H. E. JACOB NENA
Vice President of the
Federated States of Micronesia
In the General Debate
WORLD CONFERENCE ON HUMAN RIGHTS
Vienna, Austria, 21 June 1993
I am honored to speak to this historic Conference today, particularly because in doing so, I am making for my country its first public statements relating our position in regard to the international human rights system and the fundamental rights and freedoms addressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Federated States of Micronesia is a relatively new Nation, but having had a long association with the United Nations as a Trust Territory we made at our outset a firm commitment to pursue our social and economic development in the context of international cooperation. Thus, United Nations membership was one of our first priorities after self-determination was achieved, and we proudly took our seat in this Body in October, 1991. We quickly learned, however, that international cooperation for development is not simply a marketplace wherein we can easily pick and choose among those issues that bear directly on our immediate goals. We have come to appreciate how almost every great international issue has an interrelationship with our development goals – and in the case of human rights, the discussions here during this conference clearly show that connection.
We are a country made up of widely-dispersed small islands, above the Equator in the Western Pacific Ocean. Our people, who number just over a hundred thousand, exhibit a wide variety of cultural and ethnic differences. More than ten separate and distinct languages are spoken, with English currently serving as our common link.
Despite the outward appearance of great differences there is one strong force which unites us, namely, our Constitution and the democratic institutions of government it prescribes. For centuries our diverse islands were governed by colonial masters, but when the possibility of self- government became real it was clear that we could only be united by forming our new nation on the traditional democratic principles that our people long have honored and practiced locally, and which evolved in the days when we lived our lives with very little regard or need for what lay beyond the horizon. A basic example is that our people have lived by the rule of consensus as long as anyone can remember. Even with legal mechanisms in place which include voting processes, our small nation still finds it possible in most instances to achieve consensus on important decisions. You will appreciate then, that this has made our transit into the UN system very comfortable.
A vital feature of our Constitution is Article IV, entitled, “Declaration of Rights.” Here, and elsewhere in the Constitution, one finds expressed a comprehensive listing of individual rights and freedoms that is in close conformity with international standards. But the Constitution was not written with international standards in mind, rather, it reflects the norms of our traditional culture. Thus, I humbly submit that our society grew up with an appreciation of the value of individual human rights, and charged their government to protect them, as a matter of fundamental legal obligation.
As Micronesians recently emerged from centuries of relative isolation, it was a grim awakening for us to learn how so many of the people on Earth never have been able to exercise the individual rights that we take for granted. We have seen war firsthand, and we have endured domination by foreign powers, but the impulse that would subject so many millions to torture, arbitrary imprisonment, and all the other offenses against human dignity has been, until now, almost beyond our comprehension.
Looking back, a number of factors may have interfered with our forming accurate and timely perceptions. During the Cold War years, we commonly heard references to the “Free World,” as contrasted with the Communist World, which presumably, was unfree. We supposed that everyone in the Free World must enjoy the same freedoms we did – a supposition we now know was sadly inaccurate. We supposed that every man, woman and child in the Communist world lived in the darkness of oppression. We certainly would have thought that the fall of Communism would have quickly brought about a Nirvana of human rights. Instead, today the picture seems, if anything, darker than ever and in this hall we can almost hear the cries of women and children, victims of a process grotesquely called “cleansing.”
Throughout the times to which I just referred, the very process that has brought us to Vienna was underway. But the splendid work done by so many in the cause of human rights during that period was somehow overshadowed by public utterances from governments everywhere professing love and respect for human sights. In fact, I doubt that I ever heard a government official denounce human rights. Now, however, we are saddened every day by some new aspect of the reality that what governments say, often is not what they do in observing and protecting the fundamental rights of those who are subject to their power.
It is to be regretted that in convening here during these days of 1993, almost a half century after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this conference cannot be a historic occasion to celebrate worldwide acceptance of and adherence to the fundamental rights of humankind. Instead, this Conference is at grave risk of making history of a different kind – of becoming a tragic and historic failure, if the nations of the World coming together in such numbers to focus on one subject, in the end can do little more than congratulate ourselves on the past accomplishments. What I fear, Mr. President, is that lacking the resolve or the ingenuity to implement more effective approaches to problems that are unquestionably growing, this Conference will be remembered as a giant paintbrush with which a World helpless to do more simply painted over the agonies of growing numbers of the suffering with a review of achievements to date, and then applied a second coat of resolve to continue old methods with vigor.
Before passing on, let me add that I fully realize it would be inappropriate on my part if, speaking for a new and previously uninvolved Member, appeared with these remarks to be disparaging the fine record of past achievements. Worse, I would be disrespectful to the memory of so many who have given their very lives in this cause. That is, of course, not my intention at all. But I am confident that those very heroes would be among the first to say, “Let us look into the past only for what we can learn from it. The job is not yet done, and our enemy grows stronger.”
We seem to have reached a point where it is painfully obvious that if the UN Charter is to have continued relevance to individuals living on this planet, something must be done differently. Even so, this Delegation has watched sadly during the past days here as the debate seems to have reflected an increasing, rather than a decreasing polarization of views along familiar North/South lines. And yet, from our viewpoint as a new entrant, there is a basic validity to what both sides are saying. Permit me a few moments to explain.
Underlying most of the observations of developing countries is a fear of exposing our most precious hope – the securing of a decent, sustainable lifestyle for our peoples – to a judgmental process established and enforced by others who do not share that hope in the same way and who are driven by priorities based on different backgrounds. The scope of many situations of human rights violations today is so great, and the level of frustration so high within the United Nations that developing countries fear the search for effective measures could go too far and lead to actions that themselves violate one or more human rights principles or interconnected principles of democracy or sovereignty. Not only are many such actions far more costly than can be afforded, but also we know from lessons of history that, “the end justifies the means” can never serve as a fitting basis for national or international action.
Were the strong to become empowered in the name of moral imperative to carry out unregulated interventions upon the social and economic development of the needy, this obviously would be a very corrosive agent within the UN system. But I speak of extreme perceptions on both sides. Ways must be found to balance these considerations. At the risk of being naive, I dare to hope that ways can be found at this Conference to engage The spirit of international consensus enshrined in the Charter, to which we are all committed, and build upon the undisputable elements recognized by both developed and the developing world – to recognize and embrace our common ground, rather than shrinking from it out of mistrust.
Many speakers here have pointed out correctly that the Right to Development is a critical human right in itself, and that by enabling the underdeveloped to pursue that right with necessary assistance, living conditions and educational levels can be established wherein human rights and fundamental freedoms are more likely to flourish. This should not be dismissed as a form of conditionality on human rights. It is an important and perfectly valid component of our complex effort to deal with the problem.
But neither is the Right to Development a sine qua non that supercedes all other considerations. Would anyone seriously defend ethnic cleansing were it to be advanced on the basis of a right to develop? Still, great care must be taken in approaching the placement of conditionalities on development assistance tied to someone’s idea of compliance with human rights requirements. While extreme human rights atrocities make this approach very tempting, all too often such conditionalities only penalize those in need.
The other danger inherent in any over-empowerment of authority at a super- national level is that international human rights standards must respect the rights of countries and peoples to improve their human rights conditions at a pace appropriate to them, in line with their own values, social environment and cultural traditions. Obnoxious as this sounds to well-meaning people who are evangelistic in their beliefs regarding human rights, there is nevertheless a legitimate place for this principle, properly defined, if we have any hope of truly attaining and maintaining international consensus on what we all came here to discuss.
Again, this point cannot be a shield for atrocious conduct, but it must also be recognized that the goal of universal adherence to the principles of the Declaration and acceptance of the obligations of the Covenants and related treaties will never be reached if the system operates without sensitivity to the sovereign rights of all parties. This is not said to disagree with our esteemed Secretary-General, Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali where he commented on the limits of sovereignty. In fact, I believe it is consistent with the basic thought that, up to a point, even on the subject of universal human rights, progress is best maintained through an approach of open-minded discussion.
I hope that the context of my remarks up to this point establishes a receptive framework for what I will now say regarding the position of the Federated States of Micronesia. First, we align ourselves with the Bangkok Declaration, particularly as to the Right to Development and inclusion of a country’s background and culture among the considerations to be taken into account in its human rights advancement. We feel that these are essential and workable concepts which should not be shouted down as amounting to shields for repression. They need not be.
Second, were this Conference to leave in question the universality of human rights, we would all have come here in vain. We support a strong and unconditional expression in that regard, along with new resolves to give meaning and definition to the concept.
I might add that we do not regard the application of this principle as inconsistent with the Bangkok declaration.
Third, we call for a concentration of effort to gain universal accession to existing human rights instruments. For our part, we recently became party to our first such undertaking, the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Anyone familiar with our island cultures knows the special concern which we keep for children, and so we thought appropriate to make this undertaking our first among the human rights instruments. We hope soon to complete an examination of others, particularly, the two Covenants, with a view to freely undertaking the obligations thereunder.
I would like to mention our pleasure at hearing the strong commitment expressed by our partner in Free Association, the United States, to the cause of the rights of women and their protection against discrimination and abuse. We fully support the measures called for by the distinguished Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, and will be giving these matters our own priority attention.
Fourth, as a nation comprised wholly of indigenous people, we hereby state our solidarity with all the indigenous peoples of the World, and particularly with those subjected to any form of discrimination or maltreatment within their homelands. We hope that the draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People will emerge during the International Year. The recognition of this cause by the United Nations is most welcome, and it will have our support now and in the future.
Fifth, we recognize the sensitivities surrounding the United States’ proposal for the establishment of a High Commissioner for Human Rights. To many of our colleagues in the developing world this proposal embodies and crystallizes all the fears of uncontrolled and unwarranted interference to which I made reference earlier. Nevertheless, in principle, with proper protection against excesses, we approach it with open mind recalling the flood of extreme situations in our world today that simply must be addressed in some way other than business as usual.
Whether or not the idea of a High Commissioner finds ultimate acceptance, other ideas as well must be seriously considered, such as the establishment of a permanent International Human Rights Tribunal. The independent and juridical character of such a body should place it above the concerns regarding political intervention while denying human rights criminals any refuge from appropriately defined international responsibility.
Sixth, without question, existing human rights mechanisms must be strengthened. Parties must work together to make treaty monitoring and fact-finding bodies more effective and increased funding must be applied. We have been shocked to learn that less than one percent of the United Nations budget is expended for human rights activities. Reporting and information dissemination probably will always be the most effective basic tool in discouraging those who would violate the rights of individuals because they, like all enemies of society, fear most the light of day.
Perhaps the most pressing example of need for immediate increase in funding is the Center for Human Rights, who are to be highly commended for their service to humankind under the most difficult and limiting circumstances. This need cannot be neglected any longer.
Finally, Mr. President, we agree with those who see a need to integrate more fully into the entire human rights process the participation of non- governmental organizations and private parties. Any form of exclusion from the United Nations’ effort to advance human rights is simply wrong, deprives us of rich sources of ideas and support and only serves the interests of those who are against us.
In closing, my delegation expresses warm thanks to the Government and people of Austria for hosting this Conference, for the excellent facilities and arrangements, and for the many special courtesies extended to us throughout our stay. The beautiful city of Vienna is a living shrine to the harmony and enrichment of the human spirit, and thus, the work of this Conference can only be inspired by our presence here.
Thank you, Mr. President.