Imagine a world based on Human Rights Law
The world faces a serious challenge of rapid uncontrolled growth and massive destruction and waste, fueled by corporate economic globalization. Some solutions to this crisis will have to be global in scope, given that the whole world is directly affected. Those of us who are dedicated to creating a just, peaceful and sustainable world now face a greater challenge, and must work harder than ever, for peaceful resolutions to the inevitable conflicts around the world arising from ongoing exploitation and violations of human rights. The United Nations human rights framework, designed to promote peace and ensure accountability to the common good, is one vitally important tool available to people and governments worldwide.
Our universal human rights are a proud achievement of half a century of democratic process and debate on a global scale. This process has led to the development of a human rights framework able to transform governance and the purpose and direction of globalization and trade between nations. However, human rights, which include environmental rights, must be widely known and applied in order to serve this purpose, yet most people are unaware of the scope and potential of human rights law.
The World Trade Organization on the other hand, has no basis in law -there has been no legal process to establish that the WTO can overrule national laws and human rights. And yet the states that have signed on treat WTO rules as law, even when the results go against domestic law and the rights of their people.
How then can the WTO, the IMF and the World Bank, and NAFTA, all organizations created by nations, be allowed to make rules and decisions that over-rule human rights? Given that most parliaments have never even discussed trade law, how can the tribunals of the WTO and NAFTA over-ride the sovereignty of democratically elected governments? There is no declaration or treaty giving International finance and trade organizations the mandate or the power to overrule formal international treaties and the human rights obligations of states. The answer lies in the power of corporate wealth to intimidate and manipulate governments and persuade the public that there is no alternative.
There already exists a structure of Commissions and committees at the UN also known as treaty bodies. They are appointed by governments and given the job of assessing the performance of nations in achieving or violating human rights. The UN council on human rights, the treaty bodies, sub-commissions and working groups, all work according to their mandate to work towards making Universal Human Rights a reality.
Yet sadly, the most basic element of justice, which is the right to a remedy (i.e. enforcement), is absent because most governments don’t want to accept the authority of an international institution they themselves have established. There are no penalties available to ensure compliance to human rights obligations.
In this way, the resources and effort invested by thousands of people and hundreds of governments to achieve the current body of law, is rendered almost powerless. It will require a critical mass of people to demand compliance with what has already been granted, to convince governments to respect their own laws and commitments in the interest of the common good.
The primary goal of global economic institutions such as the WTO and the IMF, is to secure the right of corporations to profit freely. Their dominant purpose is endless growth and the accumulation of money. The leaders of these organizations declare that human rights and the health of the environment are unrelated to their frame of reference, so do not factor into their thinking. Because corporate law accords them many rights, but they are accountable only to the benefit of their shareholders, they are not required to respect human rights.
These institutions have not formally been given the right to over-rule all other values, laws and beliefs. Yet this is the power they have claimed and are now using to avoid responsibility for violating human rights and destroying the environment. The WTO and NAFTA tribunals who give themselves the power to sue nations for interfering with the pursuit of profit are non-elected and accountable to no-one. The trade bureaucrats and corporate lawyers who negotiate on behalf of nations, for the most part, operate without democratic input even of parliaments they are supposed to represent. Trade rules are not democratic, and have been created by illegitimate organizations that can and do act with impunity in violating human rights and destroying the environment.
To make matters worse, the standard accounting system that all nations who are members of the UN must follow, was designed to help countries pay for “world war 2” in the forties, and has favored war and destruction ever since. The rules of national accounting specifically state that the work of women in family and community is of little or no value. And there is no accounting at all for the very source of our economy the environment of the earth we rely on. The basic foundation of our global civilization is deeply flawed and out-dated, global warming and needless poverty cannot be solved without changing the framework that defines our economic and political systems. The answer rests in simply living up to the words and spirit and promise of the human rights framework we have also been creating all this time.
Human rights principles were conceived as a moral and ethical foundation to guide governments to act in the best interests of the people, and to free the world from fear and want. We face a time of rapid change and serious global crisis. The values of competition and ever increasing profit now driving the economic policy of nations and global systems are contrary to the values of human rights and environmental sustainability.
The truth is, all of human society is free to use International human rights laws to protect the well being of their communities and families. With enough pressure and support, a few more steps could lead to a fully implemented system of human rights law, and an institutional structure capable of binding the purpose of capital finance and investment to the realization of human and environmental rights and freedoms.
There are regional and international bodies created by governments, and invested with the power to assess compliance with the human rights obligations of nations. By using, refining and strengthening human rights commitments and mechanisms already in place, we can make links between communities, nations and the United Nations human rights systems to make human rights more enforceable.
There is a common language of human rights among people’s movements that captures a common vision based on fundamental values of family and community. By working to realize the ideals and aspirations of human rights as defined by each community, we can all participate in a global process to create a better world of peace and sustainable prosperity.
Human rights law can act as a framework to guide global economic policy, strengthen National sovereignty and accountability to the common good, and empower peoples everywhere to claim and defend Universal Human Rights within our communities and our Nations.
The economic system of our world is a human invention, it can be changed and it must be changed, before it’s too late. It will require a global human rights movement to make concrete demands to all levels of government to empower human rights law to set boundaries for global economic policy. Imagine the potential of globally exercising our responsibility to claim human rights as a way to transform globalization into serving the needs of humanity and the protecting future of the planet. Given the current circumstances, it is hard to imagine a faster or more viable way to build a global governance structure to work for the benefit of all peoples and the future of our planet.
Josephine Grey, 2003