Greater Cooperation Needed on Human Rights, U.N. High Commissioner Says


Washington, D.C. December 9, 1998

The United Nations and regional organizations such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights should work more closely together to advance human rights issues, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, said Wednesday.

"There is very real potential for developing and strengthening our links," she told a special session of the Inter-American Commission. She stressed the importance of moving forward not just on civil and political rights, but on economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to education and health care.

The special session was held at the Organization of American States (OAS) to commemorate the 50th anniversary of two landmark documents: the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, signed on May 2, 1948; and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed on December 10, 1948.

The president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Venezuelan jurist Carlos Ayala, said the two documents "marked the beginning of a new era for humanity, based on the universal recognition of the inherent and intangible attributes of human dignity, independent of a person’s national origin, race, creed, sex, color, religion, or economic or social condition."

In this hemisphere, Ayala said, the American Declaration laid a foundation for the defense of human rights which was instrumental in confronting dictatorships during the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. "Based on that document," he said, "the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was able to save lives, as well as the freedom and integrity of thousands of victims of the grave and systematic abuses that characterized the dicatorships."

Speaking on behalf of the Commission, Ayala called on OAS member nations to strengthen their national laws and take other steps necessary to bring individuals to justice on crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes. He also recommended that the countries take steps to open access to government files and documents, particularly those involving international crimes and grave human rights violations. Ayala also urged nations to sign and ratify the statute establishing the International Criminal Court, approved in Rome in July of this year.

In his remarks to the session, the OAS Assistant Secretary General, Ambassador Christopher R. Thomas, noted the "great progress" on human rights in the last 50 years, but said challenges remain. "As we look towards the future, there is much more work that needs to be done in order for our fellow citizens to enjoy basic liberties in conditions of justice and peace," he said.