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New round must examine human rights implications

by Someshwar Singh


Geneva, Aug 30 - The new round of multilateral trade negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) must examine the human rights implications of trade liberalization, according to a resolution adopted by the United Nations Sub- Commission on Human Rights.

The Sub-commission, which ended its month-long deliberations last week, passed all resolutions related to the realization of economic, social and cultural right without a vote except the one on 'Trade liberalization and its impact on human rights.'

This resolution was adopted by 18 votes in favour, none against and four abstentions.

It has made a categorical statement against the use of trade sanctions, in declaring "that sanctions and negative conditionalities which directly or indirectly affect trade are not appropriate ways of promoting the integration of human rights in international economic policy and practice."

The resolution calls upon governments and international economic policy fora (including the WTO) to undertake comprehensive and systematic studies, in consultation with United Nations and regional human rights mechanisms and relevant civil society organizations, of the human rights and social impacts of economic liberalization programmes, policies and laws.

During the course of the amendments to the resolution, however, critical elements relating to the WTO were eliminated, reportedly in the interest of obtaining a consensus.

For instance, the draft resolution had called for "human rights impact studies to be completed prior to the commencement of further economic liberalization negotiations, such as those envisaged at the World Trade Organization."

By deleting any such reference, it is clear that any obstacles to the new round of trade negotiations by way of time-bound human rights considerations have been removed.

Another key paragraph of the draft deleted from the final text adopted related to some specific aspects of the WTO agenda to which it drew attention. The para, a preambular one emphasizing some negative aspects, that was removed, read as follows:

"Emphasizing that the human rights implications of key aspects of the current agenda of the World Trade organization, including further liberalization in the areas of agriculture and services, and especially the possible inclusion of health and education services, of the proposed expansion of the agenda in the area of investment and/or competition policy, and of the operation of the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property should be carefully examined."

In contrast, specific demand on the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development has been retained.

UNCTAD has been asked "to include in its programme of work, especially in the preparation for UNCTAD-X conference on 'Development strategies in an increasingly interdependent world: applying the lessons of the past to make globalization an effective instrument for the development of all countries and all people', a specific focus on ways and means to incorporate human rights principles in the process of international trade policy formulation."

According to the resolution as finally adopted, the High Commissioner of Human Rights has been requested to "intensify efforts at dialogue with the WTO and its member states on the human rights dimensions of trade and investment liberalization, and to take steps to ensure that human rights principles and obligations are fully integrated in future negotiations in the WTO."

For the NGOs interested in seeing this resolution through, it was a positive step nonetheless.

"This initiative shows that the United Nations Human Rights machinery is ready to take on the economic institutions driving trade liberalization," said Peter N. Prove of The Lutheran World Federation, in charge of International Affairs and Human Rights.

"It is also a clear indication that the UN Human Rights Programme will be watching the new round of WTO negotiations, and that civil society organizations have a strong ally in the UN Human Rights Sub-Commission," he added. "This resolution constitutes a strong challenge to the member states to harmonize their trade obligations with those in the field of human rights."

Next year, the Sub-Commission is bound to receive many interesting reports from the NGO community that also took active part in the working group on transnational corporations at the Sub-Commission. The NGOS plan to bring in reports of human rights impacts of TNC operations worldwide.

Amongst those members who spoke strongly in favour of the resolution were Joseph Oloka-Onyango of Uganda (also the principal sponsor of the resolution), Franoise Hampson of the UK, Soli Sorabjee of India and Miguel Alfonso Martinez of Cuba. (SUNS4499)

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) .

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