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"Legal mechanisms to increase the protection of human rights in the globalized world" - Dr. Liliana Valiña

"Legal mechanisms to increase the protection of human rights in the globalized world" - Dr. Liliana Valiña

Good morning to everyone. I am grateful for the invitation on behalf of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to participate in this very important event, which is so essential to the fundamental issue of peace and human rights.

From my perspective, we can address existing legal mechanisms aimed at increasing the protection of human rights in the world, but we cannot do so without reflecting on the challenges and contradictions that prevent these mechanisms from having the effectiveness and expected results. I think it is fundamentally essential that we notice that we continue to create mechanisms but we do not give them the opportunity to be effective.

The presentation that I was asked of today places the issue in a globalized world, and I believe that this concept also merits reflection. I would also like to refer not only to these mechanisms but also to provide elements on the conditions for greater effectiveness in the protection of human rights throughout the world.

We speak of globalization without a specific definition but mainly referring to an economic, technological, political and cultural process, at a planetary scale, based on the communication and the increasing interdependence among the different countries of the world, that uniting their markets, their Societies and cultures, carry a series of social, economic and political transformations that give them exactly that global character.

When we talk about globalization, I also think of the term "global village" coined by the Canadian sociologist Marshall McLuhan; term that has fundamental linkage to the process of change generated from the transformations provoked for essentially audiovisual media. However, it has also been widely used as a symbolic reference to the connection that we humans have today in remote circumstances where the existence of distance is overcome by factors such as technology.

And there I think, when I speak of the global village, I think of the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, who is considered a pioneer woman in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, when she asked: Where, after all, do Universal Human Rights begin,? And answered: "In small places, close to home – so close that they cannot be seen on any map of the world."

And yet, although today they can be seen through Google Maps, and still, they are the world of the individual: the neighborhood where you live, the college or school you attend, the factory, farm or office where you work. These are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equality and dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights make sense there, they will have little sense elsewhere.

Without the combined action of citizens to respect these rights close to home, we will seek the progress of the world in a broader sense in vain; and here I’ll end with the reference of Eleanor Roosevelt.

On the other hand, when we connect globalization with Human Rights we get at least two aspects that we can comment on: on the one hand, Human Rights from the Universal Declaration have been part of this globalization, based on a foundation of global basic premises for all human beings regardless of their condition and the place in which they are, and their environment.

On the other hand, much has been discussed on the consequences of globalization on the enjoyment of human rights. Report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has placed some of these results as consequences in its negative aspects, also addressing some recommendations.

The truth is that more than 15 years after entering the new millennium, and 60 years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, even with invaluable achievements, many of the challenges for humanity remain in numerous areas.

The 1948 Declaration today continues to represent a roadmap that presses global and regional consciousness and national agendas to move from rhetoric to action that will change the lives of millions of people around the world. It has joined in the quest for meaningful and comprehensive concrete changes, firstly the Millennium Development Declaration and more recently the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

It always seems important to me to remember that the United Nations was founded on three pillars:

  • Peace and Security
  • Development
  • Human rights

I would not be surprised to know that although these three pillars are the basis of the United Nations, the pillar of Human Rights receives only 2% of the budget of the United Nations: and in the mean time we see that reality, we see where these legal mechanisms fit in the protection of Human Rights; There is a first challenge here.

However, these universal and interdependent concepts also never ceased to be understood or applied from an integral conception. This represents a major challenge because, as our world is increasingly globalized and interconnected, policies and strategies require the same vision that interrelates to these three pillars to give them the necessary dimension and effectiveness.

Working the pillar of Human Rights apart, without connection with the rest, does not allow the effectiveness of the mechanisms we are creating.

From the Universal Declaration as the first foundational instrument, others emerged, completing the legal acquis of what we now know as International Human Rights Law; with different instruments, within which are, of course, mainly the International Treaties of Human Rights. In this context, different international bodies and mechanisms for the protection of human rights were also built.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has, as a matter of fact, the role of technical secretariat of all such mechanisms, and works in relation to work and to achieve the objectives that these mechanisms have; But it has the same difficulties of that reality that we see: scarcity of resources ... Here the Regional Court of Africa was talking about the problems that our Commission and the Inter-American Court in the Latin American region have also had. That is, if we do not really connect all these things, we see that those mechanisms struggle to be able to truly achieve the objectives.

Among these treaty-related mechanisms, there are first treaty-monitoring bodies; That is, each treaty has its own organ, created by the [technical cutting in audio]...

I was speaking to you about the treaty bodies, which are the committees responsible for monitoring how States implement, at the local level, the commitments they have made since the ratification of the treaties; But these bodies also have the authority to receive individual complaints in cases of serious violations of human rights related to the rights protected by that treaty, and that the body is charged with supervising their compliance.

However, this only applies to those States that ratify human rights treaties. In our region of Latin America many of the countries have ratified many treaties; this is not the case in other regions of the world. So there we have mechanisms that are only available in those circumstances where there is a political will that allows these mechanisms to be used. This implies that the State not only must have ratified the treaty but also recognized the competence of those bodies, of those committees, to have that quasi-jurisdictional function of examining individual cases. Therefore, here we have a first clarification in terms of feasibility and also the importance, as I said, of political will.

On the other hand, the United Nations has continued to seek, in advance, to create mechanisms that go well beyond that and confront this difficulty for States that have not ratified the treaties; And other complementary mechanisms represent additional opportunities, especially for these countries, since they are mechanisms that are mandated by UN political bodies, such as the United Nations Human Rights Council, which is a body of states, as is the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council, but it is the one that is in charge of the subject of Human Rights.

And these mechanisms that are created by the Human Rights Council can act independently of these ratifications; In particular, I refer to the so-called special procedures embodied in particular by special rapporteurs and independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council, both at the geographical and thematic levels, to take action to prevent human rights violations and protect their victims.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has also developed a mechanism at the request of treaty bodies, treaty monitoring committees, working on a methodology for the development of indicators of human rights that allow, precisely, for States to measure not only their institutional work but also institutional management through the public policies of institutions, strategies and programs, how this really impacts on improving the situation and access to Human Rights by the different population groups.

For example, in the subject that concerns us today, there is methodology and work already advanced in indicators of right to a fair trial; Particularly, Mexico and Paraguay are the countries that have advanced the most in the region, in the elaboration of these indicators; Then I think it is also important to name them as a way of measuring these advances, and eventually, setbacks and difficulties.

Obviously, in parallel with these mechanisms, there are regional mechanisms, on which we have already heard; As well as another very important mechanism, which is that of the International Criminal Court with jurisdiction in crimes against humanity, war crimes and aggression, which obviously have a different competence to the extent that they are focused on individual responsibilities of individuals, while the other mechanisms focus on institutional responsibilities. In other words, it is the responsible States, through their officials, but those responsible are not individually identified. So, that is the difference between the two mechanisms: International Human Rights mechanisms and these mechanisms of International Criminal Law, which obviously is also a Human Rights mechanism but has a well-defined and very different competence.

Fortunately in our region many things have changed, leaving behind some very worrying stories of dictatorial regimes that based their power precisely on serious and systematic violations of Human Rights. However, these regimes have left behind inheritances and authoritarian practices, intolerance, corruption, and structural social and state bases that perpetuate the inequalities, discrimination, and exclusion of many women, men, and children in our societies.

Additionally, we have recently seen the advanced efforts in Colombia to achieve peace, and this could be added to the opportunity scenario of the region. On the other hand, outside our continent, in North America and in Europe we face many challenges in the preservation of principles that seemed already ingrained and in the exile of positions that seemed unimaginable long ago. It will be difficult to consistently increase the protection of human rights and the effectiveness of protection mechanisms, both international and national, as long as we do not work in parallel to overcoming exclusion, inequality, and discrimination.

I would like to quote a few words from the High Commissioner, who spoke very recently, just one of them at the United Nations Summit on Immigrant Refugees, and concerned about this inconsistency between what it is to generate mechanisms that the States themselves generate, legally, for the protection of Human Rights, while at the same time weakening the founding principles of these mechanisms in their own countries.

In this regard, the High Commissioner recently warned of the danger of populists and demagogues, and I quote: "who employ half-truths and excessive simplifications; They draw a sketch of an image in the mind of anxious people, perhaps exposed to economic difficulties and witnesses, through the media, of the horrors of terrorism; Reinforce this image with some half-truths here and there, and allow the natural prejudices of the people to complete the rest. The formula is simple: make people who are already nervous feel worse, and then emphasize that everything is due to a group of people, dangerous foreigners, who have been introduced to society.

We are seeing how this inconsistency exists. Many times we see from here without understanding the fears of immigrants and the non-acceptance of diversity, which affects countries such as Europe, for example.

Likewise, when we talk about immigration we worry about how they treat our nationals in other countries. But we rarely see the exclusion within our communities of people and groups in situations of vulnerability or discrimination, children, women, indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, people living in poverty, and extreme poverty; And we do not see them because we are not willing to transform that reality, which would imply modifying that imbalance through a series of sacrifices and compromises, and diminishing privileges in that imbalance.

At the same time, exclusion is justified, because there is some prejudice also about the very concept of Human Rights. Then, there is another obstacle. That is why I would like to refer to a report of the United Nations, then Secretary-General, in 2005, Kofi Annan, which was called: "A broader concept of freedom", which is a report ... the concept is a term, a phrase taken from the preamble of the Charter of the United Nations, and which calls for a deeper and more comprehensive interpretation of freedom; Which recognizes that development, security and human rights, these three pillars of the United Nations, go hand in hand and strengthen each other.

And in this concept of freedom I also wonder what the sovereignty of a country and a people in which its inhabitants do not have such freedoms, a country in which there are excluded communities, where public policies fail to overcome the difficulties and generate the conditions so that its members can develop as people and live with dignity. How free and sovereign is a country such as that! I could also add the question: What is sovereignty in a globalized world?

If they spoke a little before about the question of immunity, and here we speak of sovereignty too, as a contradiction in some way, because obviously yes, sovereignty is a principle that is still valid, of course, but at the same time with a very different look.

And when we see the UN Summit in 2005, we passed the resolution of the responsibility to protect. It is said that sovereignty no longer means only protection of States from foreign interference, but rather constitutes a burden of responsibility that obliges States to respond to the well-being of their population. And, I believe that there it also generates a great ... because, also, when we speak and we want these legal mechanisms or United Nations or regional systems to act in the face of human rights violations, too often these mechanisms face a glance of sovereignty, which implies that there would be an incompatibility between the International Law of Human Rights and the sovereignty of States, when it is not the case. It is simply a rereading of sovereignty.

Human rights are crucial, then, for security and prosperity, but are often seen as obstacles to security, obstacles to development; It is seen in a certain way – a true fallacy, and therefore, in this report of "A broader concept of freedom" it refers to the freedom to live without misery, freedom to live without fear, and freedom to live with dignity; That is, without misery: development, without fear: security and peace, and with dignity: with Human Rights.

Then that is the look given by the secretary general, and therefore, a little (to finish), equality, dignity, inclusion, and participation are essential, and if we do not address these aspects... I would obviously like to say that when we talk about our continent, Latin America, it is still the most unequal in the world, and where the most violent countries and cities are located.

However, we continue to seek solutions focused on the consequences and not on the causes and reasons for the problems and conflicts, without prioritizing the fight against inequality; then, there we have a great fallacy. According to the Latino barometer, the public opinion of Latin American societies perceives democracy with less credibility, and recognizes violence, corruption, and inequality as the most debilitating phenomena of democracy. And I would also add, impunity, no? Associated with the issue of corruption.

It is obvious that even in the confusion of the people, of the ignorance; they are referring to the human rights. These represent the solution and not the problem. That is why I would like to conclude with a reference to the report I started with, in relation to a broader concept of freedom: We will not have development without security, we will not have security without development, and we will not have security or development if human rights are not respected.

But we will not have human rights if we do not seek to defend dignity, inclusion, and participation, as the slogan of the new SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) says, to leave no one behind.

That is the great challenge we have, to really give coherence to the legal mechanisms, to implement these mechanisms by remembering that they are complementary and that the main change comes from the States, from the communities themselves. The international mechanisms are only complementary and respond to a series of realities where they seek to contribute to generating conditions to protect human rights. But there is also a fight, we can say, that needs to be given first place at the national level and at the community level, and respecting diversity as well.

Thank you very much.