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International Justice
The High Commissioner for Human Rights
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Human Rights NGOs

INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE

"For 30 years now, Amnesty International has not ceased to repeat that violators of Human Rights should be brought before the courts, if we want to at last break the viscous cycle of crime and impunity in the World. Impunity engenders disrespect for the Law, which opens the way to new violations committed with even more impudence by agents of the State which place themselves above the Law" (AI Report, 1995).

An International Penal Court for ex-Yugoslavia was put into place by the UN Security Council in 1993. Then another Court was in charge of judging the perpetrators of genocide in Rwanda (1994).

"The establishing of these two courts is progress. But they answered needs that were more or less short-term in only two places in the world. The creation of a permanent International Penal Court, responsible for judging serious violations of Human Rights wherever they are perpetrated, remains a pressing need." (Extract from AI Report, 1995). This court was actually conceived by the UN right from the end of World War II.

On this point, a great step was taken: the 17th of July 1998 in Rome, under the banner of the United Nations, 120 countries of the 147 represented finally adopted the Statute of an International Court. This court would be able to judge genocide, and other crimes against humanity and crimes of war.

This project still needs to be improved, but, above all, this Court will not be created until the Statute is ratified by 60 countries. Unfortunately, it will take a few years, the 800 odd NGO’s (non-governmental organisations) who have been mobilised to achieve this first result have not really finished the fight.

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THE HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

This position was created in 1994. One of its primordial functions is to co-ordinate all the initiatives of different institutions which defend Human Rights which make up the system of the United Nations:

The Centre for Human Rights (Geneva)

The UN Program for Development – UNPD (New York)

The Departments of the Operations to Maintain Peace, Humanitarian Affairs, and Political Affairs (New York)

The Division for the Promotion of Women (New York)

The Service for the Prevention of Crime and Penal Justice (Vienna)

UNESCO (Paris)

The High Commissioner, by going to various countries listens to what the local Non-Governmental Organisations have to say, considering this to be part of the mission. These organisations, by giving the High Commissioner this information of Human Rights in their respective countries, actually play a major role.

Ever since its creation in 1994 until the present time, its effectiveness has not been proved. Only time will tell if the new High Commissioner, Mary Robinson, will give the position a bigger impact.

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NOT ENOUGH FUNDS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS AT THE UNITED NATIONS

"The UN Human Rights programs suffer from a chronic lack of resources; this renders the accomplishment of the immense work necessary for obtaining several results almost impossible, in the countries where violations are more blatant and systematic. By refusing to fix a sufficient budget, the member States seem to be preventing the UN Human Rights Program from functioning normally." (Extract from the AI Report, 1995)

Despite slight rises in 1993 and 1994, less than 2% of the total UN Budget is allocated to the Centre for Human Rights. This is why tremendous work remains to be done with each State in the World to convince the UN to give it the means to let it defend Human Rights.

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NGOs

The inter-governmental Organisations have showed themselves to be largely incompetent in defending Human Rights. Non-governmental associations needed to be created to bring their participation. Each one concentrates its efforts on a different aspect of Human Rights because it would be impossible to handle all of it.

To name a few:

Amnesty International, whose action is largely to do with civil and political rights: fight for freedom of thought and expression, against unlawful imprisonment, against torture, "missing persons and executions without fair trial", and against the Death Penalty.

In France:

The Human Rights League, founded at the time of the Dreyfus Affair, deals with all the rights mentioned in the Universal Declaration.

The ACAT: Association of Christians Against Torture, fight also against the Death Penalty.

ATD Fourth World fights against misery and for the recognition of the dignity of each person by educating them to mobilise for those less well off than themselves.

The MRAP fights against any form of racism and for friendship between peoples. It largely contributed to make France adopt the anti-racist law of July 1st 1972 and uses it to constitute civil part in numerous cases to legally defend victims of racism.

In many countries associations exist that defend Human Rights. Often they are isolated militants who do not even have the right to assemble in associations. In countries victim of the consequences of a violent conflict or a dictatorship, Human Rights play a decisive role.

While unions and political parties have been banned, parliaments abolished and the press muzzled, they remain the only power between the State and the population.

They are the only ones who can alert international associations like Amnesty. But they are usually persecuted, arrested, tortured or deprived of work then watched, followed and illegally under surveillance. If it be in China or Cuba, in several Latin American countries, in Turkey, in Syria, in Africa, or even in France … these militants for Human Rights play a determining role at the peril of their lives.

All these associations live only because of militants, often benevolent, keep them alive. All these courageous militants prove, by their recognised effectiveness, that each person, where they are, can work to defend Human Rights and to help those who suffer the worst infringements of these rights.

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