FIDH, meeting in Taipei (Taiwan) from 21 to 25 October 2019 for its 40th Congress

Almost 100 years since the creation of our federation, and more than 70 since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the universality of human rights has never been more questioned, both at the normative and at the political levels. The global human rights movement must thus mobilise to defend the promises found in the UDHR, and fight all attacks on universality. This is a duty for us.

1. Addressing crises

FIDH, meeting in Taipei (Taiwan) from 21 to 25 October 2019 for its 40th Congress

Almost 100 years since the creation of our federation, and more than 70 since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the universality of human rights has never been more questioned, both at the normative and at the political levels. The global human rights movement must thus mobilise to defend the promises found in the UDHR, and fight all attacks on universality. This is a duty for us.

1. Addressing crises

1a. Defending a human rights-driven multilateralism

The regional and international post human rights instruments and mechanisms have led to many advances and were vectors for the universalisation of human rights. They were essential in enabling human right defenders to make their voices heard and condemn violations.

But their effectiveness and impacts have been affected and the resources available to them have been greatly reduced.

The United Nations Security Council is hostage to the right of veto by of its five permanent members and no longer completely fulfils its obligations when faced with the increasing number of crises. This explains its inability to deal with the crises such as those in Syria, Crimea and Palestine in full regard to and for the benefit of human rights.

International courts are also having to face a large number of challenges, such as problems in deploying universally, in obliging the super powers to face their responsibility, and in dealing with the increasing number of hostile policies that obstruct international justice. The recent attacks by the Trump Administration on the ICC and its staff are only the latest example.

Economic governance is conducted outside of global multilateral forums and in contradiction to the international human rights commitments and obligations, while international initiatives to have economies consider human rights are difficult to implement.

Meanwhile, the world’s geopolitical map and relations between States are changing, as is the division of powers between the public and the private sectors. Various actors are consolidating their position at the global level, while their goal is to undermine the international order and the protection of human rights.

It is imperative to rethink, re-invest and strengthen multilateralism as a force that guarantees a global governance serving human rights.

1b. Promoting human rights and the rule of law in democracies in crisis

Democracies are electing leaders who promote conflicting, authoritarian and illiberal policies. Such policies impede liberties, question the universal and indivisible nature of human rights and limit the application of universal protection systems.

The instrumentalization and confiscation of democracy by the populist extreme right and post-fascist regimes creates new challenges for human rights defenders and activists. Resistance and resilience must be combined with the strengthening of the alliances between human rights defense organizations and social movements.

2. Expanding our horizons: broadening human rights reach and norms

Contemporary societies are confronted with a number of emerging issues which could only be addressed effectively when basic rights are used as a framework.

2a. Digital technologies

Digital technologies are becoming essential to serve the work of human rights defenders around the world and to give voice to oppressed and marginalized populations, to the extent that they have access to them. They are also used by authoritarian regimes, who use them to identify and repress dissenting voices. Similarly, advances in algorithms and artificial intelligence are opening up new horizons, particularly in the areas of medical care, transport or education, or, more problematically, as police auxiliaries or predictive justice. They can also threaten the functioning of democracies, human rights and the rule of law. Consequently, it is essential to carry out impact assessments on the human rights of these systems, to generalize digital education and to adopt binding international texts aimed at ensuring the right of access to the Internet for all, protecting privacy and protecting, promoting and defending human rights effectively in these new environments.

2b. Considering nature in terms of rights

Humanity faces a major challenge since the onset of global warming. The consequences are just as tangible from the viewpoint of human rights: inequalities and discriminations become more acute, migration grows, defenders are targeted and communities are severely impacted.
People have the right to a clean and safe environment and to be protected from threats to their life. Collective rights connected to environment, the right to land, the right to water should be further enhanced and recognised.

2c. Strengthening corporate accountability and obligations

Corporate regulations are growing stricter throughout the world and initiatives taken to oblige corporations to be accountable for human rights violations are growing in number. In addition to the adoption of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) in 2011, the OECD Guidelines and the increase in legislations obliging businesses to respect human rights in supply chains, that need to be fleshed out and made more effective, we also need to support the growing momentum designed to strengthen the accountability framework at international, regional and national levels. This includes negotiations at the United Nations on the preparation of a binding treaty on business and human rights.

3. Consolidating the roots of our movement: making the enjoyment of human rights a reality for all

Rights count if they only adress anyone. Otherwise, rights become privileges for some. Our movement must pursue its action to make human rights and social justice a universal reality.

3a. Defending the defenders

As agents of change throughout the world, human rights defenders are increasingly seen in the public debate as “threats to national security”, “terrorists, “traitors”, “enemies of the State, or “opponents to development” for opposing government policies or even merely denouncing the impact of economic activities and the expropriation of local communities.

Emboldened by their rhetoric, governments attack the actions of civil society through national and international terrorism control measures and impose restrictions on NGOs that curtail their capacity to act. In more and more parts of the world, human rights defenders are under major threat of their freedom and safety.

3b. Changing the narrative for migrants and refugees.

Global inequality and unequal distribution of wealth is a major source of migration. As long as inequal distribution of wealth becomes more acute, migration flows will only be rising.

International community and civil society should work together to combat rights violations that lead to migrations, develop policies that secure migratory routes and fight against the criminalization of human rights defenders who help migrants. We also need to secure the rights of migrants in host countries by especially fighting hate speech and slavery and other forms of economic exploitation. Migrants’ integration can’t take place in conditions of segregation. Segregation feeds the extreme right narrative regarding migrants as invaders. Changing this narrative is a major challenge. Otherwise, rights and social cohesion are seriously threatened.

3c. Responding to the threats to the universality of women’s rights

Throughout the world, women’s rights are subject to restrictions and alienation because of the instrumentalization of cultural and religious heritage, ancestral traditions and discriminatory practices of patriarchal origin.

Women experience discrimination in the recognition and enjoyment of their rights within the family, their rights to health, their reproductive and sexual rights, their economic, social and political rights, on the basis of both equality in the law as equality before the law. They are victims of violence, trafficking and feminicides.

In contexts of dictatorial regimes, organized crime, conflict, and political regime change, women are also victims of sexual violence and feminicide. Rape has been used as a weapon of war and ethnic cleansing. They are subjected to extreme violence that violates their human rights, their citizenship and their dignity.

FIDH must continue to defend women’s rights in these particularly difficult contexts.

3d. Combating LGBTI+ discrimination

The universality of human rights is frequently questioned, especially when it comes to advocating for the rights of LGBTI+ individuals. In certain societies, such rights are argued to be “Western values” by many opponents. LGBTI+ people are then discriminated against and serve as alibis to create a scapegoat group, threatening the collectivity, its values and its particular traditions, often called national. Meanwhile, in many countries, the fight for equality for LGBTI+ individuals remains spearheaded by specialist organizations, and is only marginally integrated into the work of generalist human rights organizations. Yet, many countries have seen successes in reducing discrimination. The list of countries where same-sex marriage is legal continues to increase, and repressive legislation is being struck down. The goal is to better identify how and why these successes have happened, in order to replicate them.

3e. Fighting capital punishment

The right to life remains precarious, threatened by the use of capital punishment. Asia is home to the highest number of retentionist countries and the highest number of executions in the world. Principles of equitable justice, fair trial rights, and due process are cardinal principles that, if respected, can help reduce the use of the death penalty and get countries back on track to abolition.

3f. Justice, a tool for strengthening the universality of rights

In their search for justice, truth and reparation, the first step of victims of serious human rights violations and crimes under international law is to resort to national criminal courts, in the countries where those crimes were perpetrated. However, several factors can impede effective access at the local or national levels: lack of political willingness and/or ability of domestic justice systems, weakening or total collapse of legal systems, lack of independence, political obstacles or, absence of measures to protect victims or legal personnel for instance. Consequently, other methods for fighting impunity and holding perpetrators to account must be used. Our actions must continue to support victims of international crimes’ effective access to other accountability mechanisms, at national level using the principle of extra-territorial jurisdiction, at regional level or at international level, before hybrid courts or international courts like the International Criminal Court. These mechanisms too present specific and evolving challenges to be addressed, but also opportunities to leverage openings within the global justice architecture and empower local actors at every stage.

4. Reinstate human rights universality

Human dignity is the axiom of rights. Human beings have dignity because they are human and this can not be questioned. This is what universality is about. Human rights reflect the juridico-political response of the indignation provoked by the most tragic experiences to which humanity has been and continues to be confronted, starting with the two World wars of the 20th century. In addition to being immensely important from a legal standpoint, human rights reflect an intuition inherent in the universal refusal of injustice and threats to human dignity.

Whether the challenges to the realisation of rights are old or new, we can only deal with them if we have a universal response, based on a cosmopolitan governance that goes beyond state boundaries, and is free of economic interests.

The universality of human rights fits in perfectly with cultural, economic, social or even historical differences and disparities. Human rights provide a minimum of protection against the most basic interest interests of the human being. They give life to his/her dignity. International human rights conventions already include diversity to better define our common base. They prohibit discrimination, and look at the criteria that were used in the past for exclusion and marginalisation. They promote cultural rights, leave room for adjustments based on particular cultural characteristics and circumstances. Exceptions are made for certain absolute rights such as the ban on torture and inhuman and degrading treatment. These adjustments must be defined by law, and be precise, necessary, non-discriminatory and proportional to the goal being sought.

Human rights are indivisible and are thus the law and the common good shared by all humanity. Rights serve both the safety of our communities and individual dignity.

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