Events

Human Rights in the International System: Enforcing Global Governance

April 13, 2004 // 12:00am
Event Co-sponsors: 
Mexico Institute

Participants: Joseph S. Tulchin, Latin American Program, WWICS
Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz, Permanent Representative of Chile to the United Nations
Marie Gervais Vidricaire, Director General, Global Issues Bureau, Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Robert P. Jackson, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, US Department of State
Mariclaire Acosta, Former Under Secretary of Human Rights, Mexican Foreign Relations Ministry
Robert Litwak, Division of International Studies, WWICS
José Miguel Vivanco, Human Rights Watch – Americas
Viviana Krsticevic, Center for Justice and International Law
Hélan Jaworski, Catholic University of Peru
Claudio Grossman, Washington College of Law, American University, Former President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, OAS
Joseph B. Gildenhorn, Chairman, Board of Trustees, WWICS


The Woodrow Wilson Center's Latin American Program organized this conference to study the current role of human rights in the international system, and the use of human rights as a foreign policy strategy.

Joseph S. Tulchin noted the changes in international governance after the end of the Cold War, and that this conference intended to evaluate how states that were not world powers could influence the international system, and in which areas they could do so most effectively. Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz, the keynote speaker, described to the new world scenario, in which the combat of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction are the main issues on the international agenda. The new international scenario, that is the result of the end of the Cold War, and the terrorist attacks on the US on 9/11 increased the attention given to hard security and other important themes like human rights were set aside. The elements needed to strengthen global governance and global security are the implementation of human rights standards, the promotion of human rights and democracy, the promotion of post-conflict reconciliation, and the fight against poverty and inequality. Muñoz concluded that the array of new security threats should not overshadow threats that are related to human rights and democracy. He emphasized that regarding democracy as a right and a legal obligation will favor global governance, and that it is essential that the concerns of developing countries be recognized in order to achieve a more secure world. During the Q&A period, the discussion focused on the ability and political willingness of the UN Security Council to intervene in humanitarian crises, its intelligence capacity, and the need to develop crisis prevention strategies.

The first panel discussed human rights as a component of foreign policy. Marie Gervais Vidricaire stated that human rights have been an integral part of Canadian foreign policy for a long time. Canadian history –particularly the respect for rights and diversity, and the fact that it is a country of immigrants– is the reason for Canada's commitment to human rights internally and in the international realm. The Canadians expect their government to express certain values abroad; but human rights are seen as a matter of international law, and not merely as values. Canada has emerged as a natural mediator in international conflicts. It has lobbied in favor of various international human rights conventions, holds annual consultation meetings with NGOs before the meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights to establish the country's positions, and advocates for counterterrorism measures to comply with international law and the respect for human rights. It is necessary to implement existing standards, advance in multilateral fora, strengthen international institutions, reform the UN Commission on Human Rights to increase its effectiveness, and participate in international conferences to create international norms. Robert Jackson argued that human rights are well integrated into US foreign policy programmatically, and they rely on the principle of accountability. The US recognizes that human rights violations abroad are a threat to US security. US foreign policy is based on values such as freedom, equality, the rule of law; and these values are also the base of US strength. The US has increased its cooperation with democratic parties, and the accusations of alliances with states that violate human rights stem from past errors. One twentieth of the US foreign assistance budget is directed to promoting democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. According to Mariclaire Acosta, states need to incorporate the respect of human rights into the domestic sphere. Mexico has participated in the creation of international law, but it has not internalized the respect for those norms. The changes in the democratic system in Mexico encouraged changes in the area of human rights, but not radical ones. President Fox said human rights would be a central component of his government, but while he did more than his predecessors, there was no coordination of the different measures adopted. Legal reform is necessary for Mexico to become a law-abiding country that respects human rights, but there is no political consensus to generate such reform. Robert Litwak stated that human rights are an important element of foreign policy, but the challenge is to integrate human rights considerations with other objectives of a state's foreign policy. There are two schools of thought with regard to foreign policy: idealism/liberalism (which favors the promotion of human rights and the proliferation of democracies to achieve international peace) and realism (that considers that international peace can be achieved through an external balance of power between states). The history of US foreign policy reflects both. After the end of the Cold War, the liberal approach ascended, and the key to US success has been its role in the community of democracies. 9/11 did not change the structure of international affairs or international order, but it showed a new vulnerability. To integrate human rights into foreign policy we must address three challenges: how to deal with competing conceptions of sovereignty and human rights, and with competing interests and priorities (the last one is the most difficult challenge).

The second panel studied the impact of human rights activism on state behavior. Joseph B. Gildenhorn stated that human rights have been part of US foreign policy, independently of the administration in the government, and that human rights are a key part of the values that bind the international community together. José Miguel Vivanco noted that there are no magic formulas to influence state behavior because there are multiple options. One must work on a case-by-case basis, and the results and strategies will largely depend on the government you intend to influence. The instruments used by human rights advocates are the media and mobilization of public opinion, and pressure to obtain sanctions and conditionality for loans. Only in extreme situations, when massive human rights violations occur, is the use of force justified. It is important for NGOs to have a record of fairness, be as objective as possible, make concrete recommendations to solve problems, target institutions that are responsible for human rights violations and identify where the real problem is, promote the same discourse in private and in public, act quickly and on the basis of good quality research, and consider the political context when acting. Viviana Krsticevic said that human rights concerns have deeply affected the behavior of Latin American states through different means: campaigns, advocacy, and litigation at the national and international levels. NGOs have increased awareness through the documentation of human rights violations, and that has led to change the patterns of repression of the ‘70s, and currently also shape government's agendas. Consistency and fairness and not having a political agenda increase human rights NGO's legitimacy as political actors. The main limitation for NGOs' work is that even if they can push a government's agenda, they do not have the ability to set it. Two important strategies that, according to Krsticevic, have helped influence state behavior are coalition-building at the regional, local and international level, and the international litigation of cases in the Inter American System on Human Rights. Hélan Jaworski presented a case study of the role of the human rights movement in Peru. He referred to civil society's actions against terrorism. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission evaluated the role of various civil society organizations (human rights NGOs, the Church, and trade unions, among others) during the ‘80s and ‘90s. It concluded that the human rights movement's activities were instrumental in obtaining changes in public opinion. Human rights movements also denounced human rights violations of Shinning Path and the government, so they had greater credibility, and recommended institutional reforms. Currently, attention must be transferred from political and civil human rights violations to internal inequalities and socioeconomic problems related to poverty; and it is vital to press for institutional reform. Claudio Grossman made a distinction between a state that is interested in improving its human rights situation and genocidal regimes. The first case requires space for governance, real democracy and participation. Lack of compliance with international human rights norms may be due to lack of interest, resources, or imagination. International law plays an important role in improving the human rights situation of countries because it establishes legitimate parameters that establish state responsibility. These norms may be used in political and ethical discussions to establish state responsibility; but the ratification of international treaties is not enough. The success of international law relies on its influence on the domestic systems. Judges and lawyers must learn international law and incorporate international standards internally. The role of NGOs is directly related to their transparency, and the absence of double standards. When genocidal regimes exist, a humanitarian intervention is possible. It is important to work on the prevention of human rights violations, and provide international mechanisms for the protection of human rights with the necessary resources.

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