Item 4: The realization of economic, social and cultural rights.
Palais des Nations, GenevaFranciscans International and Dominicans for Justice and Peace continue to be concerned about the inequality of opportunities available to people of different cultures for their development and the realization of their full dignity as human beings.
The advantages or disadvantages of color, gender and place of birth exert a tremendous determining force on an individuals possibilities for personal development. At the darkest moments of human history these accidental attributes have been unconsciously and consciously twisted into malicious ideologies that damaged and destroyed many lives. Racial and gender prejudices are some of the greatest obstacles to achieving equal opportunity for the realization of economic, social and cultural rights.
Since 1999, Franciscans International and Dominicans for Justice and Peace expressed at the sessions of the Commission and Sub-Commission our concern over governments that often ignore the elimination of the girl child on the basis of her gender, by various means such as abortion and abandonment. We are also disturbed by the discrepancy in opportunity for girl children in terms of education, especially when religious and cultural reasons attempt to justify this inequality. When one half of the worlds population is systematically neglected and denied equal opportunity for personal growth, the loss to humanity is immeasurable.
The unsustainable burden of foreign debt payments on poor nations is also of concern. Efforts to repay debts and the associated accumulated interest generally force poor countries to reduce their expenditures on health and education programs and to cut employment, thereby weakening national infrastructures. Further, the worsening economy in impoverished nations promotes the flight of capital to wealthier countries.
Last year we cautiously welcomed the G7s announcement of the Cologne Debt Initiative. However, the lack of commitment of G7 member countries to their public statements and the meager relief offered the poorest people, at a time of unprecedented prosperity in the countries of the G7, is profoundly disappointing.
We continue to be alarmed at the unsupervised activities of many transnational corporations (TNCs) that have serious repercussions on the rights of people to land, housing, health and development. We point again to the world-wide increase of paramilitary services being contracted to secure, clear and guard land that is "purchased or leased" by transnational corporations. We are also concerned about the influence of TNCs in armed conflicts and their role in the subsequent imposition of sanctions.
International interests allow TNCs to function without criticism or prosecution for their human rights abuses. Through strategic marketing efforts, including the sponsorship of international sporting events and the continual focus on the high moral character of individual employees, TNCs are able to conceal deplorable human rights records from the general public.
We believe that it is the responsibility and the role of states to establish codes of conduct to protect their own people from exploitation by TNCs. At the same time, states must work together to develop an enforceable international code of conduct to deal with TNCs. In particular we urge the Sub Commission to investigate and report on the connections among TNCs, privatized security services and paramilitary groups, and their impact on the right to development.
On a more positive and constructive note, in September 1999 Franciscans International, Dominicans for Justice and Peace and the Lutheran World Federation held a seminar in Geneva entitled "Implementation of the Right to Development: Challenges and Opportunities." Its success has encouraged us to assume a more ambitious project of hosting a series of informal discussions on the right to development over the next eight months. Hopefully, this dialogue will help to defuse the polarization developed over this topic. We shall begin, in cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the series of discussions with another seminar "Right to Development: Challenges and Opportunities II" to be held in Geneva on 31 August and 1 September 2000.
At the last session of the Sub Commission we welcomed the decision to convene an International World Conference Against Racism in 2001. However, we are concerned that the preparations for the Conference are frequently caught up in disputes over important but extraneous issues that are not necessarily central to addressing the problem of racism. We believe that while this Conference must acknowledge the past, it should primarily focus on the present and future, working to create a world strategy for the struggle against racism.