The WTO and Human Rights

At the occasion of the WTO Ministerial, which will start on 9 November 2001, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) is issuing a report on the WTO and human rights. In this report, the FIDH defends the supremacy of human rights and the setting up of a consultative status for NGOs at the WTO.

For the primacy of human rights.

The FIDH condemns the schizophrenia of States, who on one side ratify international human rights treaties and on the other, within international fora, sell out the rights they have the duty to protect, such as the right to education, to health, or to benefit from scientific progress.

The negotiations that will take place in Doha give States the opportunity of complying with their international commitments by respecting the primacy of international human rights law over all other treaties, in particular trade agreements. The FIDH recommends the insertion of a "human rights clause" in the preamble of each of the Marrakech agreements (institutional and material). This clause aims at reasserting the principle of unconditional observance of international human rights standards.

For a consultative status of NGOs within the WTO

Basis for NGO participation within the WTO

The FIDH underlines the indispensable nature of NGOs in the democratic control of international bodies. NGOs provide expertise along with a global vision and local assessment of the impact of trade agreements. NGOs bring coherence to debates that are often too focused on the technical aspects of trade, without taking account of the international scope.
NGOs improve the decision process. They speak for and protect vulnerable groups, that do not have the power or means of expressing themselves, even though they are affected by trade agreements.

A necessary reform

A complete overhaul of the WTO institutional framework as regards NGO participation is necessary.
As things stand today, NGOs play a limited role: they can only attend the plenary sessions of Ministerial Conferences. The flaws in the present system are obvious, whether it be the NGO selection process, or the prerogatives given to accredited NGOs. The example of the Doha Conference is striking. More than 85% of NGOs are lobbies that represent private commercial interests, based in OECD countries. Several NGOs have denounced the presence of numerous lobbies directly related to the US Government.

Concrete proposals.

The FIDH puts forward a status aiming at keeping out all groups related to private interests (personal and private enrichment goal) or related to government interests (supporting a particular State policy).
To this end, the FIDH has established selection criteria: defense of the general interest, effectiveness, non-profit goal, independence from political, governmental, economic or financial power, transparency, active interest for WTO activities, internal organization and historical character.

This status does not aim at enabling NGOs to participate in all WTO negotiations. Its goal is to enable NGOs to be heard during the negotiation process, by giving them a certain number of prerogatives: right to participate as observers in conferences, council and committee meetings, right to make written and oral contributions, right to submit items for meeting agendas.

This NGO accreditation mechanism is a step in the direction of an increased democratization of the WTO. Yet it cannot be dissociated from the need for a wider institutional reform of the WTO, in order to achieve greater transparency.

Press Contacts:
In Paris : Anne-Christine Habbard, Secrétaire générale de la FIDH (06 03 86 92 70)
In Doha : Marie Guiraud, chargée du programme " Mondialisation et droits humains " (06 16 54 09 82)

Read more