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Human rights in foreign policy

July 2000

Submission from Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (Aotearoa section) to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee Inquiry into the Role of Human rights in Foreign Policy.

We welcome this opportunity to express our views to the Select Committee in writing and wish to make an oral submission in Wellington when the occasion arises.

We welcome this examination of the role of human rights in foreign policy and hope it will permit an examination of the values and ideals that underlie the expression and conduct of foreign policy by the New Zealand government. It is particularly appropriate that this Inquiry is taking place during the United Nations International Year for the Culture of Peace and Non-violence and we hope this will influence the course of future foreign policy.

Our submission has five sections: 1) Values in foreign policy; 2) Peace and security; 3) Economic development and democracy; 4) Specific recommendations for immediate action; 5) General recommendations for longer term action. The points in each can be equally applied to the Asia/Pacific region, and beyond.

1) Values in foreign policy

Foreign policy should be based on a set of values which include respect for human rights in the widest sense: the promotion of peace; of human security; the meeting of human needs such as access to food, safe water supplies, shelter, health care, education, freedom from the threat of armed conflict and war; a clean safe environment; economies (global, regional and domestic) which empower everyone to provide adequately for themselves, and which distribute wealth in an equitable manner; and systems of government which enable informed participation and genuine representation of the people. These values should be expressed consistently in the conduct of foreign policy.

Not all of the above values have been evident in the expression and conduct of foreign policy of recent NZ governments, and it is of crucial importance that this Inquiry engages in debate to identify what values we want to direct foreign policy into the future.

The application of foreign policy, particularly in the area of which governments the NZ government has chosen to condemn or impose sanctions against, has been markedly inconsistent. Recent examples of this include: (i) condemnation and the imposition of limited sanctions against Fiji pending 'the restoration of democracy', yet official silence around the governments which have armed forces occupying other countries in the Asia/Pacific region (eg Indonesia in West Papua, France in Kanaky/New Caledonia and Tahiti Polynesia/French Polynesia); and ii) the public dressing down given to the diplomatic representative of the Indian government when India conducted nuclear weapons tests, yet no similar treatment of the US ambassador with regard to the ongoing US nuclear weapons testing programme. There has been a strong bias towards maintaining silence around, or supporting, the actions of the more powerful nations, while condemning less powerful nations.

2) Peace and security

The right to peace and security is the fundamental principle underlying all human rights agreements. It is implicit in the majority of United Nations documents, beginning with the United Nations Charter:

"We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war ... to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person ... to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom ... to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours ... to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples." (UN Charter Preamble, excerpts from paragraphs 1 and 2).

The right to peace and security is also implicit in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which begins "whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world" and goes on to state ... "the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy ... freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people" (UDHR, excerpts from paragraphs 1 and 2).

While there are several reasons why the ideals as proclaimed above have not been transmuted into practical action to guarantee the right to peace and security, the most obvious and fundamental has been the lack of will on the part of governments to commit themselves to "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war" and to shift their spending priorities away from preparations for war (a breach of Nuremberg Principle VIa, Crimes against Peace) towards meeting human needs.

World military expenditure in 1998 totalled US$745 billion - surely the most gross abuse of human rights when around the world people are starving to death and dying from easily preventable and curable diseases made fatal by malnutrition and spread through poor sanitary conditions, lack of access to safe drinking water and so on. According to the World Health Organisation, more than 15 million adults aged between 20 and 64 years die every year and ... "most of these deaths are premature and preventable".

The annual profits of each of the largest arms manufacturers (Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Boeing) exceed the GDP of many nations. Debt relief for the twenty largest 'debtor nations' would be US$5.5 - 7.7 billion, the cost of just two Stealth bombers.

Security continues to be perceived in its narrowest sense, as military security, rather than human security which comes from social justice, peace, human rights, a clean safe environment, and an economy which works for everyone. In reality, military security works against human security by diverting resources (economic, physical and social) away from meeting the needs of the people.

3) Economic development and democracy

The 1999 United Nations Human Development Report states "Threats to human security are being exacerbated by globalisation." In part this is because of the intimate linkage between the arms manufacturers and other transnational corporations - weapons are a highly profitable business as pointed out above.

The imposition of the International Monetary Fund's Structural Adjustment Programmes has required, in many countries, the use of physical force by agents of the state which has fuelled the purchase of small arms and riot control hardware. At the same time, SAPs also require nations to reduce basic social services necessary for their peoples' survival.

There has been direct collusion between some TNCs and occupying armed forces, for example the owners of the Freeport mine in West Papua paid US$40 million to the Indonesian military last year.

The rules of the World Trade Organisation, which favour corporate rights above human rights, do not permit government subsidies to protect local industries - except those for military purposes. As but one example, in 1996 the US government subsidised arms exports by US$7.9 billion. The operation of the WTO ensures that military economies are favoured over civilian economies. The wealthy industrialised countries use military spending to subsidise corporations, promote regional development through defence contracts, and maintain an industrial knowledge base through weapons research and development.

At present we have a global economy which impoverishes and disempowers the vast majority of people, and is run for the personal profit of a tiny privileged minority. The net worth of the ten richest individuals is greater than the combined national income of the 48 poorest countries. The gap between the poorest fifth of the world's population and the richest fifth has increased from 30:1 in 1906 to 78:1 in 1994.

This cannot continue, and ways must be found to transform the economic system so that we instead have a global economy which promotes peace and human rights, which is environmentally sustainable, and which promotes participatory government and social development.

We note in Section C of the terms of reference for this inquiry there is a question "How important is democratisation to peaceful dispute resolution?" Surely the first question which needs to be asked is "Is democracy possible in today's corporate globalisation culture?" Of the top 100 economies around the world, 52 are corporations; through the operation of 'free trade' ideology and the WTO, privately owned corporations override domestic legislation designed to protect human rights.

An examination of WTO rulings over the past five years shows clearly that the WTO does not make rules for trade, but for governments - limiting the role of governments in public policy, environmental regulations, development policies, social legislation and cultural protection.

Systems of government which enable informed participation and genuine representation of the people are increasingly undermined by the action of the corporate globalisers in search of increased profits for the benefit of a privileged minority.

4) Specific recommendations for immediate action

a) The promotion of human rights in the Asia/Pacific region should start with the NZ government demonstrating its commitment to putting human rights into practice both in this country and in its relationships with overseas governments and peoples as follows:

i) the implementation of all human rights agreements, conventions and treaties to which it is a party, and the immediate implementation of domestic human rights legislation (for example the Human Rights Act);

ii) the application of human rights in foreign policy in a consistent manner, without hypocrisy;

iii) with regard to the promotion of peace and human security - the NZ government must work actively against the arms trade, and in particular must ensure that no public resources or support are given to any NZ company to promote the export of defence technologies, nor to Tradenz to support those companies. Surplus military equipment and armaments from the NZ armed forces should be decommissioned rather than sold. The NZ government must not support the arms trade in respect of purchasing new weapons systems or military hardware and must reduce military spending;

iv) there must be no military co-operation at any level with any government whose armed forces, police, paramilitaries or any other agencies of the state are used for repression of their own people, or who are involved in the occupation, invasion or incursions into other countries.

b) The peaceful resolution of conflict should be a primary goal of NZ foreign policy, and resources should be made available immediately for investigation into how this can best be achieved. The possibility of a civilian peace building organisation should be explored. This could comprise a paid professional core with voluntary assistance from those in relevant professions (such as health professionals, engineers, persons trained in peaceful resolution of conflict or trauma counselling) which could offer practical assistance to conflict ridden communities to prevent the outbreak of armed conflict, and which could provide practical assistance to communities following armed conflict.

Of the 188 nations in the UN, 186 have armed forces which can be called on for UN peacekeeping duties as required. That is not necessarily a role which we need to take. There are many creative possibilities for such a civilian peace building organisation. This would put NZ in the position of offering something unique and of constructive positive value to the global community. In addition, it would be much cheaper to maintain and operate than armed forces that are reliant on expensive military hardware.

c) The NZ government should immediately close foreign military and spy bases in this country and promote by example this means of increasing non-offensive defence (see point 5iii below).

d) All development assistance and aid projects should be designed to ensure they alleviate, rather than maintain or exacerbate, existing social inequalities (be they based on gender, race, ethnic origin, social class and so on) in the recipient community; they must actively engage and seek input from those involved in the recipient community; and should be fully monitored to ensure the intended outcome has been achieved.

5) General recommendations for long term action

a) Representatives of the New Zealand government should use every opportunity including (but not limited to) the United Nations and other international or regional fora, meetings and conferences; as well as all levels of diplomatic activity to promote the adoption and implementation of human rights in their widest sense by:

i) supporting all initiatives, agreements, conventions and treaties which promote peace (including disarmament), sustainable development, economic justice, human rights and the protection of the environment for future generations;

ii) opposing all initiatives, agreements, conventions and treaties that would inhibit those objectives listed in i) above;

iii) supporting the closing of all foreign bases (both military and 'intelligence') throughout the region, and beyond, and the return of all armed forces not under the direct control of the United Nations to their country of origin;

iv) opposing 'free trade' and corporate globalisation and instead promoting and supporting fair trade initiatives and opportunities;

v) working whenever possible against the privatisation and corporatisation of public resources, intellectual and cultural property, and the patenting of genetic material, including, but not limited to, human genes.

b) The NZ government should explore the possibility that our interests might be better served were we to join with the non-aligned nations at the United Nations and elsewhere, rather than continuing to be associated with the 'Western and Others Group' whose interests are not necessarily the same as ours.

c) The NZ government must make every effort in co-operation with others to restore equal power to the three main arms of the United Nations - the General Assembly, the International Court of Justice and the Security Council - to achieve an end to the current domination of the five major nuclear powers through the Security Council.

d) The NZ government must do anything else within its power and spheres of influence that will add to the creation of a fairer, more just world for all peoples. As the UN Charter says, we should "live together in peace with one another as good neighbours" and this must be the foundation of our foreign policy.

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