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Press Release from the International NGO Committee on Human Rights in Trade and Investment

Geneva, August 21, 1998

Human rights as the primary objective of trade, investment, and financial policy: The human rights implications of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI)

The negative impacts of unguided economic globalisation on human rights, the environment and sustainable development, found a strong focus in this year's session of the United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.

In a resolution entitled Human rights as the primary objective of trade, investment and financial policy, adopted (by consensus) on 20 August 1998, the Sub-Commission emphasised that the realisation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms described in the international human rights instruments is the *first and most fundamental responsibility and objective of States in all areas of governance and development.*

In this context, the Sub-Commission expressed concern about the human rights implications of the MAI and particularly about the extent to which the Agreement might limit the capacity of States to take proactive steps to ensure the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by all people, creating benefits for a small privileged minority at the expense of an increasingly disenfranchised majority.

The Sub-Commission acknowledged the widespread protests by civil society against the Agreement based on concerns about its adverse effects on human rights, the environment, and sustainable development.

With these concerns in mind, the Sub-Commission urged member States of the OECD to review the draft text of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment to ensure that all its provisions are fully consistent with their human rights obligations, and to keep these obligations in mind during any future negotiations on the Agreement.

The Sub-Commission noted with concern the conclusions in both the UNCTAD Trade and Development Report 1997 and the UNDP Human Development Report 1997 indicating that unguided globalisation has contributed to increasing inequality between and within countries, and acknowledged the widespread civil society concerns about the negative impacts of current international trade, investment and financial policies, agreements and practices upon the human rights of people and communities.

Confronted by these realities, the Sub-Commission has decided to prepare a working paper on ways and means by which the primacy of human rights norms and standards could be better reflected in, and could better inform, international and regional trade, investment and financial policies, agreements and practices, and how the United Nations human rights bodies and mechanisms could play a central role in this regard. This working paper is also to include an analysis of the text of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment from a human rights perspective, and to consider ways to ensure that future negotiations on the MAI or analogous agreements or measures take place within a human rights framework.

Representatives of the Habitat International Coalition and the Lutheran World Federation, part of the International NGO Committee on Human Rights in Trade and Investment that promoted this initiative during the current meeting of the Sub-Commission, welcomed the Sub-Commission's response to these critical issues. They expressed the hope that it would contribute to the harmonisation of international trade, investment and financial regimes with existing international human rights obligations, and would ultimately lead to the establishment of an integrated international agenda in which international trade, investment and financial policies, agreements and practices would no longer undermine international obligations and standards relating to human rights, environmental protection and sustainable development. The Sub-Commission's action is also considered to be timely, as it serves to inform international deliberations preceding the resumption of negotiations on the MAI, currently scheduled for October 1998.

For more information on the enclosed UN resolution and on the work of the International NGO Committee on Human Rights in Trade and Investment please contact in Geneva, Switzerland:

Habitat International Coalition (Miloon Kothari)
Tel/Fax: 41.22.7388167

Lutheran World Federation (Peter Prove)
Tel: 41.22.7916364

The International NGO Committee on Human Rights in Trade and Investment can also be reached at:
People's Decade of Human Rights Education (Shulamith Koenig/Tara Krause)
Tel. 1.212.749.3156
Fax: 1.212.666.6325

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