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Human rights and international law undermined by ‘à la carte’ application, warns UN Expert

NEW YORK (31 October 2012) – The credibility of international law and of the United Nations is undermined when States violate the United Nations Charter with impunity or apply human rights law as it suits them, à la carte, whether nationally or at the international level, warned the UN Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas.

“Everywhere, people talk about reforms, but it remains business as usual, with undemocratic participation in global decision-making and growing inequities worldwide,” said Mr. de Zayas, who was due to present his first report* to the UN General Assembly today, but the event has been postponed due to Hurricane Sandy.

“Notwithstanding global misery, we witness exorbitant military expenditures, fear-mongering and sabre-rattling. The credibility of international law and of the UN is undermined when some States violate the Charter with impunity or apply international law à la carte,” the expert said, urging world governments and civil society to rise above the rhetoric, adjust priorities and humanize national budgets.

“A humanized international order requires respect for the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the Constitution of the modern world, and observance of international treaties in good faith without inventing loopholes and taking short-term predator advantage,” he added.

Mr. de Zayas expressed frustration that important resolutions adopted by the General Assembly are not implemented because not binding and that “the Security Council often remains paralyzed because of the abuse of the veto power and its authority is weakened by the recurrent use of double standards.”

“In order to move forward toward a more humane international order, there must be enhanced participation by all States in global-decision making,” he urged. “International democracy must not be confused with simple majority rule, a situation in which non-democratic States might have the upper hand, but it entails a genuine dialogue by all and a renewed commitment to the principles of democratic governance at the domestic level, where the people participate in the political process and the rule of law ensures equality in form and substance.”

The independent expert said that civil society must be given a greater voice in the “globalized international order”, and mechanisms must be devised to measure public opinion more objectively. He called for proposals for a World Parliamentary Assembly to be explored and for more attention to be given to the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s Declaration on Democracy.

He cited the “mismanagement of the world financial crisis” as another obstacle to an equitable international order. “If ‘austerity’ means withdrawal of public services, does privatization result in better availability, accessibility and quality provision of services, or does it result in an abdication of State obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights?” he asked. “Research into cost-effectiveness and value-for-money is necessary, undertaking comparison between public sector/private sector performance. What is needed is evidence, not rhetoric, to be provided by an open-ended discussion on how privatization can advance human rights. However, under no conditions should a country’s wealth and future be sold into few hands.”

Mr. de Zayas said the solution to balancing national budgets did not lie with austerity measures that result in greater unemployment and misery. “Instead, there should be austerity with regard to military expenditures. Priorities must be reset that ensure sustainable development,” he said.

Among good practices, the expert highlighted the on-going work of the UN Human Rights Council toward the adoption by the UN General Assembly of a Declaration on the Human Right to Peace, in its collective and individual rights dimensions. “War and war-mongering constitute a major obstacle to the realization of a humanized international order, he said, adding that the prohibition of the threat of or the use of force contained in Article 2(4) of the Charter must be strictly observed,” he said.

The Independent Expert also warned against the emergence of “human rights ‘à la carte’” which may be more responsive to donors and lobbies than to real needs.

“Governments have the obligation and civil society has a responsibility to ensure that human rights are not reduced to special interests, because human rights are not just ‘the flavour of the month’ but the daily reaffirmation of human dignity,” he concluded.

Alfred de Zayas (United States of America) was appointed as the first Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order by the Human Rights Council, effective May 2012. He is currently professor of international law at the Geneva School of Diplomacy. Mr. de Zayas practiced corporate law with the New York law firm Simpson Thacher and Bartlett and is a retired member of the New York and Florida Bar. He has been visiting professor of law at numerous universities including the University of British Columbia in Canada, DePaul University in Chicago, the Graduate Institute of the University of Geneva, and the University of Trier (Germany) and he has been board member of several organizations. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/IntOrder/Pages/IEInternationalorderIndex.aspx

(*) Check the full report: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session21/A-HRC-21-45_en.pdf

Watch the Independent Expert on OHCHR YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eEa6RvDwekQ&feature=share&list=UU3L8u5qG07djPUwWo6VQVLA

For more information and media requests, please contact:
Thibaut Guillet (tel.: +41 22 9179329 / spbconsultant10@ohchr.org) or write to ie-internationalorder@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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