Protecting human rights in the era of globalization: UN body warns against conflicts between trade-related agreements and human rights

by | Aug 20, 2001 | News

Joint press release with Lutheran World Federation (LWF), World Organization against Torture (OMCT), International NGO Committee for Human Rights in Trade and Investment (INCHRITI).

Three weeks after the massive anti-globalization protests in Genoa and after two days of intense discussion on globalization and human rights, the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights has adopted three resolutions calling into question the impact of key aspects of the globalization process on human rights.

Reacting to claims made by the IMP during the discussion that it is not bound by international human rights standards, the Sub-Commission, in a resolution on Globalization and its Impact on the Full Enjoyment of All Human rights:

  • reaffirmed the importance and relevance of human rights in international trade, investment and finance;
  • urged all governments and international economic policy forums, including the Doha WTO meeting to be held in November, to take human rights fully into account.

The Sub-Commission also expressed concern about the human rights implications of liberalization of international trade in agricultural products, especially on the right to food for members of vulnerable communities. Furthermore, it highlighted the importance of incorporating human rights in national Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs).

In a second resolution applying, for the first time, a human rights perspective to the WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), the Sub-Commission called for a report on this matter from the High Commissioner for Human Rights; it also recommended that the WTO include consideration of the human rights implications of the GATS on the provision of basic services, such as affordable and accessible health and education services.

Reiterating a concern voiced for the first time last year, the Sub-Commission also addressed the negative impact of the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) on human rights. It signalled continuing concern that the scope and meaning of several provisions of the TRIPS Agreement need to be clarified in order to ensure that States’ obligations under this agreement do not contradict their binding human rights obligations. The protection of indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge, food security, access to medicine, technology transfer and development and preventing ‘bio-piracy’ are but some of the crucial human rights issues raised by the implementation of the WTO TRIPS Agreement.

Peter Prove of the Lutheran World Federation stated: “With these three resolutions, the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights sends an important signal and clear message to all governments as well as international economic policy forums to take international human rights obligations and principles fully into account in international economic policy formulation.”

Nathalie Mivelaz of the OMCT pointed out that “these initiatives of the Sub-Commission are very timely coming as they do shortly prior to the Annual Meetings of the World Bank and the IMP in September and the Fourth Ministerial Conference of the WTO, to be held in Doha in November, and signal an intensification in the scrutiny of further developments in these forums by the human rights community”.

And Miloon Kothari of Habitat International Coalition added that, “in the build-up to Doha, these resolutions from an important UN human rights body bolster the case for a comprehensive human rights review of the Uruguay round agreements and point convincingly to the folly of embarking on a new round prior to fully coming to grips with the conflicts between agreements such as TRIPS, AoA and GATS and the existing legal obligations of States under the international human rights instruments”.

In another important resolution, the Sub-Commission supported efforts towards a legal mechanism for the review of individual and group complaints of violations of economic, social and cultural rights. As stressed by Nathalie Prouvez of the International Commission of Jurists, “there are no rights without adequate remedies and the adoption of a draft optional. protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights providing for a universal complaint mechanism for violations of economic social and cultural rights will fill a huge gap in the international human rights protection system”.

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