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Human rights, democracy, and prosperity - Peters


Rt Hon Winston Peters
Minister of Foreign Affairs

Speech Notes

Human rights, democracy, and prosperity
52nd Conference of the Asia Pacific
League for Freedom and Democracy
Crowne Plaza Hotel, Auckland


Thank you for the invitation to address the 52nd Conference of the Asia Pacific League for Freedom and Democracy.

The themes you are addressing are hugely important.

Today, let's focus today primarily on where international human rights fit into the architecture for democracy and prosperity.

You will well understand that it is people-to-people contacts that form the foundation of our links in the Asia-Pacific region. The importance of these relationships should never be underestimated, nor should the personal contact we make at a political level, whether it is through bilateral meetings or multilateral settings such as APEC, the Asean Regional Forum, the East Asia Summit process or the Pacific Island Forum.

An integral part of the interaction we have at all levels is the question of human rights. Running parallel to this is globalisation and the opening of markets for trade and investment, which can have a positive impact on growth, and the reduction of poverty.

With globalisation, economies are being transformed. The more open they become, the more pressure there is to promote other freedoms, good governance and the establishment of the rule of law.

With a few exceptions, such as North Korea, national isolation is increasingly rare. More and more people in today’s world are exposed to the rights enjoyed in other countries, and a greater number of countries are facing international scrutiny of their human rights records.

New Zealand’s advocacy of democracy and human rights, apart from their inherent values, has long been based on the premise that these are essential for stable and prosperous societies.

In 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Forty-five years later in 1993, 170 countries agreed by consensus at the Vienna Human Rights Conference that human rights were universal, indivisible, independent, and interrelated.

At that time, claims were made that human rights and democracy were “Western”, and not Asian or Pacific values. That criticism still exists. But it is self-serving or used to control wealth or power.

It is arrogant and unacceptable to assume that only some of the world’s citizens have a claim to the basic human rights set out in the Universal Declaration and the core human rights instruments.

Human rights are not regionally or culturally specific. They are indivisible. And they are universal.

Some may argue that civil and political rights in the developing world must be subordinated to stability and control in order to achieve development. They are wrong. Others claim that social and economic rights come before other rights. Again that is a false premise.

It is very clear in today’s world that political systems without civil rights are more likely to concentrate wealth in a few hands and to suppress cultural identity. And, history has shown that these political systems are not durable.

There are probably four imperatives that one can use in measuring performance.

The first is participation. All citizens must have the right to be engaged in their political systems, through freely chosen representatives.

The second is accountability. Governments that claim to represent their citizens must be held accountable to them as well.

The third is transparency. The processes of government need to be open to scrutiny. An independent judiciary and a free media are indispensable.

And lastly, while democracy operates on the basis of majority decisions, the rights of minorities must also be upheld. This includes taking into account different views.

New Zealand remains committed to multilateralism that works. This was a message I conveyed recently to the 61st United Nations General Assembly in New York.

There are some problems that can only be addressed effectively if the entire international community is behind the solution – whether it be global warming, poverty, terrorism, HIV/AIDS, or pandemics such as avian influenza, to name but a few.

That said, we also see a place for regional and local engagement to complement multilateralism.

Multilateralism must be made to work. It is widely accepted that the UN is a body in need of reform to meet the increasingly diverse challenges we confront as a global community. It must change and adapt if it is to remain relevant and effective.

At last year’s Summit, world leaders agreed on an ambitious reform agenda across the UN’s three pillars of development, peace and security, and human rights. While progress has been made, there is much to be done.

The consensus around the challenge of closing the poverty gap has never been higher on the international agenda. It is a goal New Zealand shares.

Never before has the global system set, and recommitted itself to, goals and timelines to address poverty in this way. While aid levels must be scaled up, we must also ensure this is matched by aid effectiveness.

This means working together in partnership to address issues such poor governance, corruption, gender inequality, and to press for fairer international trading arrangements.

Aid effectiveness will only come through a commitment on the part of all stakeholders – and that means developed and developing countries, along with international agencies – all living up to their promises.

We regard our partnerships in the Asia-Pacific region as an intrinsic part of our international linkages. The relationship has an extensive history, cultural and social dimensions.

In the Pacific, our goal is to contribute to achieving educated, healthy, well-governed, economically prosperous and safe societies. In support of this, half of New Zealand’s total aid budget is directed to the Pacific region.

In the Pacific we also seek to shape solutions to challenges within the context of United Nations norms, values and structures.

In the Auckland Declaration of 2004, Pacific Island Leaders committed to “a Pacific region that is respected for the quality of its governance, the sustainable management of its resources, the full observance of democratic values, and for its defence and promotion of human rights”.

Additionally, the Pacific's strategic relevance, in accounting for nearly one quarter of the globe, ensures that much of the world continues to seek influence in the region of one form or another. This presents further opportunities and challenges.

Our region is, of course, not immune from the impact of terrorism, the growing problem of transnational crime or the potential ravages of communicable diseases like HIV/AIDS or pandemic influenzas.

Multilateral frameworks form the cornerstone of regional endeavours – be it the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Framework Convention on Climate Change or the stringent international security and counter-terrorism obligations mandated by the United Nations.

But there is a growing realisation that regional solutions are needed for regional problems if the Pacific is to achieve long term stability and prosperity, and to play its part successfully within a complex, globalised world.

This understanding lay behind the adoption by Pacific Island Forum Leaders of the Pacific Plan for regional cooperation. The aim of the plan is to promote the four Forum goals of sustainable development, economic growth, security, and good governance.

The objective is to strengthen regional cooperation where it can most make a difference.

Our efforts in the Solomon Islands are a practical example of the region confronting conflict head-on. Regional counter-terrorism initiatives and the Asia-Pacific regional Interfaith dialogue are also playing their part.

The ASEAN Regional Forum looks set to develop a “preventive diplomacy” role – preventing conflict before it arises.

Members of the region are working together to ground peace in stable institutions and respect for human rights. New Zealand supports regional initiatives that share this goal, including the Asia-Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions, and the Pacific Judicial Development Programme.

The world has been confronted with serious political and security shocks over the past year – the outbreak of hostilities between Lebanon and Israel; the tragic and worsening situation in Darfur; and in our own region, instability in Timor-Leste.

These shocks evidence the fundamental interrelationship that exists between human rights, development and peace and security. And they have shown that the United Nations' effectiveness is often judged according to its ability to achieve these ends.

It will come as no surprise, ladies and gentlemen, that New Zealand was fully supportive of the renewed focus on human rights at last year’s World Summit. We were a proponent of the new Human Rights Council, and we worked hard to bring it into being.

We are ambitious for the Council. It has to be strong, focused and effective. It must be able to deal swiftly with emerging situations of human rights concern, in a balanced way, with scrupulous attention to the facts.

It must be aspirational as well as practical. Its working methods must be transparent and inclusive. But, above all, there must be the political will to make it work.

New Zealand did not stand for election to the Council earlier this year. That was a hard decision, given the energy we invested in setting it up. But we look forward to the opportunity to serve on it before too long.

A few weeks ago Member States, encouraged all the way by energetic NGOs, agreed on the first new comprehensive human rights instrument of the 21st Century: the Convention relating to persons with disabilities.

We are proud of the role, which New Zealand played in this negotiation from its beginning.

This Convention stands to make a real difference in the lives of the approximately 650 million of the world’s most disadvantaged citizens.

New Zealand is looking to sign up to the Convention very soon, and we look forward to its early entry into force.

But it is not all good news.

New Zealand is equally conscious of the disadvantages faced by indigenous peoples in many parts of the world.

We have engaged closely in the lengthy negotiations towards the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

We had hoped that this Declaration would be a new standard of achievement for governments, that could be implemented and that could really improve the lives of indigenous peoples.

To New Zealand’s disappointment, that was not to be. The Declaration, which emerged with less than conclusive support from the Human Right Council, is deeply flawed and represents a lost opportunity for the world’s indigenous peoples.

But, when we assess the achievements over the last year, we can be satisfied with progress we have made.

The challenge now is to make the UN mechanisms effective.

Reform has to be a long-term project, which we must embark on willingly together.

Multilateralism can only work if states proceed with full respect for and understanding of each other’s hopes, priorities and aspirations.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted that the new UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, comes from the Asia-Pacific region. He will bring a unique perspective to the UN at a time when multilateralism is being challenged.

ENDS

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