working Group had successfully completed its ninth session with yet another consensus outcome, he continued. That notable achievement would allow for further detailing and clarifying of the agreed road map. The conclusions and recommendations of the ninth session feature a detailed and intense substantive workplan to be implemented over the next two years. They also contain a recommendation that the task force give priority to improving the criteria, based on lessons learned from their application and taking into account the Declaration on the Right to Development and other relevant international instruments. The Working Group had also requested the task force to make the criteria methodologically rigorous, to provide empirically-oriented tools to those involved in implementing right to development partnerships, and to ensure that Millennium Goal 8 was covered, including target 8(a) on developing further an open, rule-based, predictable and non-discriminatory trading and financial system.
Regarding phase two of the three-phase workplan, he said that the Working Group had recommended that the task force continue its constructive dialogue with already reviewed partnerships, including through technical missions, and give priority to the issue of essential medicines in developing countries. As well, the Secretariat would send a formal invitation to the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) to consider entering into a dialogue with the task force on its contributions to the realization of the right to development and the criteria. The Working Group further recommended that the task force in phase three study thematic issues of debt relief and transfer of technology, and consolidate its findings and present a revised list of right to development criteria, along with corresponding operational subcriteria.
It was clear, he said, that the Working Group had taken on challenging, but necessary tasks, aimed at promoting the implementation of the right to development in the policies and practices of partner institutions, through progressively refining and developing the criteria in a manner that benefited all concerned. That complex work needed time, political commitment, adequate resources, and substantive inputs by Member States, experts and institutions. In addition, as the development discourse extended far beyond Millennium Goal 8, it would be necessary to develop criteria for evaluation that would eventually cover those other areas. The path that the Working Group and Member States were now on was aimed at transforming the right to development from rhetoric into reality, something that could not be achieved without a deep and holistic analysis of political and operational realities. The fragile gains made in the last few years must be maintained through providing political support and encouraging the conceptual and practical evolution of the right to development.
Questions and Answers
The representative of Cuba asked what the Working Group presided by Mr. Sengupta thought of a convention on the right to development, and what value such a text would have on the exercise of the rights of the countries of the South. Sudan's representative further asked what the Working Group was doing on the issue of debt and debt relief, as well as on technology transfer. He asked to know what the Group was doing to foster political will in support of its work.
In response to Cuba's question, Mr. SENGUPTA said the creation of a legally binding instrument could come only after having defined the right precisely; defined the criteria by which attainment of that right could be evaluated; and after having tested those criteria. The work of the Working Group was unique and "path-breaking", and its discussion over many years had led to a fairly good understanding of what the "right to development" meant. It was currently seeking to test certain criteria to measure the fulfilment of that right through several partnerships. The fulfilment of that right depended on international cooperation and, in turn, was a way to concretize such cooperation. The Working Group hoped to apply the criteria it had come up with to a number of partnerships, such as MERCOSUR), over the next two years. He was confident that the international community would eventually agree that the right to development had all the elements for a treaty. He appealed to the delegate of Cuba for the Working Group to be allowed to conduct its work thoroughly before reaching that end.
He also noted that several international conferences were taking place on the issue, including one organized by Harvard University and others, to evaluate criteria to measure fulfilment of that right.
Responding to the representative of the Sudan, he said that building up a system of cooperation would, indeed, require consensus by all States of the world. He, thus, appealed for Member States to show political commitment to the technical exercise being undertaken by the Working Group.
The representative of the United States said she understood the right to development to mean that the right to development could be achieved by all individuals by making use of their intellectual capabilities through the full exercise of their civil and political rights. Her Government did not believe it was constructive or appropriate for the Group to consider the elaboration of a human rights instrument on the right to development, but rather that it should focus on practical steps to improve social and economic development in all countries.
Brazil's delegate acknowledged that MERCOSUR had agreed to engage in a dialogue with the Group, but said that the scope of participation had yet to be agreed on. She added that there must be a human rights perspective in the "exercise of reporting on the right to development".
Mr. SENGUPTA voiced appreciation for the statement of support by MERCOSUR, and again emphasized the spirit of partnership. The purpose of the proposed partnership was to add value to the work of MERCOSUR, where possible. To the representative of the United States, he pointed out that the time for a legally binding treaty on the right to development had not yet come. The Working Group was in the process of trying to demonstrate the methods by which the right to development could be attained, based on international cooperation and not through coercion or enforced cooperation. Most members of the international community were already engaged in such cooperation, and the United States' own contribution to such cooperation was enormous.
He hoped to show that the right to development was not a question of confrontation, but rather of seeking to improve cooperation and adding value to partnerships. It was also hoped that the Untied States Government would soon see the value of a human rights system accompanied by a set of obligations, and that the world was moving towards the view that the right to development needed to be implemented by having all States meet those obligations. He noted that, last year, it had not been possible to achieve consensus on the issue of whether there should be a treaty or not. It was an idea that had not reached its time, and so it was only natural that a discussion at this time would prove divisive.
Statement by Special Rapporteur on Right to Food
OLIVIER DE SCHUTTER, Special Rapporteur, said, since assuming his mandate in May 2008, he had undertaken a number of initiatives to help ground the search for solutions to the global food crisis in the right to food. Describing the situation of hunger in the world as "alarming", he said the increase in food prices in 2007 and the first half of 2008 had hit the poorest households severely, leading them to reduce their food consumption. They had switched to poorer diets and cut back on schooling and health, leading to "irreparable damage to the health and education of millions of children". They had also sold productive assets -- land or tools -- which would take time to restore. As a result of the crisis, over 100 million more people had been driven to extreme poverty. At least 925 million people were hungry in the world today, compared to 848 million in the 2003-2005 period. Progress towards the realization of the first Millennium Development Goal had been reversed, in all regions.
He said that the crisis had demonstrated that the fight against hunger should not be confused with a fight to boost volumes of production, nor even attempts to lower global prices. The real challenge lay in ensuring that increased production led to raised incomes for landless labourers, pastoralists, and the fishing community. It also lay in reducing the gap between farm-gate prices and prices paid by the consumer, so that relieving the poor from the impact of high prices did not occur at the detriment of smallholder producers, who constituted the majority of the food insecure in the world.
Public initiatives should ensure that solutions benefited the most vulnerable, rather than simply increase the quantity of agricultural commodities available for those who could pay. Further, smallholder farmers and the urban poor should not be seen as having opposed interests, but as having to be helped by "twin-track strategies". Smallholders should be helped by reinforcing their ability to produce, while protecting them from the risks of unfair competition from producers of industrialized countries who were massively supported by taxpayers' money. Attention should also be placed on strengthening their ability to negotiate prices with large agribusiness firms that imposed prices on those who produced, and by facilitating more environmentally friendly forms of agricultural production, through the use of inputs less dependent on the price of oil or on the expectation of companies holding patents on plant varieties.
In addition, he said the urban poor should be helped by social safety nets and cash-for-work or food-for-work programmes, which would increase their purchasing power and help them to cope with periods of higher prices. Public interventions -- through the storage of food reserves, public procurement and distribution -- and the protection of local producers from dumped agricultural products from abroad should better insulate domestic markets from the unpredictability and, often, irrationality of the global markets.
The temptation to return to business as usual should be resisted, he said, and a new system should be put in place, with the principle of the right to food as its guiding compass. The institutional implications of recognizing the right to food might offer a decisive contribution to combating hunger by: favouring the establishment of recourse mechanisms against Governments that neglected or ignored their obligations towards the right to food; strengthening the rights of land-users or the rights of women to have equal access to productive resources; or affirming the responsibilities to respect the right to food. International and national efforts should be mutually supportive and, as such, the Rapporteur's work programme would focus on global governance issues related to the guarantee of food security, while also identifying which measures national Governments should take in order to protect and fulfil the right to food in a changing international environment.
Food aid, while tremendously important in times of emergencies, often never reached its beneficiaries and, when it did, it was not always compatible with long-term security, he said. Food aid was also, often, unpredictable and disrupted local food production, though he noted that a reformed food aid convention could remedy those issues. Turning to trade liberalization, he said that, though liberalization might lead to increased levels of production, the real problem that needed to be addressed was to increase the purchasing power of groups that, currently, were living in hunger. States should, therefore, assess the impact on the right to food of any commitment made through the conclusion of trade agreements, and national parliaments and civil society organizations should play an active role in monitoring international negotiations in that field.
Moving forward, the Special Rapporteur said that he would focus on the question of intellectual property rights in agriculture, including copyright trademarks, patents and plant variety protection. The responsibilities of the agribusiness sector in food production and distribution systems, and the impact of climate change on the right to food, would also be high priorities on his agenda. Empowering those who were threatened by food insecurity was urgent, and the reform of the global food system, on which they depended, was equally as urgent. Market-driven solutions had shown their limits, and, in recent years, had endangered the ability of smallholder farmers to earn a decent living and feed themselves, and had affected food buyers that had to cope with increased prices. Governments must accept that they had a responsibility to work towards solutions that would stabilize the prices of food commodities, and regulate international trade to ensure that it did not jeopardize food security. Achieving those aims would be greatly facilitated by grounding all efforts in the right to food.
Questions and Answers
The representative of Malaysia asked the Rapporteur to explain whether he thought price controls were a good means of ensuring the affordability of food. From a human rights perspective, would deregulation of trade be sustainable in the long run, in terms of its impact on the right to food? At the domestic level, was the Rapporteur aware of situations to liberalize land ownership in ways that hindered opportunities for the smaller farmer, in favour of agro-fuel production?
The representative of France, on behalf of European Union, noted the increased vulnerability of women, given their role in food production, and asked the Rapporteur if he could describe various approaches to strengthening the right to adequate food. In addition, effective and responsible governance was necessary for the full enjoyment of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Did the expert have examples of best practices in terms of governance?
The representative of Cuba asked the Rapporteur to elaborate on the issue of trade liberalization, and the relationship between intellectual property rights and its effects on the realization of the full rights of men, women and children. He asked if the Rapporteur was engaged in conversations with international financial institutions in the conduct of his work. To that question, the representative of China remarked that trade liberalization sometimes deprived developing countries of their ability of being able to address food security and even led to the complete destruction of the livelihood of some small farmers. What were some of his suggestions to increase food security in the long run?
The representative of Venezuela said five legal instruments were approved in his country to consolidate the institutional and legal framework for ensuring its population with access to quality food. Those laws had led to useful associations between producers, distributors and consumers of food. In addition, "food sovereignty" was enshrined in the Constitution as a fundamental right and, as a result, the country had established a treaty governing food safety and sovereignty with its neighbours. Did the Special Rapporteur have plans to work with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises in carrying out his work? Would he take up the issue of food sovereignty in his work?
The representative of the United States said she agreed with the Special Rapporteur on actions needed to obtain food security, but raised problems with his report. She took issue with his assertion that States had a legal obligation to help other countries in need, as opposed to a moral obligation. The Special Rapporteur had argued that international law required States to adopt the recommendations of his report. It was not fair to style his policy preferences as requirements that States must adopt as legal obligations. In addition, the Rapporteur had said that the provision of food aid violated the right to food, and countries must switch from in-kind transfers to cash aid. In fact, in-kind aid was critical in some situations. As for the need to protect domestic producers when freeing agricultural trade, she said a successful Doha round would help create new trade flows, helping developing farmers by cutting distorting subsidies.
Responding, Mr. DE SCHUTTER said the easiest way to combat price volatility was by forming food reserves at the national and possibly regional levels, allowing individual nations to intervene in the market when needed, through marketing boards. Another system was needed at the international level to ensure the stability of the food supply for net food importers, while, at the same time, guaranteeing steady revenue streams for food exporters. For that, he envisioned a "virtual food reserve system", by which States would commit to putting a certain volume of food on the market, at predefined prices.
On the impact of agro-fuels on food security, he said his report to the Human Rights Council last month had called for guidelines on the production of those fuels. He was not against agro-fuels entirely, since it helped bring about energy independence among certain developing States and brought new forms of revenue for some small farmers. But, he objected to the way they were being produced -- that is, with no coordination among States. The European Union and the United States had committed a serious mistake, in his opinion, in implementing policies that had led to rapid price increases. States must be careful when mandating objectives such as those, without first examining its impact on food security. Trade in agro-fuels had distorted markets, and subsidies and fiscal incentives were in place that made it difficult for developing countries to benefit from that trade.
To the representative of France, he said the debate on women's rights in the context of food security had been defined in the comprehensive framework of action by the Secretary-General's task force on food issues. The document produced by the task force was a good one, but insufficient on some points: namely, on the right to land, the rights of women, and in obliging States to set up strategies protecting the right to food. He would continue to cooperate with that task force. His report to the Human Rights Council contained more details on his thoughts on the nexus between women's rights and the right to food. For instance, it talks of women in South Asia who were not able to participate actively in life, and where they could not inherit land that they had had a hand in cultivating. That situation required changes to the legal systems of nations, so that they were less discriminatory towards women. On responsible governance, he said the United Nations had produced voluntary guidelines for the progressive realization of the right to food, which contained governance-related recommendations. They were not binding, but common sense would dictate that they be adhered to.
On trade liberalization, the Rapporteur voiced agreement with the representative of the United States when saying that the Doha Round might help to promote food security. But, trade should be regulated in such a way that allowed States the flexibility to protect their population's right to food, especially when import surges threatened local producers and the ability of people to purchase food. It also had to deal with a situation where producers from developing countries were being pitted against heavily-supported producers in industrialized countries. His report to the Human Rights Council, to be presented in March 2009, would contain more details.
He confirmed that he was involved in exchanges with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), which were constructive and ongoing.
In answer to China's representative, he said that there were various ways to invest in agriculture, but some methods were less sustainable than others. There were ways to produce food in an environmentally friendly way, including through the prudent use of water and in ways that did not lead to a "dualization" of the farming sector, pitting large producers against small producers. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) had demonstrated that small-scale farming, that was premised on idea that different crops could be grown at the same time, was very productive per hectare, and could meet food security needs. That idea should be explored, especially to give billions of people the opportunity to live off of the land, rather than moving to slums in pursuit of a livelihood.
He did, indeed, work with John Ruggie, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, and would partner with him in some way to organize an event on the right to food. As for "food sovereignty", which he described as a "political slogan", he acknowledged that it might become a legal reality one day, because the concept was connected to the right to development and the right to self-determination. He would pay heed to it in future work.
He ended by saying that the practice of providing in-kind food aid was "passé". When it was introduced in the 1960s, it had been seen as a means to redistribute food surpluses. In truth, in-kind aid had had a detrimental impact on food security, and only brought benefit to food producers in industrialized countries.
In a second round of questions, the representative of Switzerland asked the Special Rapporteur what his work plans were in regard to promoting the right to the use of land, especially in terms of the legal empowerment of the poor, as well as what follow-up he would undertake on the commitments made by Governments to resolving the food crisis.
Brazil's delegate expressed disappointment over the lack of attention paid by the Special Rapporteur to agricultural subsidies and the disruptive impact they had in regard to local agricultural production and food aid. She noted that he had addressed the subsidies issue in relation to biofuels, and she asked him to elaborate further on that point.
The representative of the United Kingdom asked the Rapporteur what work he had done, or planned to do, in Zimbabwe, in light of the escalating food shortages in that country.
The delegate from Ireland asked how the recommendations made by the Commission for the Legal Empowerment of the Poor might complement his own work on the issue of land rights.
The representative of the Observer Mission of Palestine, referring to the food crisis affecting persons living under occupation in the occupied Palestinian territories, asked the Rapporteur to shed light on how access to food aid differed from the right to food. He also asked the Special Rapporteur whether he would visit the occupied territories and what he would do to ensure that Israel complied with its international obligations to ensure the well-being of all persons living under occupation.
Closing the second round of questioning, Belgium's representative asked what impact country debts and scarce resources had on the first Millennium Goal and the realization of the right to food.
In response to the comments made by Switzerland and Ireland on land rights, Mr. DE SCHUTTER said he planned to work with the Special Rapporteurs on the right to adequate housing and the rights of indigenous peoples to ensure better protections for landholders against forced evictions. The rights of land users should be strengthened to guarantee them security of tenure and legal protections from forced evictions. Agrarian reform would also be an essential element of the work, as it had the potential to help reallocate land to give more support for those who were currently unable to feed themselves. Joint efforts by the Rapporteurs would take into account the recommendations made by the Commission for the Legal Empowerment of the Poor.
As to the Swiss delegate's question regarding efforts to follow-up on commitments made by countries to resolving the food crisis, he said that he would work, over the coming months, to gather information regarding the indicators that could be used to monitor international commitments on the right to food, and he would submit a report to the Human Rights Council, in September 2009, based on the information gathered.
He clarified, in response to the comments made by the representative of Brazil, that he had addressed the issue of agricultural subsidies in his presentation, when he spoke of the "unfair competition from abroad". The problem of subsidies was that they did not benefit all producers in the world and they distorted the markets. However, that did not mean that support to agriculture sectors should be entirely removed. Rather, addressing the problem of agricultural subsidies meant that more support should be given to those countries that were currently incapable of supporting their farmers. Such efforts would even out the playing field. As well, World Trade Organization negotiations could lead to an increase in the prices of some food commodities and States should be given the support needed to relieve their citizens from the effects of those price rises. He added that net food importing developing countries would be most severely affected by those higher prices and should, therefore, be a priority in talks.
On the biofuel issue, he said that it was necessary to keep in mind that biofuels could have a negative impact on food security, on the environment, and on the rights of workers on the plantations on which crops for fuel were being produced. Indeed, biofuel production had already led to deforestation and had, at times, taken place in a manner that was not environmentally sustainable. He suggested that the adoption of a set of guidelines on biofuels as a condition for access to international markets might be useful. Such a set of guidelines might be similar to the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme for conflict diamonds, so that biofuels that were produced in a way that abused the rights of workers or the environment would not be tradeable.
Turning to the question by the representative of the United Kingdom on Zimbabwe, he drew attention to the difficulty of preparing a mission to that country, but said he would continue to look into opportunities to improve the situation on ground. Similarly, in response to the representative of the Observer Mission of Palestine, he said that he would work in partnership with other Special Rapporteurs to help resolve the worrisome food security situation in the occupied Palestinian territories.
In response to the question posed by Belgium's delegate, he said that it had been troublesome to see the neglect of the agricultural sector, over the previous 25 years, and the continued decrease in funding for that sector at the international level and within national budgets. The dollars invested in agriculture were much more effective in reducing poverty than dollars invested in any other sector and, as such, the issue should stay on the agenda of the international donor community.
Statement by Independent Expert on Effects of Foreign Debt and Other Related International Financial Obligations of States on Full Enjoyment of All Human Rights, Particularly Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
CEPHAS LUMINA, Independent Expert, said the Human Rights Council had recently redefined and renamed his mandate. His general approach was as follows: to consult and cooperate with the widest possible range of stakeholders; to recognize the need to address the effects of foreign debt through the principle of international assistance and cooperation; and to operate on the basis that, while States held the primary responsibility for implementing human rights obligations, other actors -- including international development, trade and financial institutions, and private corporations -- were equally as obliged to respect those human rights.
He said he would focus on three broad, interrelated objectives: to raise awareness about the need to consider foreign debt as a human rights issue; to undertake a thematic study on foreign debt and human rights in order to identify and clarify some conceptual issues; and to identify best practices concerning foreign debt and human rights through the review and development of the general guidelines. While there had been preliminary consultations on the guidelines, those had been limited to an expert level meeting held in Geneva in 2007. The finalization of the guidelines was vital to guaranteeing acceptability and effective implementation and, consequently, the Rapporteur intended to broaden consultations by convening a multi-stakeholder regional consultation, with a view to enriching the content of the guidelines.
One key challenge in his work were the disparities in voting patterns concerning his mandate in the resolutions and decisions of the former Commission on Human Rights and in the Human Rights Council, he said. Developed countries often opposed the mandate on the basis that the United Nations human rights mechanisms were not the appropriate forum in which to deal with foreign debt, whereas developing countries mainly supported it. Such a situation had implications for the effective implementation of the guidelines that were at the core of his mandate. Member States were responsible for addressing human rights a holistic manner, which should include discussing the causes and the context within which human rights violations occurred. The diversion of scarce public resources to servicing foreign debt placed highly indebted countries in a position where they were unable to fulfil the human rights obligations to their citizens. Indeed, some countries were spending more, annually, on debt service than on human rights-related public services, such as education and health.
Despite debt relief provided by current initiatives, he said that many countries still had substantial debts that prevented them from realizing economic, social and cultural rights and implementing the Millennium Development Goals. As such, it seemed entirely appropriate for the Human Rights Council to continue to address that issue. While international financial institutions could play a crucial role in dealing with foreign debt, a human rights-based approach would offer specific value by placing emphasis on participation, non-discrimination, accountability, universality and the indivisibility of all human rights. To that end, he would, in the coming days, meet with the World Bank and the IMF to explore ways in which his mandate could assist those institutions.
The principle of international cooperation had always been central to the mission of the United Nations and an international order typified by the extreme indebtedness of developing countries and an attendant inability of those countries to fulfil their human rights obligations was inconsistent with the Organization's ideals, he said. With the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be commemorated in December 2008, it was crucial now, more than ever, to acknowledge the vital connection between international cooperation and the realization of human rights. Member States that had traditionally been reluctant to support consideration of foreign debt as a human rights issue should seize the opportunity to commit themselves to cooperating with the United Nations and its human rights bodies, including the special procedures, in seeking a human rights-based solution to the external debt crisis. In closing, he asked Member States to consider making extrabudgetary allocations to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), to enable it to provide support for the proposed thematic study on foreign debt and human rights.
Questions and Answers
The representative of Cuba asked the Expert to elaborate further on the impact of financial crisis on countries with huge external debts.
The representative of the United States said she recognized the challenges faced by developing countries, and appreciated the Expert's description of how he would fulfil his mandate. But, she stressed the importance of encouraging private financial flows as way to address the debt crisis and underscored the responsibility that each country had for its own development. Relief efforts, at times, undermined the goal of transitioning to private markets to raise the capital needed for development. The core issue was debt sustainability, and the link being made between debt forgiveness and human rights was tenuous. It was possible for debt repayment and the attainment of human rights to happen simultaneously. The issue of sustainable debt management would be better addressed in other forums -- such as by the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) and the Financing for Development process -- and not by a human rights body. Sustainable development would result from good governance and from removing constraints to the growth of the private sector. Perhaps, the Expert could focus on ways to foster good governance, instead.
The representative of China asked about the draft general guidelines and what specific measures were being envisaged by the Expert to reduce the debt of heavily indebted countries, and how they would be implemented. She asked to know how debtors and creditors could better collaborate with one another.
The representative of Kuwait said his country had provided a certain amount of assistance to African countries through the Kuwaiti Development Fund, and had decided to eliminate the debt of a large number of countries in 1994. He then asked how other States might be able to assist countries in eliminating their debt problem.
In response, Mr. LUMINA said countries should not use the current financial crisis as an excuse to reduce the level of official development assistance being offered to needy States. The draft general guidelines prepared by his predecessor, and presented to the Human Rights Council in March, had dealt with the question of the shared responsibility of borrowers and creditors; sound debt management; debt sustainability; and good governance and transparency in the debt management process. On debt sustainability, he said his concern lay in the framework's disproportionate emphasis on the needs of creditors. He would like to see a human rights approach being applied to the issue of debt sustainability, rather than a purely economic focus.
He was required by the Human Rights Council to review the guidelines in 2010. The goal was to encourage creditors and debtors to manage the process better. Member States could participate in the debt relief effort by supporting the work of the Independent Expert's mandate and sharing ideas on what such guidelines would look like. In order to encourage as many stakeholders as possible to participate in the drafting of those guidelines, he would try to publicize the existing draft, while inviting comments from all stakeholders.
Statement by Representative of Secretary-General on Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons
WALTER KALIN, Representative of the Secretary-General, said that, 10 days ago at an international conference in Oslo, Norway, the international community had taken stock of the achievements made since the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement had been presented to the former Commission on Human Rights in 1998. Those Principles had empowered internally displaced persons all over the world and had made them more aware of their rights. The Principles had also made Governments more aware of their responsibilities vis-à-vis internally displaced persons and had helped them implement the duties prescribed therein. Around 15 countries had already adopted policies and legislation specifically addressing internal displacement, more than 50 countries were currently experiencing conflict-induced displacement, and many more regularly experienced displacement by natural disasters. To that end, the Representative had, in cooperation with the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement and other humanitarian organizations, developed a manual for law and policymakers to support efforts by Governments to reflect the Guiding Principles in their national law and policy.
The Guiding Principles had also made regional organizations more aware of the responsibilities that countries in their respective regions faced in dealing with internal displacement, he continued. Regional organizations had assumed a pivotal role in developing regional instruments on internal displacement, such as the Protocol on the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons adopted by the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region. An African convention on the protection and assistance of internally displaced persons was also expected to be adopted at the special summit of the African Union in Kampala, next April. In addition, the Guiding Principles had informed the work of international humanitarian agencies during emergencies and early recovery and reconstruction, and they had proven useful, in particular, in helping to manage the protection needs of persons displaced by natural disasters, the main cause of displacement in today's world. To that end, the Representative would submit a thematic report on the protection of internally displaced persons in natural disasters to the tenth session of the Human Rights Council, in which he would show that violations of the human rights of the affected persons were usually the result of inappropriate policies, oversight or neglect, and that natural disasters exacerbated pre-existing patterns of discrimination and abuse.
Without durable solutions for displaced persons, sustainable peace could not be achieved, he said. As such, he was working with the Department of Political Affairs' Mediation Support Unit to produce a guide for peace mediators as a practical tool in consulting with internally displaced persons in peace processes. Millions of internally displaced persons continued to languish in protracted situations of conflict and humanitarian access to them was often not possible, due to security concerns, logistical problems, or because access was denied by State or non-State actors.
Turning then to specific country visits he had undertaken over the previous year, he said that he had been greatly encouraged by the firm commitment shown by the Government of Sri Lanka to finding durable solutions for those who had been displaced for many years, in particular the displaced Muslims from the north. He looked forward to the development of concrete proposals and actions in that regard, while noting his deep concern over the impact of ongoing hostilities on the civilian population in the Vanni, including its impact on an estimated 200,000 internally displaced persons. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Conference for Peace, Security and Development in North and South Kivu, held in January 2008, had offered the Representative an opportunity to visit the eastern part of that country and had been an opportunity, overall, for stability in the region. However, over recent weeks, the situation in that region had dramatically deteriorated, and he called on all actors to stop all violence against the civilian population and to reiterate their commitment to the Goma peace process.
In Kenya, he said his visits in 2008 had shown that the humanitarian situation for those displaced by the post-election violence was improving, though important problems remained, such as the need to implement a real reconciliation and transitional justice process on the ground. Finally, in late September, the Representative had the opportunity to visit Georgia and had noted, during his visit, the need to create conditions that would allow all internally displaced persons to restart their normal lives. Though the Government had started building houses for the displaced, it would also need to provide those persons with economic opportunities for the future, and would need to integrate the roughly 220,000 persons displaced in the early 1990s by implementing the action plan adopted by the Government in July 2008.
Because of the security situation in Somalia, he said he had been unable to conduct a country visit, despite the fact that there had been a dramatic increase in the number of internally displaced persons since the beginning of the year. Violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict were the main factors that had induced citizens to leave their homes. Those abuses took place in an environment of impunity, and the international community should engage more seriously in establishing mechanisms that could end the violence and hold the parties to that conflict accountable for their actions.
Overall, he said the search for durable solutions, the response to natural disasters, and the relationship between displacement and peacebuilding were just a few of the issues where critical work remained. The number of internally displaced persons due to armed conflicts and natural disasters had never been higher, and close to 1 per cent of the world's population was displaced today. Those people deserved the world's attention, compassion and commitment.
Questions and Answers
The representative of Switzerland noted the role of civil society in facilitating efforts to implement the Guiding Principles at the national level, but added that more needed to be done. Ideally, creating a framework for dealing with the issue of displacement should involve the participation of displaced persons themselves. She asked the Special Representative to discuss the obstacles he saw 10 years after the Guiding Principles were created. Also, how did he plan to obtained access to areas where humanitarian access to civilians was a major problem?
The representative of Canada noted that Mr. Kalin had visited Canada and voice appreciation for that visit, as well as for his effort to disseminate his work widely. She noted the increased difficulties faced by humanitarian personnel in carrying out their work owing to a lack of security, including in Sri Lanka. She further noted that he would participate in national consultations in Sri Lanka on humanitarian issues, and asked to know whether those consultations would incorporate the question of safety.
The representative of France, speaking on behalf of the European Union, asked to know his expectations with regard to the Peacebuilding Commission and its work on internally displaced persons. Also, what steps should be taken to promote the free, informed choice of internally displaced persons regarding their return? The representative of Burundi further asked to hear the Representative's impression on the speed of delivery of funds to internally displaced persons within Burundi, which was a country being considered by the Peacebuilding Commission. What steps did he plan to take to prevent a dichotomy between the need to provide immediate assistance to internally displaced persons versus the need to provide for their longer-term development?
The representative of Azerbaijan did not ask a question, but delivered a statement thanking the Representative's activities vis-à-vis his country. He shared the Representative's opinion on the need for a set of guidelines on the issue, as well as on the importance of a dialogue with humanitarian agencies, including the International Organization for Migration on the issue. The Representative's activities had not been limited to traditional cases of displacement, but also covered persons displaced by climate change.
As for his attention to Azerbaijan, he said he appreciated the Rapporteur's attempts at discussion with a wide range of relevant State entities. Robust economic development had allowed the country to address several challenges touching on displaced persons and refugees, spending $417 million in the process. The Government had successfully dismantled all tent camps, and displaced persons were moved to new settlements. The intention had been to ensure the return of displaced persons to their homes after the foreign aggression had ended. A few months after his visit, the country had adopted laws to improve the living conditions of displaced persons, including by building new housing for them. Those efforts were carried out with the consent of the displaced persons. In addition, the Government was devoting its time to tackling the question of unemployment among internally displaced persons. The international community should intensify its efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict that had caused their displacement, and called for the withdrawal of occupying forces.
The representative of Kenya said his country had been receiving internally displaced persons from neighbouring countries and had done so at great national expense. Post-election violations at the beginning of the year had led to a great portion of its own population being displaced. The country was currently engaged in a national reconciliation process, and problems relating to that displacement would hopefully be addressed following its completion.
The representative of Sri Lanka said he had noted the Special Representative's comments regarding Sri Lanka, and reiterated his Government's commitment to ensure humanitarian access in the northern region, where ongoing military operations had resulted in the displacement of some persons. The Government was continuing to deliver food and other essential supplies to the internally displaced persons every week, with United Nations assistance, notwithstanding the difficulties posed by "terrorist groups" in the area. It would seek to resettle the people once the situation had returned to normal.
Responding to those questions and comments, the Special Representative said the next steps in implementing the Guiding Principles would involve three elements: the creation of a strong normative framework, and to assist nations to turn those norms into law; added focus on Africa, based on a draft African Union Convention on the protection of and assistance to internally displaced persons; and to build the capacity of nations to achieve those two goals, working alongside United Nations humanitarian agencies and others.
As for lack of access, he explained that there were varying reasons for the difficulties faced in each region. In some cases, it was due to the harsh terrain; at other times, it was a question of poor security. In still other cases, Governments were reluctant to deal with non-State actors, such as humanitarian personnel. In cases where there was no political will to allow such access, the international community must send a clear signal to its members that supporting human rights was not only about fulfilling obligations to refrain from direct violations, but also to carry out a duty to protect people, which entailed granting access to victims.
He added that he would continue working with the Peacebuilding Commission, for instance, by conducting country visits, upon which he would make recommendations to the Commission. He said it was important to include, in peace agreements, a clause on the right of internally displaced persons to choose between different return options. In addition, their return should be voluntary.
Turning to questions regarding early recovery versus long-term development of formerly displaced persons, he acknowledged the tendency to neglect the rights of internally displaced persons and returnees once the immediate humanitarian phase was over, thus, endangering peacebuilding efforts. Too often, communities that were displaced 10 or 20 years ago remained marginalized after their settlement, unable to rebuild their lives. The early recovery phase typically lasted six months to two years, and was devoted to activities necessary to resolve the crisis. He urged donors to discuss ways to reform funding mechanisms, so as not to neglect longer-term needs.
Statement by Special Rapporteur on Right to Health
ANAND GROVER, Special Rapporteur, paid tribute to his predecessor for having laid out the standard to apply a human rights-based approach to the right to health, and for establishing the groundwork for understanding the relation between health and human rights. Having dedicated much of his time to working as an HIV/AIDS advocate in India for the past 20 years, Mr. Grover said he planned to continue his predecessor's work by applying lessons learned from HIV to the right to health more broadly. His experience had demonstrated the importance of involving rights-holders in decision-making, and he would ensure to involve them in his own work as Special Rapporteur, including historically oppressed groups such as women and children, disabled persons, ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples. Among the themes he might look into in greater depth were health systems; intellectual property; and the effect of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) and TRIPs-plus standards on the ability of States to implement the right to health. He would also focus on issues related to women and violence, and indigenous communities in the context of the right to health.
Turning to the report of his predecessor, which he noted had emphasized the fact that accountability mechanisms in respect to health systems were often weak, he said that there were two forms of accountability: judicial and administrative. Both included, and called for, monitoring, holding to account and redress. While judicial accountability was discussed in many reports by his predecessor, forms of administrative accountability had more recently been explored indirectly within reports such as "Skills drain", "Millennium Development Goals", and "Health systems". The former rapporteur had also addressed mechanisms for accountability in his missions to Uganda and Sweden. An annex to the report before the Committee contained guidelines for pharmaceutical companies in relation to access to medicines, and had set out the human rights responsibilities of pharmaceutical companies. Numerous comments had been received on the draft guidelines, resulting in it being extensively revised. They were consistent with, and complementary to, the analysis recently provided by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, who was also present at today's meeting.
States were not the only entities with a responsibility to ensure the progressive realization of the right to health, he said. Other national and international actors also had a role to play in that regard. Regrettably, health systems were failing and collapsing in many countries. Clinics were without health workers and the most basic facilities. Millennium Development Goal 8 recognized the importance of a global partnership for development, as it called for "cooperation with pharmaceutical companies to provide access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries". Since almost all reports submitted by the Rapporteur had addressed the obligations of States, it was only appropriate that obligations of non-State actors, such as pharmaceutical companies, be considered. However, questions still remained on how pharmaceutical companies could be asked to respect their human rights responsibilities in relation to access to medicines, without much specific guidance, and how they could be monitored if their human rights responsibilities were unclear.
He added that, when discussing State obligations to the realization of the right to health, public officials often mentioned that the practices and policies of some pharmaceutical companies were an obstacle to State implementation of the right to health. Excessively high prices, inadequate attention to research and development concerning diseases that disproportionately affected the poor, inappropriate drug promotion and problematic clinical trials were among those obstacles. Nevertheless, public officials had also recognized the constructive approach taken by some companies.
He said the guidelines were prepared with a view to developing the interpretation of internationally recognized human rights standards and, in particular, to provide practical constructive and specific guidance to pharmaceutical companies, and for parties who wished to monitor companies and hold them accountable. Controversial issues still remained to be clarified, such as the extent to which non-State actors were bound by international law. In addition, companies must pay attention to the needs of disadvantaged individuals, communities and populations. In relation to access to medicines, companies should be transparent in their activities. Management, monitoring, accountability and anti-corruption measures were needed. Companies should respect countries' rights to use TRIPs to promote access to medicines. They should not lobby for enhanced protection of intellectual property beyond that required by TRIPs, such as additional limitations on compulsory licensing.
He stressed that it was only through the combined efforts of people working together -- including States, non-State actors, civil society organizations, affected communities and individuals -- that progress could be ensured on the fulfilment of the right to health.
Questions and Answers
In a dialogue with the Special Rapporteur, the representative of Canada addressed the issue of pharmaceutical companies and the human rights guidelines that provided guidance for those companies, and asked whether there were plans for further dialogue with the pharmaceutical industry on those guidelines.
Along the same lines, the representative of the United States highlighted her country's role in developing those guidelines, and said that, while pharmaceutical companies could and should be good global citizens and engage in global philanthropy, the primary objective of companies was to be accountable to it shareholders. She also noted the lack of international consensus on the nature and scope of obligations on the right to health and the need to find a flexible approach to health-related rights, since a "one size fits all" approach would not be adequate.
Brazil's delegate asked what the Special Rapporteur would do in the future to address the need for health to take precedence over trade issues in negotiations. International property rights should not be an obstacle to providing sick persons with the means to get better. As well, she noted the need to build the capacity of developing countries and highlighted a national initiative through which Brazil was providing aid to African countries to help them buy medicines, at the same time that it offered those countries the expertise that would allow them to produce their own medicines.
The representative of France, asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate further on the conclusion drawn in his report regarding the right to health being subject to maximum available resources, and for clarification on the way the text annexed to the report, regarding pharmaceutical companies, would be used.
New Zealand's delegate said the availability, quality and use of maternal health services was of particular concern in his region and he asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on maternal health in relation to the overall right to health.
Responding to questions on the human rights guidelines for pharmaceutical companies, the Special Rapporteur said that he intended to continue the work of his predecessor, who had worked in consultations with various groups to develop those guidelines. With further consultations, he would explore whether it would be possible to develop a more formal set of guidelines on how those companies could be asked to respect their human rights responsibilities and how such efforts could be monitored.
Regarding issues concerning maternal health, as raised by the representative of New Zealand, he said that the issue was of great importance and he would address maternal mortality, in particular, at the June session of the Human Rights Council. Accountability, developing indicators for monitoring and evaluation and empowering marginalized communities in relation to maternal mortality were all issues that needed to be addressed.
He thanked the representative of Brazil for highlighting her country's efforts to develop the capacity of developing countries in Africa. On the right to health and trade, he said that, over a period of time, the international legal community had come to recognize the primacy of the right to health as part of international customary law. Holding non-State actors to account in relation to the right to health was fundamental to those efforts and, in the legal community, there was now almost across-the-board agreement that health was a fundamental right and trade agreements must not take precedence over it.
He also thanked the representative of the United States for raising some important issues, and he highlighted the need to dialogue those issues to come to a consensus. Any approach should be based on evidence and not on doctrinal issues and should take into account what happened to the vast majority of poor persons who did not have access to basic essential services.
Responding to France's question regarding the notion of maximum available resources as it relates to the right to health, he said that there were a lot of issues to be identified in that regard and, based on inputs from the Committee and through consultations with civil society, Government, and non-governmental organizations, he would decide on a set of priorities to address those issues in the future.
Statement by Special Representative of Secretary-General on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises
JOHN RUGGIE, Special Representative, said his mandate addressed the "profound and historic challenge" of how to close the gaps between the scope and impact of economic forces and actors, on the one hand, and the capacity of societies to manage the adverse consequences of such impacts, on the other. Those "governance gaps", as he called them, had created a permissive environment where companies were able to commit wrongful acts, without adequate sanctioning or reparation. How to narrow and, ultimately, bridge those governance gaps in relation to human rights was the focus of the Special Representative's work.
In June 2008, the Human Rights Council had unanimously welcomed the policy framework of "protect, respect and remedy" that the Special Representative had proposed in the final report of the 2005 mandate, he said. The framework had been endorsed by the main international business associations and by leading international human rights organizations. Indeed, since 2005, a new consensus had been formed, contrasting sharply with the divisive debate that had preceded the creation of the mandate. Between 2005 and 2008, 14 multi-stakeholder consultations had been convened on five continents, assessing both the nature of the challenges and the array of possible solutions. Nearly 400 public allegations against companies had also been analysed and a comprehensive mapping of international standards and practices that currently governed business and human rights had also been undertaken, ranging from criminal law to voluntary initiatives by firms.
Having established the boundaries and basic parameters of the business and human rights domain through the framework, the Special Representative said, in the coming year, he would focus on providing more concrete guidance on each of the framework's elements: "protect, respect and remedy". The first principle was the State's duty to protect and reaffirmed the primary role that Governments played in balancing and reconciling different societal needs. Currently, most Governments took a relatively narrow approach to managing the business and human rights agenda, and human rights concerns were often kept apart from other policy domains that shaped business practices, including commercial policy, investment policy, securities regulation and corporate governance. That State practice contributed to the governance gaps mentioned at the beginning of the presentation. The human rights policies of States in relation to business needed to be pushed beyond their narrow institutional confines and Governments needed to actively encourage a corporate culture, respectful of human rights at home and abroad.
The second principle, he continued, addressed the corporate responsibility to respect human rights and, put simply, to do no harm. The corporate responsibility to respect human rights was the baseline expectation for all companies in all situations and was recognized by virtually every voluntary initiative and was stipulated in soft law instruments, such as the International Labour Organization (ILO) Tripartite Declaration and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Guidelines. Yet, the fact was that relatively few companies had systems in place enabling them to monitor and ensure their full respect for human rights. Therefore, what was required was a due diligence process, whereby companies became aware of, prevented, and addressed adverse human rights impacts.
Access to remedy was the third principle to ensure that victims could seek redress over adverse human rights impacts of company activities, he said. Currently, where need was the greatest, access to formal judicial system was often most difficult, and non-judicial mechanisms were seriously underdeveloped at the national and international levels. As such, the Special Representative would explore possible ways of overcoming obstacles that stood in the way of access to judicial remedy and would identify promising non-judicial remedies. The development of a wiki, web-based platform as a centre for information, learning and networking was also part of the work plan.
In the future, he said he would also continue to promote the framework and would convene a Global Leadership Group for the mandate, comprised of 15 eminent individuals, including former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, to provide strategic and substantive advice. "There is no single silver bullet solution to closing the global governance gaps in the business and human rights domain", he said. However, those gaps must be closed and all social actors -- States, businesses, and civil society -- must learn to do things differently. Success would depend on the continued cooperation of all stakeholders to build on the consensus already achieved.
Questions and Answers
The representative of Norway reaffirmed the importance of safeguarding fundamental rights, but added that, in order to bridge the governance gaps mentioned by Mr. Ruggie, it was important to be mindful of the complex history surrounding the issue at the United Nations. He then asked the Special Representative to talk more about the State's duty to protect its citizens from corporate abuse in conflict zones, as informed by his visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The representative of the United States commended Mr. Ruggie for the wide-ranging consultations he had held on the topic, expressing agreement that States should not segregate human rights from other domains that shaped business practices. She noted that some countries were concerned that attention to human rights in the economic sector could limit their nation's economic development process, and asked for his view on that issue.
The representative of France, speaking on behalf of the European Union, asked to hear more about the types of people he had convened to help deal with his mandate. Also, did he intend to hold consultations on the proposed guidelines? And what was his involvement with the ILO?
The representative of Canada said his approach had led to a significant level of consensus on the topic, and welcomed his tack on "protect, respect and remedy". In some countries, policies dealing with human rights and transnational corporations were fragmented. What should the international community do to build the capacity of States to better protect human rights?
In response, MR. RUGGIE made clear that he had not been to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In fact, a Human Rights Council resolution had invited the country to engage with a number of special procedures in a capacity-building mode, including himself. His office had begun discussions with the country intended to help the two parties come to grips with the issue in a post-conflict situation, since the human rights regime, as it was designed, could not be expected to function in a country torn apart by social strife. The international community needed to be able to develop innovative measures for such countries. If the Democratic Republic of the Congo was willing, he would try to examine the situation and come up with policy recommendations for the international community to consider, in terms of business operations in conflict zones.
He said, at a minimum, social and economic rights served as an indicator of a country's development success. The term "right to development", albeit a controversial one, was merely meant to capture the notion of an aggregation of social and economic rights enjoyed by a population in a country. There was no contradiction there, in his view. Economic rights and human rights were inextricably connected, in his own thinking: the one was the cause of the other.
He had convened a group to advise him on his mandate, and the list of persons was attached to his statement, which was circulated in the room. The group was intended to provide him with the best possible advice, from people who had served at the highest levels in the United Nations and in national Governments. There was a great deal of complexity and delicacy to the mandate and the challenges it was intended to address. That body was intended to help him avoid major mistakes and provide recommendations on how to push that agenda forward. It was an extraordinary group -- not a single person he had approached had turned him down, which indicated how important that issue had become for business and for the enjoyment of human rights.
He said he hoped to continue with regional consultations, as well as consultations with experts, such as international corporate lawyers. He also intended to cooperate closely with international organizations. He said he did not intend to rewrite labour standards, and would draw upon what the ILO had already done. He would continue to stay in touch with the ILO for that reason.
With regard to capacity-building, he said he wished to get the business and human rights agenda out of the narrow box in which it was confined, so that investment and corporate lawyers understood human rights just as well as human rights specialists in the Foreign Affairs Ministry or the justice system of countries. For instance, during his consultations last year on the relationship between investment agreements and human rights, he had found that experts from national capitals did not see the immediate usefulness of discussing investment agreements, while the investment agreements experts did not understand that what they did had human rights implications. In fact, both people's work touched on human rights. Work was also proceeding on deepening the world's capacity to deal with the issue -- it was a relatively new area of study, requiring clarification of standards and approaches, and for the dissemination of best practices.
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