The UN Commissioner for Human Rights has responded to the complaints made to it by the WTO over an expert study on the human rights implications of globalization.

by Someshwar Singh

Geneva, 29 Aug 2000 -- The United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights has responded to the complaints made to it by the World Trade Organization over an expert study on the human rights implications of globalization, it was learnt here Tuesday.

At the bi-weekly regular media briefing by the United Nations, a spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said, in response to a question, that a reply had already been made to the WTO by the Deputy High Commissioner, as Mrs. Mary Robinson, the High Commissioner, was away.

Aggrieved by the findings of a report on the impacts of globalization, to the UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights by two independent experts (both jurists, members of the Sub-Commission who drew up the report as Special Rapporteurs), the WTO Deputy Director-General Miguel Rodriguez Mendoza had shot off a letter to Mrs. Mary Robinson on 18 August.

In addition to expressing the WTO’s unhappiness with the conclusions of the report, Mr Mendoza had also expressed surprise at the WTO not having been consulted, and had asked Mary Robinson to convey the WTO’s views “to those responsible for the preparation and oversight of the report.”

When asked about the contents of the UNHCHR letter, its spokesperson said that as a matter of principle, the contents of such letters were not disclosed in the United Nations system but he was ready to provide the main points of the letter.

In the letter, the spokesman said, it has been pointed out that the report has been prepared by independent experts; that the report on globalization is being looked into; and that an official of the UNHCHR will soon be meeting with a WTO official to follow-up on the issue.  Though it took the WTO some time to react to a critique of its functioning contained in the report, the report itself has been available - and in the public domain since nearly more than a month before that. And months prior to that, since the agenda of such UN meetings are set well in advance.

The UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights is the main subsidiary body of the Commission on Human Rights. It was established by the Commission at its first session in 1947, under the authority of the Economic and Social Council.

In 1999, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) changed the title of the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities to the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.

Its functions are:

(a)  To undertake studies, particularly in the light of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and to make recommendations to the Commission concerning the prevention of discrimination of any kind relating to human rights and fundamental freedoms and the protection of racial, national, religious and linguistic minorities;

(b)  To perform any other functions which may be entrusted to it by the Council or the Commission.

The Sub-Commission is composed of 26 experts acting in their personal capacity, elected by the Commission with due regard to equitable geographical distribution.

The present membership consists of seven experts from African States, five from Asian States, five from Latin American States, three from Eastern European States and six from Western European and other States.  Each member has one alternate (who is also to be named at the time of the election).

Half the members and their alternates are elected every two years and each serves for a term of four years.

The Sub-Commission holds its session in Geneva. Until 1999, the session was four weeks long; starting in 2000, it will be three weeks long. In addition to the members and alternates, it is attended by observers from States, United Nations bodies and specialized agencies, other intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council.

Studies under preparation by members for consideration by the Sub-Commission include issues such as human rights and the question of transnational corporations, the human rights dimensions of population transfer, traditional practices affecting the health of women and children, and racial discrimination.

At present, the Sub-Commission has four working groups which meet before each session. These are the Working Group on Communications (which considers complaints that appear to reveal a consistent pattern of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights within its terms of reference, together with replies from Governments, if any); the Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery; the Working Group on Indigenous Populations; and the Working Group on Minorities.

The report “Globalization and its impact on the full enjoyment of human rights” (E/CN.4/Sub.2/2000/13) which has stirred the ire of the WTO, was written by experts J. Oloka-Onyango and Deepika Udagama, in accordance with Sub-Commission resolution 1999/8. By that count, not just the WTO but all other Bretton Woods Institutions also had almost a year to come forward and involve themselves in the preparation of the report that the independent experts were producing.

At the meeting of the Sub-Commission where the report was presented and discussed on August 7 and 8, the representative of the International Monetary Fund (which has a specialized agency agreement with the United Nations), in fact, intervened to present the views of the IMF on its various programmes and policies.

Under the specialized agency agreements of the UN with the agencies, when any issues relating to any of them come before a UN body, the agency is notified, and if it has any views, they are placed before the UN body.

However, the WTO from inception decided not to have any specialized agency relationships with the United Nations. Its attitude to the UN system in fact led to some friction at the time of the 2nd Ministerial Conference of the WTO held in Geneva, where the WTO had to use the UN complex and its facilities for the meetings.

But, to enable the WTO to continue to enjoy some of the facilities (including use of UN laissez passe by staff members in their travels), by letters exchanged between then Director-General Renato Ruggiero and then UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the arrangements before the WTO between the United Nations and the old GATT Secretariat (which technically was a UN secretariat of the UN Interim Committee for the International Trade Organization) were continued.

The letters were circulated and taken note of by the WTO General Council in 1995, but it is not clear whether Boutros-Ghali brought it to the specific notice and attention of the UN General Assembly and had it approved.

The nearly 30-page report of the Special Rapporteurs, in fact, appears to make a balanced appraisal of the effects of globalization and includes many institutions in its survey. For instance, the authors also make a frank assessment of the role and power of UNCTAD, in the following manner:

“An institution that has perhaps been greatly eclipsed in the debate about globalization but whose work has been fundamental to the United Nations coming to grips with the phenomenon is UNCTAD. UNCTAD has been a consistent and incisive critic of the policies of economic liberalization pursued by the Bretton Woods organizations and offered the first critical reviews of the reasons for the Asian crisis that did not solely blame the Governments."

“Unfortunately, much of its work has not been taken up or integrated into the workings of the relevant organs of the United Nations system.  Part of the problem may be that, as the head of the organization has often stated, UNCTAD lacks any negotiating authority, and also that its role was reduced to technical assistance, analysis and consensus-building. Needless to say, at the UNCTAD X meeting in Bangkok in February this year, the organization’s strengthened mandate on debt, finance and financial architecture as well as its positive engagement with civil society makes it a natural focal point within the United Nations system for further critical engagement with the issue of globalization,” the report adds.

According to the report, “Globalization has not only reinforced the traditional inequality between North and South, it has also reinforced inequalities within the North. And yet, those are the countries that are supposed to be the main beneficiaries of globalization.

Thus, in a comment on the situation of Black people in the United Kingdom in the 1990s, Stephen Small has argued that while many of the issues confronting people of colour remain the same, globalization has changed the form and added a higher degree of severity to the challenges, the report notes. “Although his analysis was confined to the British situation, the following description could unfortunately be applied to an increasing number of countries in Europe and the Americas:

“Race-related violence and other forms of abuse are escalating.  Racialized discrimination in employment and education persists at significant levels, as does racialized intimidation by the police. The state and employers publicly and officially embrace equal opportunities, but by postponement, prevarication and delaying tactics, ensure it is not implemented!”.

It is the paradox of growing wealth accompanied by growing inequality that is the bane of globalization, the Rapporteurs say in their report.  “Nowhere is this paradox more apparent than in relation to the impact of the phenomenon of globalization on the general issue of gender relations, and on the plight of women in particular.-SUNS4729

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