SUNS  4344 Monday 14 December 1998


United Nations, Dec 10 (IPS/Thalif Deen) - The United States, standing alone in a General Assembly of 185 member states, has refused to reaffirm the right to development as an integral part of human rights.

Against the backdrop of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Thursday, the General Assembly adopted a resolution that urged all states to eliminate obstacles to development by protecting, not merely political and civil rights, but also economic, social and cultural rights.

The resolution, supported by all of the developing nations in the world body, had only one negative vote: the United States while Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Norway and Sweden - abstained from voting.

[In the observances connected with the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Mary Robinson drew pointed attention to the fact that the Declaration included not only civil and political rights, but economic and social ones which often have been ignored. She also noted that in relation to the right to development, 20% of the world population owned 80% of the wealth and consumed 80% of the resources.]

One Third World diplomat told IPS that the right to development was universally recognized as a basic human right at the U.N. Human Rights Conference in Vienna in 1993 but since then, the United States had gone back on that commitment.

"The recognition of the right to development in Vienna was one of the major political victories for developing nations. But its implementation has been painfully slow because of American opposition
and also lukewarm support from Western Europe," the diplomat added. The Assembly resolution underlined that the existence of widespread poverty inhibited the full and effective enjoyment of human rights and renders democracy and popular participation fragile.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, had been asked to "give due regard" to the impact of the Third World debt burden on the full enjoyment of the right to development of those countries.

Under the resolution, the General Assembly also expressed deep concern over the overall decline in official development assistance (ODA) and the adverse impact of the current financial crisis on the realisation of the right to development.

U.S. Ambassador Betty King told the General Assembly that while there was much in the resolution that the United States supported, it had voted against it because of profound disagreement on certain principles.

America did not agree that "international macroeconomic policy-making, globalisation, and debt relief were proper subjects for consideration in this forum," she said.

The United States believed it was wrong - and dangerously misleading - to pin blame for longstanding problems of food, health, education and unemployment on the current international financial difficulties.

"Those problems had existed long before the global financial crisis, and required structural measures to rectify," King said. Washington did not support a proposed Convention on the Right to Development because there were many U.N. agencies devoted to development activities.

Additionally, King said, the United States did not support adding "burdensome new mandates in the field of human rights" to the existing mandate of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

"Apart from being wasteful and duplicative, that would divert scarce resources from human rights activities for which the High Commissioner (Mary Robinson) had an exclusive mandate," King added.

She also argued that the resolution failed to note an essential point agreed upon at the Vienna Conference, namely, that "the lack of development cannot be invoked to justify an abridgment of
internationally recognised human rights."

Ajaya Kumar Sarnaik of India pointed out that there was an increasing realisation that poverty constituted the biggest threat to the effective enjoyment of human rights. The failure of the international community to react to hunger, malnutrition and other violations of economic, social and cultural rights with the same outrage, assistance and solidarity, remains puzzling, he said.

He said that, in principle, India endorsed and shared the rights-based approach in as far as it clearly implied that human rights, including civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural
rights, were "rights" inherent tot he individual and not conferred by an act of welfare or charity.

India also accepted the rights-based approach as based upon an accepted corpus of laws, entitlements, duties and norms which could be claimed by right, codified in law, and adjudicated by law.

"India also acknowledged that respect for human rights was independent of a country's level of development," Sarnaik said.

Factors of a structural and macroeconomic nature, such as the debt burden, poor terms of trade, lack of technology and managerial expertise, limited the fulfilment of human rights by countries
affected, he argued.

Sutjipthohardjo Donokusumo of Indonesia emphasised the necessity for international financial institutions to identify and weigh the human rights impact of their advice and activities. A coordinated and balanced approach to human rights must continually bear in mind that more than one billion people live below the poverty line.

The realisation of the right to development, at both national and international levels, would provide a comprehensive approach to that problem, he said.

Bozorgmehr Ziaran of Iran said that, regrettably, human rights discussions and activities were influenced mostly by economic and political interests of a minority.

The "do's" and "don'ts" were defined and interpreted accordingly. Thus, double standards, selectivity and subjectivity had become the known features of the system, he said.