Statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the Bali Democracy Forum

7 November 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen

I convey greetings and good wishes of Ban Ki Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations.

It gives me great pleasure to join you at this stimulating regional and global forum and I sincerely thank the Government of Indonesia for inviting me to attend. While still young, the Bali Democracy Forum is emerging as an important platform for the promotion of good governance, the rule of law and human rights, and is particularly relevant at this time when a new wave of democratic aspiration and change is sweeping different parts of the world.

When we talk of democratic global governance, we often focus on the challenges and flaws of our existing intergovernmental mechanisms, be they of the UN or the international financial system. Increasingly these institutions are challenged on their representativeness, transparency and responsiveness to a fast-changing world. But what happens in the conference halls of the UN or the Bretton Woods institutions belies a much broader phenomenon of global governance, in which networks of national governments, international organisations and civil society at large increasingly influence world politics.
Over the past decade, we have seen broad coalitions of civil society, UN agencies and like-minded governments reframe debates on international trade policy or environmental goals. In the human rights field, these networks have encouraged states to create new international instruments – for instance human rights treaties – or institutions such as the world’s first permanent international criminal court.

The Human Rights Council, now in its sixth year of development, is illustrative of this trend. One of the features of the institution building process for the Human Rights Council has been the steady expansion of space and opportunities for independent national human rights institutions and civil society to engage and influence the proceedings. Most of the positive initiatives taken by the Human Rights Council result from the dynamic interaction of member states, civil society and the UN human rights mechanisms, such as the Special Rapporteurs.

A human rights based approach to governance and public policy making calls for equality and non-discriminaton, transparency and accountability, participation and empowerment. I have heard several references to “home grown” democracy. For this to happen there must be full participation of civil society together with tolerance for dissent. “Nothing about us, without us” has become more than a catch-cry of our times: it demands consultation and participation as essential elements of good governance and policy making.

A critical test for this approach will be the elaboration of the new Sustainable Development Goals and the post-2015 development agenda. I congratulate His Excellency President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on his appointment as a co-chair of the high level panel of eminent persons that will elaborate the vision and principles that will guide this agenda, and I look forward to supporting his leadership. This is a historic opportunity to frame the development agenda in a people-centred way, that uses the human rights framework in defining indicators and goals and enhances the accountability of state institutions to the people they serve. This has been the demand that has echoed in the streets over the past year from Tahrir Square in Cairo to Zucotti Park in New York, as people demand justice, dignity and an end to corruption.

Obviously, when we talk about participation, some groups of society merit specific attention and inclusion. In this regard, empowerment of groups which have been excluded or marginalised, such as women, ethnic minorities and indigenous people and sexual minorities and their full participation in decision making processes are fundamental for the achievement of equality, development and peace.

Ladies and Gentlemen
Regional organisations can also provide even more effective and relevant platforms for bringing stakeholders together to complement national and international governance structures. The Bali Democracy Forum has created such a platform, which would be further strengthened by establishing formats for meaningful consultation with civil society. I commend the efforts ASEAN is making to foster a community in this dynamic Southeast Asia region, including through the strengthening of democracy, the enhancement of good governance and the rule of law and the promotion and protection human rights, as enshrined in the ASEAN Charter. Indeed, in the human rights field, ASEAN has taken a step forward with the creation of the Asia-Pacific region’s first regional human rights mechanisms, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and the ASEAN Commission on Women and Children. Shortly ASEAN Foreign Ministers will be considering for adoption an ASEAN Human Rights Declaration which should aspire to be a landmark expression of human rights consciousness and commitments for the region.

Last year, I had the pleasure of meeting with AICHR members here in Bali, and a parallel gathering of national institutions and civil society organisations from across the region. I encouraged AICHR not to react defensively to civil society partners, but to open the doors and harness their energy and contributions. This has been the key to success for similar mechanisms in all other regions of the world.

I remain concerned, therefore, when I hear continued frustration from civil society partners about a lack of transparency and willingness by AICHR to engage with them in taking forward the human rights agenda. This has been particularly the case with the new draft ASEAN human rights declaration, which has still not been published formally in its entirety for comments and reaction. This is not the hallmark of the democratic global governance to which ASEAN aspires, and it will only serve to undermine the respect and ownership that such an important declaration deserves.

The balancing of human rights with individual duties is not a part of international human rights law, misrepresents the positive dynamic between rights and duties and should not be included in a human rights instrument. Similarly, restrictions on rights should not be applied through a blanket clause or in the name of regional or national particularities, but rather should be attached to specific rights and not go beyond the narrow and well defined restrictions enshrined in international law. I urge the Governments of the region to take more time to develop a draft Declaration that fully conforms with international human rights standards and is framed with the participation of all key stakeholders..

Democratic global governance can also be undermined at the national level, by measures that restrict and even punish freedom of expression, the right to receive and impart information, the right to peaceful assembly and the right to freedom of association. The expansion of democratic global governance has been greatly facilitated in recent years by the proliferation of new technologies of communication which are deeply transforming the world in which we live. This new media and information revolution has opened a large space for transnational actors to increasingly play a role, especially through civil society, in global decision making.

This region has reaped many of the benefits of this revolution for its strong economic and social development. But I am concerned when I see these freedoms limited in the political sphere, with the retention or introduction of repressive laws to control freedom of expression on the internet, or the use of criminal defamation and incitement laws to silence critics of governments and public policy. Equally serious are reports of reprisals against human rights defenders for their cooperation or engagement with the international human rights mechanism, a concern which is now the focus of a regular report by the Secretary-General. Repressive laws and policies and attacks of this kind thwart and set back the democratic gains we hope to achieve in governance at the regional and international level.

Ladies and Gentlemen

The democratic global governance to which we aspire is one that listens to and responds to the people at all levels. As intergovernmental processes open themselves up to popular scrutiny and participation, popular expectations are also growing for them to act in responsive and responsible ways. In a terrible situation like Syria, where intergovernmental institutions like the Security Council lack transparency and accountability and fail to deliver the protection response demanded by their public, their integrity and legitimacy will increasingly be called into question. So too must regional organisations like ASEAN and the OIC find new approaches for preventing and acting upon violations within their own spheres of influence, such as the current protection crisis in the Rakhine state of Myanmar.

These are challenging times for the international agenda and the system of global governance we have evolved in past decades. But these are also times of incredible opportunity for innovation and reform. I am convinced that using human rights principles as a compass will help in our efforts to improve global governance, and in turn advance the human rights agenda and right to development. I commend the Indonesian Government and the Bali Democracy Forum in creating an important platform for these critical debates of our time.

Thank you.