More Links in News & Events

Moving Forward

By Jimmy Carter

Published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

For the first time in 25 years, the world's leaders will gather June 15-25 in Vienna to discuss ways to protect all peoples more effectively from violations of their human rights. This gathering - the United Nations World conference on Human Rights - is one of the most important of our time.

Delegates will assess how the U.N. system has dealt with human rights abuse within member states and recommend measure in response to new patterns of large-scale abuses that have emerged since the Cold War ended.

In many countries, atrocious human rights practices have been tolerated in the name of necessary political alliances; the political and economic crises in some of these countries may take years to reverse.

The massive proliferation and availability of weapons has made it easy for tyrants to stifle dissent and has contributed to the escalation of civil strife in many lands. There are 112 civil conflicts in the world today, and a substantial percentage of the world's people suffer some violation of their civil political, social, economic, or cultural rights.

Despite horrific human rights problems, the global community now has an unprecedented opportunity to create more effective mechanisms for addressing and correcting abuses. The United Nations had enveloped an impressive body of human rights standards - 70 covenants, conventions, and treaties during the past 48 years. But there is general concern about the world body's failure to adequately address many situations of gross human rights violations, weak coordination among various components of the U.N. human rights system, lack of political will by many governments to implement U.N. human rights standards, and a shortage of resources for U.N. human rights activities.

Less than 1 percent of the United Nations' total budget is allocated to human rights. This is grossly inadequate. The potential human and material resources can now be diverted from military competition between the superpowers to more productive ends are immense, yet many U.N. member states consistently fail to pay their U.N. dues. The ever-expanding need to address human rights crises in a global framework demands support from the United Nations, as its member states, and independent donors.

Political support requires, among other things, that member states ratify and abide by the primary U.N. covenants that address fundamental rights. Ratification encourages compliance by signatory nations and lends credence to the documents and binding international legal instruments. The United States itself has set a poor example. Its failure to ratify the International Convent on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has undermined the effectiveness of the U.N. human rights system.

But the overriding obstacle the United Nations confronts is the highly politicized environment in which its human rights mechanisms operate. Political considerations unduly influence decisions on serious human rights issues, while Security Council action has been selective. One proposal that has circulated for many years is the establishment of a High Commissioner for Human Rights with authority to take immediate action on human rights abuses, whenever and wherever they occur.

The advantages of such an office are many. A high commissioner would be empowered to act promptly to prevent or investigate violations; to integrate human rights into all levels and aspects of the work of the United Nations; and to ensure that unbiased information concerning human rights abuses is presented to the appropriate U.N. bodies.

It is also important for the conference to create more effective mechanisms for promoting and monitoring social, economic, and cultural rights. Human rights are indivisible and interdependent, and we cannot emphasize one set of rights over another.

Although the world is presented with a unique opportunity, we live in a heterogeneous world, where our diverse perspectives and views often conflict and prevent consensus. There is potential for great progress at the world conference, but we must overcome regional and political alignments that are divisive and destructive.

Human rights must be viewed as a universal issue, not as an ideological divide. Despite our cultural differences, we must find a way to agree, as a world community, on the basic principles of human rights and to endorse system-wide action at the United Nations to uphold these principles.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter currently chairs The Carter Center in Atlanta, home to the Carter-Menil Human Rights Foundation and other programs to resolve conflict and promote human rights around the world. He will attend the U.N. World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna as a special guest of U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

Donate Now

Sign Up For Email

Please sign up below for important news about the work of The Carter Center and special event invitations.

Please leave this field empty
Now, we invite you to Get Involved
Back To Top