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American University in Cairo
English Public Lecture Series

"We need the Globalisation of Human Rights and Democracy"

Presentation made by Emma Bonino

Cairo, 25 march 2002

Human rights and humanitarian crises

My experience as European Commissioner responsible, from 1995 to 1999, for ECHO, the organization which manages European Union funding for humanitarian agencies working in around 70 different crisis zones, has given me a unique vantage point as a privileged observer on the humanitarian field in a rapidly evolving environment which is not changing for the better. I have witnessed crises becoming shameful monuments to the abuse of human rights, sometimes on a massive scale. It has been calculated that there have been no less than 316 major conflicts during this Century. Even more surprising perhaps is that nearly 200 of these took place after the Second World WAR: By the same token, more than half the estimated 200 million people who lost their lives because of conflict during the century (a staggering figure compared with the 16 million victims of war in the Nineteenth Century and the 5.5 million in the Eighteenth Century) were victims of post Second World War conflicts. And this is not all. Of the 56 armed conflicts occurring between 1990 and 2000 identified by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) as "major" (in that they involved more than 1,000 battle-related deaths in one year), 53 of them were intra-state in character. This explains why the vast majority of the victims of contemporary wars (up to 90% of the total) are no longer soldiers - as in the past - but unarmed civilians. It also explains why there are now between 20 and 25 million people in the world forced to live as refugees abroad or as internally displaced persons. Finally, it explains why the main cause of the great humanitarian crises is precisely the violation of human rights and international justice. The central principle for humanitarian aid is to save and preserve lives: as such, it is by nature an integral part of the protection of human rights. And the international community, the donors who are all members of the UN continue to pour vast resources into humanitarian aid operations. But too often their political strategy reveals a certain degree of inconsistency, between humanitarian choices and diplomatic choices. And humanitarian tools are limited. They cannot by themselves provide the solution to complex crises, let alone ensure the protection of human rights as such. The authorities and governments which can deliver must take their responsibilities: be they diplomatic, political or - as the last resort - military. This leads us to the main obstacle - the taboo - that humanitarian action has to face: the so-called sovereignty of states. The State as the servant of citizens, rather than the other way round Until terrorism dominated international attention after 11 September, a central issue in international relations was the "right of humanitarian intervention", the question of when it is appropriate, if ever, for states to take coercive action against another state for the purpose of protecting people at risk in that other state. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is one of those who has tried hardest to restore some sense and coherence to the whole issue. Deeply troubled by the inconsistency of the international response, in 1999 and in 2000 he challenged the General Assembly to find a way through many dilemmas, posing the issue in the starkest terms: "...if humanitarian intervention is, indeed, an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to a Rwanda, to a Srebrenica - to gross and systematic violations of human rights that affect every precept of our common humanity?". Annan's own response was: " Surely no legal principle - not even sovereignty - can ever shield crimes against humanity....The sovereignty of states must no longer be used as a shield for gross violations of human rights". Actually, in the General Assembly debates of 1999 and 2000, the supporters of intervention on humanitarian or human rights grounds and the defenders of state sovereignty dug themselves into opposing trenches, from which they have still not emerged. I think that the key to overcoming this deadlock is to rethink sovereignty not so much in terms of the traditional notion of "control" (the capacity to make authoritative decisions with regard to the people and the resources within the state's territory) as of "responsibility", based on international obligations voluntarily accepted by each UN member state. On the basis of this premise, the very concept of the "right of intervention" (which raises so many doubts) can be replaced, as far as the international community as a whole is concerned, by the "responsibility to protect" - a responsibility owed by all sovereign states to their own citizens in the first instance, but one that must be picked up by the international community of states if the first-tier responsibility is abdicated, or unable to be exercised. (International commission on intervention and state sovereignity). Because the defense of state sovereignty, even by its strongest supporters, does not include any claim of the unlimited power of a state to do what it wants to its own people, everybody agrees, or at least claims to agree, that sovereignty implies a dual responsibility: externally, to respect the sovereignty of other states, and internally, to respect the dignity and basic rights of all the people within the state. In short, it is time to move from a culture of sovereign impunity to a culture of national and international accountability, with the international human rights norms and instruments being used as the concrete point of reference against which to judge state conduct. The world needs more globalisation Another issue which has been overshadowed in the last 6 months by the fight against terrorism is the debate about "fair globalisation". Unfortunately, I would say, and let me explain why. Throughout the history of mankind there have always been winds of globalisation. It is true that the wave of globalisation we are witnessing today, fed by the prodigious technological progress of the last few decades, is particularly strong, and is changing not only the mechanism of our economies but sometimes also the very structure of some contemporary societies. And it is also true that the continuous acceleration of these processes threaten to leave a great proportion of the world's population excluded from their benefits. This justifies much of the anxiety and diffidence that people feel, but not, in my opinion, the position of those who set out to fight "against globalisation". I am among those who believe that the world actually needs "more globalisation", but that this globalisation - in order to offer even more opportunities than at present and not to become a matter of 'the survival of the fittest' - needs to be governed better and to be more balanced: in other words it must allow free exchange that is genuinely global (no longer conditioned by protectionism), and must manage to go beyond trade alone and extend to people, reinforcing their basic civil, economic and political rights. I have never taken part in a no-global demonstration. Not due to snobbism or prudence. But simply because I disagree with the various components of this traveling company that we encounter in the four corners of the earth: - I disagree with those who say that they are defending the interests of the poor peasants of the earth when they are actually the ambassadors of the European agricultural protectionism; -I disagree with most of the Catholic groups who rebel, quite rightly, against the scandal of widespread poverty, while at the same time they continue to claim that for Africa contraceptives are a more serious danger than the Aids; - I disagree with the "hard-line environmentalists" who say they want to save the world from self-destruction but then want to prevent science from feeding the hungry by experimenting- i repeat experimenting- with genetically modified organisms, and from curing the sick by experimenting with the cloning for therapeutic purposes of stem cells. I find it equally difficult, however, to believe that the leaders of the industrialized countries are in good faith when they sing the praises of globalisation - and never miss an opportunity to give lessons in "market economics" to the countries of the South - but are careful not to invite the governments of their own countries to dismantle the protectionist barriers that strangle the economies of the developing countries .While the EU continues to subsidize every head of cattle raised within its borders with the "one dollar a day" on which millions of human beings have to try to survive., the House of Representatives in Washington has just proposed a 175 billion dollar subsidy package for agriculture (on top of the possibility of further "special funds"). Not to talk on the US recent initiative on steel Things are no better if we turn to the issue of immigration. What government in the North of the world does not subscribe to the principle of the "free circulation of people (and of ideas)"? But in the real world things are very different. In the countries of the European Union, whose economic development requires a continuous influx of immigrants, very few politicians are willing to uphold the ineluctability of this change - at once economic, demographic and social - in the face of the reservations (or even the refusal) that our societies express on the issue of immigration. Economics need what society fears. There is, finally, a widespread illusion shared by the leaders in the North and the South which pretends to believe that economic development produces in itself a virtuous circle that leads to freedom and democracy. But it is not true or not so automatic. And I believe, as the Indian economist and Nobel-prizewinner Amartya Sen that the exercise of the fundamental civil and economic liberties in a clear framework of the rule of law, far from being an optional is an essential component of development. And it is in this light that I would like to consider for a moment two aspects of the freedoms that all States should respect which I believe are often neglected: the economic rights of the individual and the need to separate politics from religion. Poverty and "dead capital" The Chilean economist Hernando de Soto believes that the part of the world population labeled in official statistics as "prisoners of poverty", already actually possess much of what they need to escape from hardship. De Soto has calculated that the value of savings among the poor populations of the developing countries is equal to forty times the amount of international aid donated since 1945. In concrete terms, the total value of the property held, but not legally owned, by the "poor people" of the Third World and of the former Communist countries is over 9 trillion dollars. In Egypt, the "wealth accumulated by the poor" has a virtual value forty-five times the total amount of all the direct foreign investments ever recorded, including the Suez Canal and the Aswan Dam: over 74 billion US dollars. And it is owned by 65% of the population. It is, however, dead capital which cannot produce wealth because it is a case of property held illegally, in a form that makes it unusable: houses built on land for which the rights of property are not properly registered, unregistered businesses and means of production with undefined responsibilities, industries located illegally. In the absence of legal recognition, these activities cannot be converted into capital or used to obtain loans or as investment quotas; they cannot be exchanged outside the narrow local community. Why does this happen? Because in many countries bureaucratic obstacles and corruption represent an insurmountable barrier for the legal recognition of property owned by the poor. In Egypt, according to De Soto, anyone who wishes to purchase and register a plot of publicly owned desert land has to complete at least 77 bureaucratic procedures at 31 public and private offices. The whole procedure can take from 5 to 14 years. To build a legal home on land originally registered as agricultural may require from 6 to 11 years of battles with the public administration. This is why 4.7 million Egyptians have chosen to build their homes illegally. Still in Egypt, 92% of the urban population and 83% of the rural population live in houses for which there is no clear legal title. And they cannot legalize their position because they would risk seeing their homes demolished, receiving fines or even prison sentences. In Peru 53% of the urban population and 81% of the rural population live in illegal properties: to obtain permission to build a house on public land takes almost seven years, 207 bureaucratic procedures in 52 different offices. In Haiti the figures are even more astonishing: 68% and 97% and around 19 years to obtain a plot of land legally. Paradoxically, the legal economy and legal property have become marginal compared to the illegal, extra-legal and submerged economy and property. There are many causes of poverty. It is clear, however, that extreme poverty could be reduced if there were adequate juridical protection of property, a link between the market and the law. In short, to escape from poverty, what is needed is not only aid but a strong political commitment to uphold the rule of law, to establish the law in the social contract, to validate extra-legal sources of property, and to return this vast economic potential to the sphere of legality. Like De Soto, I find myself wondering whether the widespread poverty is really only the fruit of globalization, or whether it is not rather the fruit of the inability of the respective ruling classes to build a common framework of legality that is easily accessible to everyone. Separating politics from religion The other issue which I care about deeply, because it has been the common thread of my thirty years in politics, and which is once again of great relevance in this particular phase of history, is the secularization of politics, the absolute need, as I see it, to separate religious faith - all religious faiths - from the daily exercise of politics. History should have taught us by now. Those who attempt to legitimize their ambitions for power, or the power they have already won, by placing religion at the service of politics - from the architects of the Catholic Inquisition right up to the Taliban regime - inevitably bring about disasters. There is a risk of this kind of aberration when the political body that identifies with a religious faith appeals to religion to legitimize itself and turn itself into the State. Which is a contradiction in terms. For while the choice to follow a religious faith, which is an inalienable right of the individual, is a personal matter that concerns the sphere of the individual, a "State religion" inevitably tends to subject those who believe, those who do not, and those who profess a different faith to its rules (which become laws of the State). In short, State religion is the antechamber of injustice, intolerance and discrimination particularly against women, As well as the embryo of totalitarianism. It seems to me that the secular nature of the State is also the necessary premise to be able to govern the great changes that occur periodically in the history of mankind. I come from Europe, a continent whose history has been influenced by Christianity, but which in the space of a few decades has found itself with a large Muslim population, over 30 million people, and is now preparing for a multiethnic, multicultural, and multireligious future. It would not, however, have been possible to set these great changes into motion, if the countries of Europe had not been secular States. The truth is that only a State that considers all its citizens to be equal, men and women, whatever their faith, can reject the equation dear to confessional States that "he who commits a sin commits a crime". And I believe that the laws issued by a modern State should in no way "govern consciences" and enter the personal sphere of the individual, as happens with religious precepts. The task of laws is to establish the rights and duties of all citizens and to guarantee the exercise of their fundamental rights, including the freedom of conscience and of religious confession. Everything is more difficult after 11 September To be very frank, I am afraid that everything that has happened after 11 September makes the debate on the need to place the respect of the Universal Declaration of Human and civil Rights at the center of international relations more difficult. In short, while it was still possible before 11 September to hope to give a more ethical framework to international relations - both in political and economic terms - I fear that we will now have to struggle to make sure that we do not nurture the bearers of poverty and injustice, among today's allies. Yesterday's dictators, to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the West, simply had to say they were anti-Communist: now, I fear, all have to do even the most unacceptable regimes to be absolved of all their responsabilities is to say that they are against terrorism. In my opinion the direction which is given to the global war against terrorism - favoring the military and security-based response- although necessary- over and above any possible political response and building an intercontinental alliance based on the dangerous principle that "my enemy's enemy is my friend" - risks taking us back to the darkest days of rampant Realpolitik. We have all been disconcerted to see the calculations showing that the 15% increase in the American defense budget will give the Pentagon 378 billion dollars to spend in 2003. This means that the total amount of aid offered by donor countries for the reconstruction of Afghanistan - around 279 million dollars - corresponds to around 7 hours of "US defense". While the budget of the Department of State, including aid, is 25.4 billios dollars. And even with the positive outcome of the Monterrey conference last week with new pledges from US and Europen Countries, public aid for development remains at 0,33 % of GNP.........far away from the O,7%. What we need is a World Organization of Democracies It is in view of this vision of things that the party I belong to, the Transnational Radical Party,- radical from "roots"- created in the 1980s to globalize justice and the rights of the individual (in other words the spread of democratic institutions) throughout the world, has always fought against the advocates of Realpolitik. We donot believe that foreign policy has to be rife with secret deals and/or moral abstraction. or that there are goals that justify any means. In our opinion, both goals and means should be in the public domain, openly debated in order to ensure their legitimacy among the citizens in whose name a foreign policy is drawn up. We think that we should explain to citizens at large the interests at stake in international crises. That we should initiate and support negotiations and initiatives in foreign policy that have the interests of human security at heart. In short, that we should move towards a more humanitarian foreign policy, towards Idealpolitik. To those who for many years have objected "Fine, it's a pity that you "idealists" never present concrete alternatives or proposals", I would reply that we have already made a decisive contribution to the foundation of a new pillar of international justice - the International Criminal Court - which will come into force in the next few months to try war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. And I would reply that we have launched an international campaign based on the hypothesis that the international community should create a new organism that would uphold the universal values of democracy, and civil rights and promote their diffusion We have chosen to call this new instrument the World Democraciy Organization because wee envisage it as following the model - more or less - of the World Trade Organization. For if the WTO was born to uphold the idea that the free exchange of goods is a universal right, to define and defend the rules of free trade and to punish those who violate these rules, why should we not have a WDO that upholds the universal value of democracy, defines its principles and the minimum requirements for their application, I discovered recently, , that this idea of ours is not entirely original, that we cannot claim copyright, so to speak. So much the better. I am referring to the initiative - unfortunately given very little media coverage - known as the "Community of Democracies", when 7 countries from 4 continents convened an intergovernmental conference in Warsaw in June 2000 to discuss "the promotion of democracy in the world". And is now preparing for the next meeting hosted by South Corea in november 2002. In conclusion, it is my firm belief that those who work for the realization of these ideas are not pursuing "Western mirages", as some people have claimed. And the proof lies precisely in the Arab world that surrounds us. During the 1990's, in fact, the human rights movement burgeoned throughout the Arab World: from the Maghreb to the Gulf States, where there are now more than 50 NGOs that work in monitoring, protection, awareness-raising, education, legal assistance, research and victim rehabilitation. And at the same time, regional non-governmental institutions have begun to flourish.

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