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Position Statement
by the People's Decade for Human Rights Education (PDHRE)
on the WTO Seattle Ministerial Conference
 
 

Our Human Rights Are Not for Trading

WTO Seattle Ministerial Conference
November 1999, Seattle

SUMMARY

The World Trade Organization stands at a cross-roads. While global trade has expanded phenomenally since the establishment of the trading system in 1948, not all countries have benefited equally and the poorest are being further marginalized. Inequalities between and within nations have widened and deepened, and the global environment is in unprecedented crisis. Both phenomena are fundamental violations of human rights. They are symptoms of a global economy that is failing to deliver promised benefits to people and the planet. The WTO's trade rules are partly responsible for this state of affairs.

 As the WTO enters the 21st century the challenges of reform are great. Lacking a core set of human values, the WTO must adopt the international human rights framework as a guide to action and yardstick for results. Human rights are universal, interrelated and indivisible. They include civil, cultural, economic, social and political human rights. WTO member states are already bound by human rights duties and obligations. They have affirmed that the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms is the first responsibility of governments. The WTO has no immunity from human rights. PDHRE research has revealed for the first time that as a United Nations Charter-based organization, the WTO must adhere to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 The WTO must mainstream human rights principles and goals throughout the organization and incorporate them in policy formulation, implementation and review. It must admit the primacy of international human rights law over its trade rules and agreements. It must counter fears that its trade sanction powers will lead to human rights protectionism by ceding enforcement authority to fully empowered United Nations human rights bodies and machinery. Strengthening and resourcing UN human rights bodies must be a key responsibility of Governments in fulfillment of their human rights commitments. The international human rights framework is one of the greatest legacies of the 20th century. Human rights are not for trading away. The international community - including economic policy bodies - must act as one in the protection and promotion of human rights. 

I. THE CASE AGAINST THE WTO

 The World Trade Organization stands at a cross-roads. The future of the global trading system hangs in the balance. On the eve of the new millennium and the launch of a new round of trade talks, the WTO must choose whether it is to enter the new century as a full member of the international community or remain on its fringes as a powerful but distant organization wedded solely to the ideology of free trade. It must choose whether international trade rules will actively promote a fairer, more sustainable world for us, our children and grandchildren. Or whether market forces and the interests of big business will decide the fate of millions. The WTO has so far refused to acknowledge its human rights obligations under international law or examine the human rights dimensions of international trade policy. 

Human rights are our birth-right. This has been established by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights which constitutes the first international expression of human rights and fundamental freedoms. As customary international law it is binding on all states. Human rights are universal, indivisible, integrated and interrelated - they include civil, cultural, economic, social and political rights. None of these rights can be traded-off or traded-away with another right. The first and foremost responsibility of governments is the promotion and protection of human rights. All these declarations have been accepted as binding commitments by governments at various world conferences and reaffirmed in the Vienna Declaration of the 1993 UN World Congress on Human Rights. 

The WTO has lost its moorings and public confidence. The WTO has been accused of promoting globalisation with an inhuman face and trading away human rights. The charge-sheet against the WTO is long:

 · Its trade rules have been disproportionately influenced by the corporate interests of big trading nations as evident in the agreements on intellectual property, the proposed agreement on investment and WTO rulings on bananas and hormone-treated beef. 

· Its agreements have served the interests of the rich at the expense of the poor by closing off lucrative western markets to developing country textile, clothing, leather, agricultural and processed goods behind protectionist walls and abuse of anti-dumping rules.

 · It has done little to close the trade inequality gap by limiting poor nations economic options and greater flexibility over opening their markets. Rather it has forced ever faster trade liberalization and challenged national economic sovereignty.

 · It has undermined democratically-developed national laws on environmental protection, consumer, health and safety through de-regulatory pressures and trade-centred rulings on gasoline additives, shrimp-turtle, eco-labelling, etc. and pushed standards down instead of up.

 · It has challenged local democracy by outlawing municipal purchasing decisions based on human rights criteria if they contravene free trade as in the Massachusetts-Burma case.

 · It has chilled the development of new multilateral environmental agreements as in the Biosafety Protocol negotiations, weakened international commitment to the Precautionary Principle, and undermined implementation of existing agreements such as the Basel Convention on Transboundary Movement of Wastes.

 · It has undermined food security, indigenous knowledge systems, public health and sustainable livelihoods for the poor by promoting unjust patenting regimes favoured by large multinational corporations who own 96% of all patents.

 · It has refused to safeguard the human rights of workers (especially women), the wealth creators, while safeguarding the interests of corporations, the wealth keepers.

 · It has a closed, non-transparent negotiating culture which systemically disadvantages weaker countries, and a secretive dispute settlement body which rejects civil society, third-party or parliamentary involvement.

 None of these actions have furthered the WTO's stated objectives of raising standards of living, ensuring full employment and sustainable development. On the contrary they have contributed to eroding public confidence in the WTO and the efficacy of the global trading system in delivering human welfare and sustainable development. 

All of the above issues have direct human rights implications touching, among others, on the human rights to participation, development, freedom from want, an adequate standard of living, health, property, work, culture, adequate redress and an impartial jury, a clean environment, and equality between men and women.

 For the WTO to argue that human rights do not come within its mandate is to misinterpret its mandate and disregard the primacy of international human rights law.

 II. WHY THE WTO MUST BECOME A HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCATE

 The WTO has legal and moral obligations to mainstream human rights in the rules and operations of the organization for the following reasons:

 1. The WTO is a membership organization founded by the Agreement Establishing the WTO in Marrakesh (15 April, 1994) under the Charter of the United Nations. Article XVI, para 6 of the Agreement says: "This Agreement shall be registered in accordance with the provisions of Article 102 of the Charter of the United Nations." Article 102 of the U.N. Charter governs treaties and international agreements entered into by UN Member States. 

2. As a Charter-based organization, the WTO is obliged to fulfil the peace, development and human rights objectives of the UN Charter. Furthermore, Article 103 of the UN Charter unambiguously states that in the event of a conflict with agreements created within it the provisions of the UN Charter shall prevail. 

3. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) is considered the authoritative interpretation of the human rights principles and objectives of the UN Charter. The WTO is therefore bound by the primacy of the Declaration under international human rights law. 

4. The WTO is a membership organization composed of sovereign states that are also United Nations Member States. All Governments of these States are bound by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) - collectively referred to as the International Bill of Human Rights. Further, WTO Member States are bound by regional human rights systems and other international human rights treaties and obligations. 

5. Governments do not discard their human rights obligations like a hat and coat when they walk through the doors of the WTO. They are bound by them individually as treaty signatories, and collectively through the WTO. The 1993 Vienna Declaration adopted at the UN Conference on Human Rights reaffirmed that 'the first and foremost responsibility of states is to promote and protect the human rights of their citizens' WTO Member States must therefore recognize the primacy of these duties in their trade policies and negotiations. 

6. UN Member States have adopted a number of declarations with direct relevance to international development and economic policy such as the Right to Development (1986), and the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1998) which extends the obligation to promote and protect human rights to all multilateral bodies and non-state actors (including the private sector). 

7. The 1993 Vienna Programme of Action obliges international organizations and multilateral bodies to join in the collective effort to promote and protect human rights worldwide. Both of the Bretton Woods institutions, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank), are participating in the follow-up to the Vienna Programme of Action. The WTO is not. 

8. In his report, Renewing the United Nations: Programme for Reform (1997), the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has recognized that human rights are 'integral to the promotion of peace and security, economic prosperity and social equity' and the UN should 'enhance its human rights programme and fully integrate it into the broad range of the Organisation's activities'. Accordingly, the Secretary-General has declared that human rights be mainstreamed throughout the UN system as one of the Organisation's key cross-cutting issues. This is in fulfillment of the UN Charter's mission to promote and protect human rights. The WTO as a Charter-based body must respect this initiative and mainstream human rights in its policy formulation, implementation and review. This will have the further effect of strengthening international efforts to respect, promote, protect and fulfil international human rights obligations. 

9. UN bodies concerned with trade and human development such as the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) have both concluded in their annual reports for 1999 that trade and investment liberalization are causing grave concerns for the enjoyment of human rights especially in the poorest parts of the world.

 10. UN human rights bodies such as the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Sub-commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights have issued calls for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to intensify efforts at dialogue with the World Trade Organization 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 World Trade Organization.

 III. CONCLUSIONS

 As a human rights education organization, PDHRE is committed to promoting a culture of human rights at all levels of society and in all institutions. PDHRE supports the call of international civil society for the WTO to Reflect, Review and Reform before embarking on further areas of trade liberalization or the adoption of new issues. We believe that the WTO must assess and address the human rights dimensions of its trade rules and agreements, in consultation with international and regional human rights bodies, as an essential precondition to any further trade liberalization.

 The WTO must adopt and internalize a human rights culture. The above analysis has shown that the WTO cannot afford to ignore international human rights principles and instrument. It has no immunity from human rights. As the WTO enters the 21st century the challenges of reform are great. Lacking a core set of human values, the WTO must adopt the international human rights framework as a guide to action and yardstick for results. This will enable it to contribute to the international goals of poverty elimination and sustainable development which are fundamental human rights aspirations. This will also enable it to contribute to human rights objectives as a core member of the international community - by explicit design not just by default.

 Such efforts would build greater public confidence in the WTO and the global trading system's ability to deliver benefits to the people - especially women who constitute 70% of the poor - and the planet. Citizens are becoming ever more aware of how the global economy works and affects their day-to-day lives. Expectations are rising, but delivery is lagging behind. This has led to a mass backlash against the globalisation project. As the defeat of the draft OECD Multinational Agreement on Investment demonstrated, when citizens unite, institutions take fright. The WTO has taken some laudable steps towards openness and greater transparency, but its philosophy, process and provisions are still fundamentally flawed. The global MAI activists have 'tasted blood' and if the WTO is to survive into the next century major reform is required. The international human rights framework provides a ready set of common norms, standards and goals for the WTO to bring legitimacy to both it and the global trading system for the new millennium.

 IV. PDHRE RECOMMENDATIONS

 -- The WTO must explicitly recognize the primacy of international human rights law and its obligation to international human rights norms and standards as a member of the UN multilateral system.

 -- The WTO must mainstream human rights principles and goals throughout the organization and incorporate them in policy formulation, implementation and review (as in the Trade Policy Review mechanism). This must not constitute an expansion of the areas of competence of the WTO but allow for the WTO to discharge its obligations under the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a member of the multilateral system. Human rights education must become a fundamental part of training for WTO, regional and national trade officials.

 -- The WTO must Reflect, Review and Reform before embarking on further areas of trade liberalization or the adoption of new issues. The WTO must assess and address the human rights dimensions of its trade rules and agreements, in consultation with international and regional human rights bodies, as an essential precondition to any further trade liberalization.

 -- The WTO must adopt Relationship Agreements with the UN and its human rights bodies, as exist between the UN and the Bretton Woods institutions. These agreements call for reciprocal representation at the meetings of governing bodies of the organizations and establish the basis for cooperation between the organizations.

 -- The WTO must take into account the results of major world conferences and summits and become part of the process of coordinated follow-up to them as established by the United Nations Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC).

 -- The WTO must counter fears that its trade sanction powers will lead to human rights protectionism by ceding enforcement authority to fully empowered United Nations human rights bodies and machinery.

 -- Member States must commit to fully strengthening and resourcing the monitoring and enforcement capacity of international and regional human rights bodies as a key responsibility in fulfillment of their human rights commitments.

 For more information, please contact: Malini Mehra, Director, PDHRE
Seattle mobile phone: 917-913 9000 or Seattle Inn: Tel: 206-728 7666, Fax: 206-728 6108

 The following PDHRE representatives will also be in Seattle and available for views and comment: Downtown Travel Lodge, Tel: 206-624 6300, Fax: 206-233 0185, Dr Peter Leuprecht, President; Mrs Shulamith Koenig, Executive Director; Dr Stephen Marks, Secretary; Mrs Susanna Chiarotti and Mr Miloon Kothari, Board Members.

A PDHRE Background Briefing and Discussion Paper on governments human rights commitments prepared for the WTO Seattle Ministerial are available on the PDHRE website: www.pdhre.org. PDHRE will be organizing a public Teach-In and panel debate on human rights and the WTO during the Ministerial Conference. Further details are available on the PDHRE website. A PDHRE booklet listing governments' human rights commitments is available upon request.
 
 
 

Organised by the People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) and the
International NGO Committee on Human Rights in Trade and Investment (INCHRITI). 
For more information, please visit our web site at www.pdhre.org
Seattle contact mobile phone: 917-913-9000.

Return to Seattle WTO Activities

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