H. E. JACOB NENA
Vice President of the
Federated States of Micronesia
In the General Debate
WORLD CONFERENCE ON HUMAN RIGHTS
Vienna, Austria, 21 June 1993
Check Against Delivery
I am honored to speak to this historic Conference today, particularly
because in doing so, I am making for my country its first public statements
relating our position in regard to the international human rights system
and the fundamental rights and freedoms addressed in the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights.
The Federated States of Micronesia is a relatively new Nation, but having
had a long association with the United Nations as a Trust Territory we made
at our outset a firm commitment to pursue our social and economic development
in the context of international cooperation. Thus, United Nations membership
was one of our first priorities after self-determination was achieved, and
we proudly took our seat in this Body in October, 1991. We quickly learned,
however, that international cooperation for development is not simply a
marketplace wherein we can easily pick and choose among those issues that
bear directly on our immediate goals. We have come to appreciate how almost
every great international issue has an interrelationship with our development
goals - and in the case of human rights, the discussions here during this
conference clearly show that connection.
We are a country made up of widely-dispersed small islands, above the
Equator in the Western Pacific Ocean. Our people, who number just over a
hundred thousand, exhibit a wide variety of cultural and ethnic differences.
More than ten separate and distinct languages are spoken, with English currently
serving as our common link.
Despite the outward appearance of great differences there is one strong
force which unites us, namely, our Constitution and the democratic institutions
of government it prescribes. For centuries our diverse islands were governed
by colonial masters, but when the possibility of self- government became
real it was clear that we could only be united by forming our new nation
on the traditional democratic principles that our people long have honored
and practiced locally, and which evolved in the days when we lived our lives
with very little regard or need for what lay beyond the horizon. A basic
example is that our people have lived by the rule of consensus as long as
anyone can remember. Even with legal mechanisms in place which include voting
processes, our small nation still finds it possible in most instances to
achieve consensus on important decisions. You will appreciate then, that
this has made our transit into the UN system very comfortable.
A vital feature of our Constitution is Article IV, entitled, "Declaration
of Rights." Here, and elsewhere in the Constitution, one finds expressed
a comprehensive listing of individual rights and freedoms that is in close
conformity with international standards. But the Constitution was not written
with international standards in mind, rather, it reflects the norms of our
traditional culture. Thus, I humbly submit that our society grew up with
an appreciation of the value of individual human rights, and charged their
government to protect them, as a matter of fundamental legal obligation.
As Micronesians recently emerged from centuries of relative isolation,
it was a grim awakening for us to learn how so many of the people on Earth
never have been able to exercise the individual rights that we take for
granted. We have seen war firsthand, and we have endured domination by foreign
powers, but the impulse that would subject so many millions to torture,
arbitrary imprisonment, and all the other offenses against human dignity
has been, until now, almost beyond our comprehension.
Looking back, a number of factors may have interfered with our forming
accurate and timely perceptions. During the Cold War years, we commonly
heard references to the "Free World," as contrasted with the Communist
World, which presumably, was unfree. We supposed that everyone in the Free
World must enjoy the same freedoms we did - a supposition we now know was
sadly inaccurate. We supposed that every man, woman and child in the Communist
world lived in the darkness of oppression. We certainly would have thought
that the fall of Communism would have quickly brought about a Nirvana of
human rights. Instead, today the picture seems, if anything, darker than
ever and in this hall we can almost hear the cries of women and children,
victims of a process grotesquely called "cleansing."
Throughout the times to which I just referred, the very process that
has brought us to Vienna was underway. But the splendid work done by so
many in the cause of human rights during that period was somehow overshadowed
by public utterances from governments everywhere professing love and respect
for human sights. In fact, I doubt that I ever heard a government official
denounce human rights. Now, however, we are saddened every day by some new
aspect of the reality that what governments say, often is not what they
do in observing and protecting the fundamental rights of those who are subject
to their power.
It is to be regretted that in convening here during these days of 1993,
almost a half century after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this
conference cannot be a historic occasion to celebrate worldwide acceptance
of and adherence to the fundamental rights of humankind. Instead, this Conference
is at grave risk of making history of a different kind - of becoming a tragic
and historic failure, if the nations of the World coming together in such
numbers to focus on one subject, in the end can do little more than congratulate
ourselves on the past accomplishments. What I fear, Mr. President, is that
lacking the resolve or the ingenuity to implement more effective approaches
to problems that are unquestionably growing, this Conference will be remembered
as a giant paintbrush with which a World helpless to do more simply painted
over the agonies of growing numbers of the suffering with a review of achievements
to date, and then applied a second coat of resolve to continue old methods
Before passing on, let me add that I fully realize it would be inappropriate
on my part if, speaking for a new and previously uninvolved Member, appeared
with these remarks to be disparaging the fine record of past achievements.
Worse, I would be disrespectful to the memory of so many who have given
their very lives in this cause. That is, of course, not my intention at
all. But I am confident that those very heroes would be among the first
to say, "Let us look into the past only for what we can learn from
it. The job is not yet done, and our enemy grows stronger."
We seem to have reached a point where it is painfully obvious that if
the UN Charter is to have continued relevance to individuals living on this
planet, something must be done differently. Even so, this Delegation has
watched sadly during the past days here as the debate seems to have reflected
an increasing, rather than a decreasing polarization of views along familiar
North/South lines. And yet, from our viewpoint as a new entrant, there is
a basic validity to what both sides are saying. Permit me a few moments
Underlying most of the observations of developing countries is a fear
of exposing our most precious hope - the securing of a decent, sustainable
lifestyle for our peoples - to a judgmental process established and enforced
by others who do not share that hope in the same way and who are driven
by priorities based on different backgrounds. The scope of many situations
of human rights violations today is so great, and the level of frustration
so high within the United Nations that developing countries fear the search
for effective measures could go too far and lead to actions that themselves
violate one or more human rights principles or interconnected principles
of democracy or sovereignty. Not only are many such actions far more costly
than can be afforded, but also we know from lessons of history that, "the
end justifies the means" can never serve as a fitting basis for national
or international action.
Were the strong to become empowered in the name of moral imperative to
carry out unregulated interventions upon the social and economic development
of the needy, this obviously would be a very corrosive agent within the
UN system. But I speak of extreme perceptions on both sides. Ways must be
found to balance these considerations. At the risk of being naive, I dare
to hope that ways can be found at this Conference to engage The spirit of
international consensus enshrined in the Charter, to which we are all committed,
and build upon the undisputable elements recognized by both developed and
the developing world - to recognize and embrace our common ground, rather
than shrinking from it out of mistrust.
Many speakers here have pointed out correctly that the Right to Development
is a critical human right in itself, and that by enabling the underdeveloped
to pursue that right with necessary assistance, living conditions and educational
levels can be established wherein human rights and fundamental freedoms
are more likely to flourish. This should not be dismissed as a form of conditionality
on human rights. It is an important and perfectly valid component of our
complex effort to deal with the problem.
But neither is the Right to Development a sine qua non that supercedes
all other considerations. Would anyone seriously defend ethnic cleansing
were it to be advanced on the basis of a right to develop? Still, great
care must be taken in approaching the placement of conditionalities on development
assistance tied to someone's idea of compliance with human rights requirements.
While extreme human rights atrocities make this approach very tempting,
all too often such conditionalities only penalize those in need.
The other danger inherent in any over-empowerment of authority at a super-
national level is that international human rights standards must respect
the rights of countries and peoples to improve their human rights conditions
at a pace appropriate to them, in line with their own values, social environment
and cultural traditions. Obnoxious as this sounds to well-meaning people
who are evangelistic in their beliefs regarding human rights, there is nevertheless
a legitimate place for this principle, properly defined, if we have any
hope of truly attaining and maintaining international consensus on what
we all came here to discuss.
Again, this point cannot be a shield for atrocious conduct, but it must
also be recognized that the goal of universal adherence to the principles
of the Declaration and acceptance of the obligations of the Covenants and
related treaties will never be reached if the system operates without sensitivity
to the sovereign rights of all parties. This is not said to disagree with
our esteemed Secretary-General, Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali where he commented
on the limits of sovereignty. In fact, I believe it is consistent with the
basic thought that, up to a point, even on the subject of universal human
rights, progress is best maintained through an approach of open-minded discussion.
I hope that the context of my remarks up to this point establishes a
receptive framework for what I will now say regarding the position of the
Federated States of Micronesia. First, we align ourselves with the Bangkok
Declaration, particularly as to the Right to Development and inclusion of
a country's background and culture among the considerations to be taken
into account in its human rights advancement. We feel that these are essential
and workable concepts which should not be shouted down as amounting to shields
for repression. They need not be.
Second, were this Conference to leave in question the universality of
human rights, we would all have come here in vain. We support a strong and
unconditional expression in that regard, along with new resolves to give
meaning and definition to the concept.
I might add that we do not regard the application of this principle as
inconsistent with the Bangkok declaration.
Third, we call for a concentration of effort to gain universal accession
to existing human rights instruments. For our part, we recently became party
to our first such undertaking, the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Anyone familiar with our island cultures knows the special concern which
we keep for children, and so we thought appropriate to make this undertaking
our first among the human rights instruments. We hope soon to complete an
examination of others, particularly, the two Covenants, with a view to freely
undertaking the obligations thereunder.
I would like to mention our pleasure at hearing the strong commitment
expressed by our partner in Free Association, the United States, to the
cause of the rights of women and their protection against discrimination
and abuse. We fully support the measures called for by the distinguished
Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, and will be giving these matters
our own priority attention.
Fourth, as a nation comprised wholly of indigenous people, we hereby
state our solidarity with all the indigenous peoples of the World, and particularly
with those subjected to any form of discrimination or maltreatment within
their homelands. We hope that the draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous
People will emerge during the International Year. The recognition of this
cause by the United Nations is most welcome, and it will have our support
now and in the future.
Fifth, we recognize the sensitivities surrounding the United States'
proposal for the establishment of a High Commissioner for Human Rights.
To many of our colleagues in the developing world this proposal embodies
and crystallizes all the fears of uncontrolled and unwarranted interference
to which I made reference earlier. Nevertheless, in principle, with proper
protection against excesses, we approach it with open mind recalling the
flood of extreme situations in our world today that simply must be addressed
in some way other than business as usual.
Whether or not the idea of a High Commissioner finds ultimate acceptance,
other ideas as well must be seriously considered, such as the establishment
of a permanent International Human Rights Tribunal. The independent and
juridical character of such a body should place it above the concerns regarding
political intervention while denying human rights criminals any refuge from
appropriately defined international responsibility.
Sixth, without question, existing human rights mechanisms must be strengthened.
Parties must work together to make treaty monitoring and fact-finding bodies
more effective and increased funding must be applied. We have been shocked
to learn that less than one percent of the United Nations budget is expended
for human rights activities. Reporting and information dissemination probably
will always be the most effective basic tool in discouraging those who would
violate the rights of individuals because they, like all enemies of society,
fear most the light of day.
Perhaps the most pressing example of need for immediate increase in funding
is the Center for Human Rights, who are to be highly commended for their
service to humankind under the most difficult and limiting circumstances.
This need cannot be neglected any longer.
Finally, Mr. President, we agree with those who see a need to integrate
more fully into the entire human rights process the participation of non-
governmental organizations and private parties. Any form of exclusion from
the United Nations' effort to advance human rights is simply wrong, deprives
us of rich sources of ideas and support and only serves the interests of
those who are against us.
In closing, my delegation expresses warm thanks to the Government and
people of Austria for hosting this Conference, for the excellent facilities
and arrangements, and for the many special courtesies extended to us throughout
our stay. The beautiful city of Vienna is a living shrine to the harmony
and enrichment of the human spirit, and thus, the work of this Conference
can only be inspired by our presence here.
Thank you, Mr. President.