World Criminal Court Needed to Advance Global Human Rights

Article excerpt

LLOYD AXWORTHY

Minister of Foreign Affairs

Establishment of a world criminal court with jurisdiction over crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity is crucial to the advancement of global human rights. A world criminal court is needed to restore the rule of law in wartorn societies, abolish the impunity too often enjoyed by war criminals, uncover the truth, administer justice in the aftermath of war, and avoid endless cycles of violence. An outmoded view of national sovereignty must not be allowed to delay establishment of the court. It is urged as one of a number of measures to advance into the 21st century the rights enshrined 50 years ago in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Prepared text for a speech delivered to the UN Commission on Human Rights, Geneva, March 30, 1998.

At this time, and in this place, it is fitting that we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by asking how we can strengthen and adapt the UN rights system in an era of unprecedented global change. It is true that the UN has developed impressive human rights credentials and tools over the last 50 years. But are these enough to meet the profound underlying changes that we face?

Human rights in a changing world

The breakdown of the old bipolar world order has created new possibilities to promote and protect human rights. Globalization has opened up borders to new ideas and information, providing opportunities to build a universal culture of human rights. Democracy has taken root in the majority of the world's states, and civil society is thriving. The conditions are there to achieve progress on human rights unimagined by those who drafted the Universal Declaration in 1948.

At the same time, human rights violations continue in many parts of the world: political dissidents are being jailed, people are being tortured, and internal conflicts are claiming innumerable civilian lives. Globalization has a dark side: transnational organized crime, terrorism, environmental pollution, hate propaganda distributed over the Internet, and growing global economic inequities.

In short, although recent years have seen impressive progress, there is still a significant gap between respect for human rights on the ground and the lofty principles set our in the Universal Declaration 50 years ago.

The human rights system at 50

I see this 50th anniversary as a defining moment that can either build on the momentum of the past few years, or stall our advance. It is not just a milestone, but also a crossroads.

At this crossroads, we should take the road that leads toward full implementation of the standards that we have set over the last 50 years. We should ensure that our words and our written agreements produce real, concrete improvements to the application of human rights standards on the ground. This is not to say that there are no more standards to be set -- but simply that implementation requires greater attention than has been accorded to date.

To meet this fundamental test of translating standards into action, Canada has planned a number of forward-looking events to mark the 50th anniversary of the UDHR. From June 22 to 24 we will sponsor, in co-operation with an NGO consortium, a conference for NGOS [non -governmental organizations] from across the globe to review progress in implementing the VDPA [Vienna Declaration and Program of Action]. Our aim is to ensure that civil society is able to provide the strongest possible input into the UN's five-year review of the CDPA.

This conference will also mark the official unveiling of a major implementation initiative that Canada has funded: a global human rights report based solely on information from UN sources, organized by country and by theme. We believe that this will be an invaluable guide for the implementation of high rights commitments, because it will place on record all UN recommendations in a more accessible form. …