U.N.'s Robinson: Globalization must be linked to human rights

GENEVA - Globalization can make things better for the whole world only if the rich and powerful link it tightly to respect for human rights, the United Nations rights chief said Wednesday.

''Until now, human rights have been irrelevant'' in the move to clear obstacles to trade and business, Mary Robinson, U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Robinson said she would confront global financial leaders with her message about human rights at next week's meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Prague.

Finance ministers have been unaware of the human rights commitments under international law that their own governments have made, she said.

''It was done by another arm of government as a kind of foreign policy hoping nobody would ever pin them to it,'' she said.

Robinson said that in Prague ''what I will be saying is a quite simple message really - that the international human rights norms and standards are part of the rules of the road to shape globalization and make it fairer and make it work for people.''

So far globalization has been shaped primarily by opening up markets, she said.

''The result is the globalization that we have, which is unfair and divisive and marginalizing and making it worse for vulnerable sectors of population and for least-developed countries,'' she said.

''But it's ours for the shaping.''

Robinson said there was a ''big window of opportunity'' to advance the cause of human rights because of widespread concerns that the globalization of the world's economy was leaving a lot of poorer countries and individuals behind.

There has been wide debate between rich and poor countries about whether standards of human rights should be taken into account as the world moves toward more opportunities for free trade between countries.

Some developing countries say human rights often improve along with standards of living and that rich nations are using human rights concerns as a smoke screen to keep from opening their own markets.

Robinson, a former president of Ireland, said she believed human rights should always be taken into account, and that the private sector would play an increasing role in putting pressure on nations to meet their responsibilities.

''If chief executives of corporations considering investing in a country are versed with the covenants and conventions that that country has subscribed to and talk that language, it will make a huge difference to the perception of the government of how relevant a good human rights record is to attracting investment and to their development,'' she said.

Robinson admitted that there was still a long way to go.

''We are 15 years behind the environment debate. Corporations have seen the relevance of environmental standards, of clean air, of having good environmental policies. The debate on human rights is just as relevant but only just beginning,'' she said.

''What I will be arguing is that international human rights norms and standards are deeply relevant, that they are compulsory not optional, and that the more effective we make the enforcement of that, the more we shape fairer, more equitable, more transparent, more people-centered fruits of globalization.''

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