Special Committee on Inter-American Summits Management
Comments and Proposals with respect to the Draft Agenda for the
Third Summit of the Americas
By Honourable Warren Allmand, P.C., O. C., Q.C., President, Rights & Democracy
September 19, 2000
Rights & Democracy would like to thank the Special Committee on Inter-American Summits Management for this opportunity to comment on the Draft Agenda for the Third Summit of the Americas. In particular, we would like to thank Ambassador Peter Boehm and the Canadian Mission to the OAS for their support to civil society voices in the OAS and in the Summit process.
Rights & Democracy – officially known as the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development – is an institution created by an Act of the Parliament of Canada in 1988, with the mandate to promote the International Bill of Human Rights and democratic development internationally. To fulfil this mandate we work in collaboration with civil society organisations in a variety of countries on issues such as democracic development, the promotion of women’s rights as human rights, the rights of indigenous peoples and the impact of globalisation on human rights. Our comments are informed in particular by our work on globalisation, on the inter-American human rights system and by a recent symposium titled Integration and Democracy in the Americas : Citizenship, Participation, Accountability, held on the occasion of the 2000 General Assembly of the OAS in Windsor, Canada.
Comments on the Discussion Paper
We welcome the recognition of democracy as a central theme of the Summit process. We also welcome the stated desire for achieving results. But the outstanding question must surely be: what of the commitments made in previous Summits? Agreed, they should not be repeated or repackaged – but they must be monitored and progress assessed. If progress is found to be lacking – as, for example, on the commitments to environmental issues from the Bolivia Summit or to civil society participation or education from the Santiago Summit – then mechanisms for implementation of commitments must be a priority for the Quebec Summit. Nowhere in this paper are such mechanisms outlined. Indeed, overall one is left with the impression that the only aspect of the integration process on which a comprehensive and binding framework is being envisaged and negotiated is the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The other issues are relegated to the realm of possible "initiatives" and "cooperation".
The analysis of the context presented in the discussion paper is, in our view, overly optimistic. It is true that progress has been made in a number of areas. But at the same time, important new problems have arisen, directly linked to the process of trade liberalisation and globalisation. We are referring first to the problem of democratic deficit: lack of control by elected representatives over economic policy – and increasingly social policy – decisions, lack of public information and debate on economic decisions by governments, to name but two aspects of this complex phenomenon. A second major problem is that of the increasing gap between rich and poor – a gap that is growing faster in the Americas than in any other region of the world – precisely in an era of increasing privatisation and trade liberalisation. At the very least, a serious and independent examination of the possible links between the democratic deficit and the liberalisation of trade, investment and finance must be carried out.
A similar examination is needed to address the links between human rights and the liberalisation of trade, investment and finance. The inter-American system has a strong regional human rights system, including conventions, protocols and declarations and the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and Court. To date, there has been no serious attempt to assess the impact free trade has had on human rights either regionally or multilaterally.
In our view, human rights are not some kind of a side-bar, annex or by-product of a trade agreement. Quite the contrary, the international human rights system provides a legal and normative framework for international economic relations. It is perhaps useful to recall the genesis of the international human rights system, forged in the aftermath of the Second World War, when states resolutely decided that the horrors of the Holocaust could not be repeated and undertook to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UDHR brought together in one document civil and political rights (such as the right to life, the right to vote, the right to a fair trial) as well as economic, social and cultural rights (for example, the right to work, to health care and education, housing).
This is important because it is vital that we understand the degree of consensus that exists amongst citizens and indeed amongst governments on international human rights norms. It is on this consensus that we should build a new international economic order. The international economic order we are living with today directly contradicts human rights principles, as illustrated by the growing gap between rich and poor both between and within countries. The growing divide between rich and poor in the Americas is particularly stark. This gap is the major challenge that international trade law must address and it is the major challenge this hemisphere faces as we move towards more liberalized trade.
The Plan of Action
At first glance, it is difficult to understand the benefit of the redefinition of the basket headings, from Miami to Santiago and now in this new version. The new formulation is perhaps intended to be goal-oriented and forward-looking, but it also appears to gloss over some of the fundamental issues that were at least highlighted - if not addressed- in the former versions. Furthermore, we were told some time ago that one of the advantages of the new formulation is to bring trade back into the same process as the other issues. We would like to see that. But where is it? It is not addressed explicitly in any of the baskets, yet appears to drive them all. It is inadequate conceptually and practically, to place trade liberalisation under the heading "Creating Prosperity".
Overall, the document appears to us to be lacking direction: the proposals are weak, partial and fragmented. The links between the baskets are unclear. This agenda seems to be doomed to repeat the errors of the Santiago one, and may simply produce another shopping list of disparate initiatives.
The new formulation (shortened from « Democracy and Human Rights ») is acceptable if – and only if - it is understood and accepted that human rights are an integral part of democracy. And by human rights, we must understand the entire family of rights: economic, social and cultural rights – sorely absent in this paper – as well as civil and political rights.
The approach adopted in the paper is partial and leaves out a series of essential aspects of democratic societies and institutions (e.g.: elections, freedom of expression, civilian control of the military, participation, the right to employment, education and health, to name but a few). Proposals based exclusively on "enhanced cooperation" are short sighted and insufficient to address such serious problems. A more proactive and transparent role is required from the political institutions of the hemisphere in forcefully addressing these issues.
Presumably replacing the basket called « Eradication of Poverty and Discrimination », this section appears to gloss over the deep and growing social and economic cleavages in our hemisphere. No one can doubt that all citizens of the Americas aspire to live in prosperity. But such an aspiration cannot be reduced to enhancement of growth and investment. Here, on the contrary, they drive the agenda and the notion of inclusion appears to refer only to the market. And what of our commitment to sustainable development? What has been achieved since the Bolivia summit?
International financial institutions (IFIs) are problematic as a partner in enhancing prosperity, because their policies are often at the root of the aggravation of the gap between rich and poor. Financial regulation will not necessarily induce prosperity. The political will must be generated to ensure that increased prosperity results in a more equitable distribution of the benefits of globalisation. In order to work towards this goal, partnerships should be sought with other multilateral actors, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Development Programme, and the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
The issues described in this section fit best under the heading "economic, social and cultural rights". The primary problem that must be addressed is how the States intend to guarantee them. The absence of an over-arching framework for addressing the issues outlined necessarily produces a euphemistic and piecemeal approach. Human potential – that is, the development of human potential – requires that all persons have access to the basic conditions of that development, including access to health and education services, a living wage, etc. A serious attempt to address the problems identified should take economic, social and cultural rights as a baseline and work from there towards generating the political will from states in order to achieve them, and ensure that economic activity contributes to their realisation.
New information and communications technologies have an important role to play in modern democracies. The issue here is new forms of participation through access to information and knowledge. This is not simply a technological or trade issue, and the principal concern must not be simply how the market for communications technologies, products and services can be increased. The manner in which these technologies are accessed, applied and regulated is a fundamental issue for democracy. It underpins the radically changing nature and quality of the public sphere. Developed in a democratic and participatory manner, these technologies can contribute substantially to the enhancement of our deteriorating social capital. The question to be addressed is how States will commit to ensuring the public access to these technologies and the independent, reliable information necessary to democratic debate.
If the best interests of all the citizens of the Americas are to be respected and promoted through the Summit process, the FTAA must not be the only facet of integration that is subject to binding agreements. In fact, the FTAA itself must be subordinated to a series of over-arching societal commitments, and it must be contained within certain binding limits. Our initial proposals for some such overarching commitments are the following:
Proposals regarding the Summit of the Americas, Quebec City, April 2001:
Entire contents © 2000 Organization of American States, Office of Summit Follow-Up