Human rights not luxury for rich, U.N. report
UNITED NATIONS, June 29 (Reuters) - Human rights are
not a luxury only rich nations can afford but are crucial for
development and stimulating economic creativity in all
countries, says a U.N. report released on Thursday.
Conversely, civil and political rights are not sufficient if
people are starving and have no access to education,
proper health care and a decent way of making a living,
the Human Development Report 2000 says.
"Just as individuals have the right not to be tortured, they
have the right not to die from hunger," says the report, the
annual flagship survey of the U.N. Development Program.
For the past 11 years, the Human Development Report
has looked for new ways to measure the lives of people
using a yardstick that goes beyond economic statistics --
such as who goes to school, who has access to clean
water and who shares in economic benefits.
This year's 290-page survey focuses on the relationship
between human rights and development, and it proposes
policies to promote respect for rights and democracy, in
addition to its much-debated annual rankings of 174
DEFINITION OF RIGHTS
The report tries to square the circle between economic
and social rights and civil and political rights. It defines
basic human rights as freedom from discrimination, from
want, from fear and from threats to personal safety, as
well as freedom for personal development and decent
work without exploitation.
"Human rights are not, as has sometimes been argued, a
reward of development. Rather they are critical to
achieving it," UNDP administrator Mark Malloch-Brown
"Only with political freedoms -- the right of all men and
women to participate equally in society -- can people
genuinely take advantage of economic freedoms," he
wrote in the report.
"Only when people feel they have a stake and a voice will
they throw themselves wholeheartedly into development.
Rights make human beings better economic actors," he
But good health and good jobs are often not within a
government's ability to provide and depend on a strong
economy, which needs an engaged labor force.
"People will work because they enjoy the fruits of their
labor," the report said. "But if the rewards of their labor are
denied, they will lose their motivation."
An example of causal links between civil and political
rights and economic and social rights, according to the
report, is discrimination against women, which can cause
deprivation in nutrition and health.
CAUSE OF FEMALE MALNUTRITION
Exceptionally high levels of malnutrition among girls in
South Asia, it says, cannot be explained by any reason
other than a household's distribution of food and health
care in a patriarchal society.
Birth certificates, in many countries a prerequisite for
education and health care, are often not provided to the
poor. In Turkey, for example, the registration rate is 84
percent in the western region but only 56 percent in the
east. And fewer than half of the births in Kenya are
With military rule having ended in more than 100 countries
in the past 20 years, democracy and elections
nevertheless often sideline minorities and allow the
winners to oppress the losers, the report says.
Nor is a nominally democratic system enough to
guarantee human or social and economic rights or provide
for an independent judiciary, a free press, and the
inclusion of minorities in government, the army and
"People do not want to be passive participants, merely
casting votes in elections. "They want to have an active
part in the political decisions that shape their lives," it
In a special contribution to the report, Nigerian President
Olusegun Obasanjo writes of the "evil governance"
experienced by his country before its return to civilian rule
"A main feature of Nigerian sociopolitical life of the recent
dark years is the extent to which it spawned human rights
activism. The more tyrannical the regime got, the more
people became aware of what they were losing by way of
freedom of expression and the right to determine how they
were to be governed," he said.
The report also criticizes international trade agreements,
saying that rules have developed in a patchwork manner
separate from human rights or environmental agreements
and its negotiations are conducted in secret barring those
"who have to shoulder the burden of paying back the
But it echoed U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's
frequent skepticism of whether labor standards should be
included in future global trade agreements, saying this
was "far from likely to be a panacea for labor rights."
Instead, poorer countries would have another obstacle
used against them in their quest for trade liberalization
without rooting out abuses. The United Nations has been
trying to play a role in international trade and monetary
institutions by urging participants to conclude separate
guidelines with U.N. agencies dealing with labor,
environmental and human rights.
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