Can there be peace and development without respect for human rights?
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for inviting me. I have a special affection for UN Day and also for Germany, where I worked for five years. It was always heart-warming to celebrate UN Day in the marketplace in Bonn, and I’m delighted to participate in this commemoration.
But really, what an odd question this lecture asks. Of course there can be development without respect for human rights. We see it all the time, don't we? All over the world. And I think – perhaps this is a slightly more complex question – that without human rights there can be peace.
A kind of peace.
And a kind of development.
For a while.
But never for all. Never over the long term.
Look around you: many countries ignore human rights. Some may pay lip service. But they refuse the public's right to freedom of expression. They punish independent civil society groups and the free press. Discrimination is institutionalised, with certain schools, or certain types of jobs reserved for élite families, or specific racial groups, or just for men. Children from poor families, or families with a different skin colour, or families from slum neighbourhoods, or with different customs and religious beliefs, grow up on a knife-edge of poverty and violence.
These children cannot develop their talents in decent schools. They may not even drink clean water. They have no access to the gleaming hospitals that service the wealthy. They are employed in hard labour, if they are employed at all, and often at best informally – with no form of social protection. Their future is one of varying degrees of exploitation in jobs that are dangerous, dirty and ill-paid.
There is human trafficking. Domestic slavery. The values of dignity, equality and fairness are ignored. People have no access to a fair justice system, and they do not have the right to participate in the decisions affecting their lives -- not in their families, or in the community, or at the level of the nation. They may not even be permitted to speak their mother-tongue. Corruption eats away at assets that rightly belong to all, siphoning off resources that should be invested in development.
There are several countries in the world just like that, and let's be honest -- not all of them are knee-deep in blood. Some of them are even getting richer. Isn't that what development means? Economic growth, the gross domestic product, all that? When a country has 500,000 billionaires, that's a rich country – isn't it? Even if at the same time, there are 500,000 people in that country living on less than a dollar a day?
Now let's take a look at history. Since the beginning of recorded time, most people have lived in a world without human rights. They have faced discrimination, intolerance, poverty and human bondage. Power has been reserved to a small, self-perpetuating elite. And this kind of domination has been echoed in many kinds of privilege. Conformity with rigid values has been imposed on individuals – perhaps especially on women.
Some of those societies were peaceful... for some of the time. And many of them grew wealthy... although the wealth was reserved for a few.
And in fact, as you unquestionably know, growth-centred, profit-focused development strategies, which are content to produce wealth that is reserved for a few, do not generate true development. True development is about the well-being of all of society. It includes perspectives about the distribution of wealth, and response to basic human needs. It places emphasis not just on gross national product but also on indicators such as child survival. Literacy rates for women and men. Disaggregated data regarding the status of minorities and the most vulnerable, and their access to opportunities.
True development seeks to eliminate poverty -- which is not only a question of low income. Poverty is also, always, about marginalisation, vulnerability and powerlessness; of lack of access to justice, lack of participation in institutions, and no voice.
The UN Declaration on the Right to Development, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 1986, clarifies this perfectly. It emphasises that, I quote, "the human person is the central subject of development and should be the active participant and beneficiary of the right to development”.
Human beings are the centre of development. They are not the how of development. They are not the tools that produce greater wealth – the what. They are the why. In this sense human rights are the whole point. Economic growth without human rights is a poor shadow of true development, and in denying full expression of the talents of every individual, it holds back the whole of society.
In reality, a State that has 500,000 billionaires and 500,000 people living on less than a euro a day is a poor country. It is doing a poor job.
It is failing to ensure that every individual can fully express her, or his, talents, and can develop skills that will create more development -- for all.
It is failing to enable the great freedoms that are the common goals of all of us.
It is failing to empower its people.
Only the most ruthless and manipulative individuals -- and their children and relatives -- stand to gain in such a State. Of course their wealth may trickle down a little to their employees and servants. But most people are constrained in a stifling and degrading environment that is in stark contrast to the values of liberty, expression, active and meaningful participation, accountability and individual value that constitute our universal human rights.
It is plain that different societies -- with different cultural frameworks, traditions and sets of challenges -- have developed unique strengths and weaknesses in serving their members. But every nation, when it commits to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, agrees that the values that it contains are greater than our differences. The principles of human rights apply to all and can inspire all. They are sufficiently feasible and adaptable to be applied in every social, economic and political circumstance; in every geography, every cultural and religious context; and at all times. And not only can they be applied – what the Universal Declaration says is that they must be.
Human rights include the right to participate in decision-making – to control, in other words, the power and administration of the State. A State that is not responsive, transparent and accountable is, in this sense, failing to develop. And a government that ignores the freedom, equality and rights of all is a poor government and a weak one, for it lives in fear of its own people.
Fear of their seething resentment, and the backlash that lies, inevitably, in the future. For people are not disposable. And when their voice is denied, and legitimate dissent is suppressed, they may radicalize. The gaps between a few rich winners and many, many poor losers may be filled by violence -- both within countries, and on a world scale. When governments forget that they are there to serve the people -- and it is not the people who must, eternally, serve the State -- that is not only wrong. It is a recipe for conflict and disaster.
A few days ago Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary General of the UN, said something that resonated very strongly with me. He said, “If leaders do not listen to their people, they will hear from them. In the streets, the squares, or, as we see far too often, on the battlefield." He went on, "There is a better way. More participation. More democracy. More engagement and openness."
Development plans that integrate a human rights approach prioritize measures to eliminate discrimination. They include individuals as decision-making participants, rather than viewing them as recipients of charity. And they clearly define the responsibility for implementation, with clear evaluation of progress in achieving rights and effective accountability for failures.
Taking the right to health as an example, it not only wrong, but also counter-productive for available resources to be devoted exclusively to first-rate services for a portion of the population, with others given no access to even the most basic services and care. A human rights approach will make a focused effort to ensure that the health of the entire population improves, progressively – with precise planning towards that objective, including monitoring mechanisms and, if necessary, redress if progress is not made.
Peace is another interesting topic. In countries that fail to observe human rights, there may be an absence of war. But is there peace? Real security rests on justice. Human rights -- including fair sharing of the dividends of growth, and social justice -- are crucial to security. The great Dag Hammarskjöld once said, “We will never have peace unless human rights are recognized, and human rights can only be fully developed in a peaceful framework.”
Article 55 of the UN Charter explicitly recognises this when it notes that in order to create the conditions of stability and well-being that are necessary for peaceful relations among nations, there must be solutions to economic, social, health and related problems; there must be international, cultural and educational cooperation; and there must be universal respect for human rights.
There are many root causes of conflict, and I don't want to simplify this complex topic to excess. But clearly, among the root causes of conflict and violence are poverty; oppression; discrimination; unfair distribution of resources; and the denial of participation and self-determination. If I think back, I cannot think of a single conflict, no matter how big or small, that did not have among its root causes the violation of some rights.
Equally clearly, among the ways to address those root causes we must include responsive, democratic institutions; a fair and effective judiciary; a police that serves the community instead of ruling it; arrangements for social justice and economic redistribution; measures to ensure care for the vulnerable; to build trust between communities; and support for freedom of expression, for the right to peaceful protest and in general for a strong, broad democratic space.
Other ways to resolve root causes of conflict and violence include the provision of widespread economic opportunities – including access to global markets on fair conditions (and this is an area where countries upholding protectionist measures have a lot to account for); and the principled refusal of corruption, which drains national resources and saps the sense of a common community.
Where the government listens to, and is responsive to, the people, the State is more stable -- and therefore stronger. Where the people are oppressed, and seethe with resentment, there is a high risk of violence and upheaval. When a government is accountable and transparent, there is trust, and predictability, and a more prosperous economy. Where there is secrecy and corruption, anger and fear tear at the social fabric, destroying the tissue of mutual trust that holds society together.
When the people are empowered, there is development. When they are crushed and oppressed, there is no true development – and soon there may no longer be peace.
So what we see is a deep cycle of causation. By protecting human rights, and empowering individuals and communities, we can advance true development. Both protection of human rights and progress in social justice and well-being will contribute to preventing the many conflicts based on poverty, discrimination and exclusion that continue to plague humanity. Development cannot be achieved, and sustained, without peace; peace cannot be achieved, and sustained, without justice; and justice, development and sustained peace are fundamentally grounded in respect for human rights.
This is the great triple construction of the United Nations: peace and security; development; human rights. On this lies the world’s hope for harmony and progress, with every individual empowered to develop his or her talents and skills.
Thank you for inviting me to speak on this day, when we come together to celebrate our collective effort to create a better world. I can think of few better places to do so than Dresden, a city that deeply understands the need for peace. Here, where so many have suffered, the beautiful words of the Universal Declaration resonate with meaning: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. These are the universal values of our common humanity. And only if they are respected can there be development and, at last, peace.