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Press Release

United Nations Human Rights Body Calls for Urgent Review of WTO Rules

Seattle: 2 December 1999

In an unprecedented move, a key United Nations human rights body has called on the World Trade Organization to check that its rules are consistent with international human rights treaties. The UN Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, the body charged with monitoring governments compliance with the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, issued a statement on 26 November [1] calling on governments to ‘undertake a review of the full range of international trade and investment policies and rules in order to ensure that these are consistent with existing treaties, legislation and policies designed to protect and promote all human rights’. 

The Committee emphasized the review should ‘address as a matter of highest priority the impact of WTO policies on the most vulnerable sectors of society as well as on the environment’ and called for collaboration with the WTO to further human rights. It reminded governments of earlier resolutions [2] issued by human rights bodies stating that the realms of international trade, finance and investment were in no way exempt from human rights principles, that bodies responsible for these areas should play a positive role, but emphasized that trade sanctions were an inappropriate way for furthering human rights in the context of international trade.

The Committee’s statement has been sent to WTO Director-General Mike Moore and all trade delegations meeting in Seattle for the trade talks. It marks a more proactive approach by human rights bodies in addressing and monitoring the impacts of international economic policies on all human rights – civil, cultural, economic, social and political. This combined with increasing activism by international networks such as the International NGO Committee on Human Rights in Trade and Investment (INCHRITI) marks a new and rigorous frontier of challenge for the WTO. The UN Committee and INCHRITI [3] are asserting the primacy of international human rights law and calling on governments to remember their binding human rights obligations in the review of existing trade rules and negotiation of future trade rules.  

The WTO stands on notice. As the committee emphasized, ‘Human rights norms must shape the process of international economic policy formulation so that the benefits for human development … will be equitably shared by all, in particular the most vulnerable sectors. Trade liberalization must be understood as a means, not an end’.  

For more information, please contact: 
Malini Mehra (pdhre@aol.com
Seattle mobile: +1-917-913 9000, Seattle Inn: tel: +1-206-728 7666
Miloon Kothari (hichrc@ndf.vsnl.net.in)and Peter Prove (pnp@lutheranworld.org): 
Seattle Downtown City Travel Lodge, tel: +1-206-624 6300
Notes to Editors:

1. Available from website of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: http://www.unhchr.ch

2. Resolution adopted by the Sub-Commission on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 1999, available from the website of the People’s Decade for Human Rights Education: http://www.pdhre.org

3. INCHRITI policy statement available from PDHRE website: http//:www.pdhre.org 
A recent book: “Human Rights and Economic Globalisation: Directions for the WTO” is available upon request from PDHRE.

For more information, please contact PDHRE:

The People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) / NY Office
Shulamith Koenig / Executive Director
526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025, USA
tel: +1 212.749-3156; fax: +1 212.666-6325
e-mail: pdhre@igc.org