Human rights and UN reform focus of students' dialogue with diplomats

24 May 2005

Human rights in the context of United Nations reform was squarely on the minds of student leaders who engaged members of the UN diplomatic community today in a unique dialogue on global issues.

During the third annual Youth Leadership Awards Summit at UN Headquarters in New York, students queried Ambassadors Gerhard Pfanzelter of Austria, Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury of Bangladesh and Abdullah M. Alsaidi of Yemen on the range of ideas being discussed to improve the international system and the United Nations, particularly human rights.

In his remarks, Ambassador Pfanzelter noted that Secretary-General Kofi Annan's report, "In Larger Freedom," outlined the major threats and challenges facing the international community. It also reiterated the idea that security was not possible without development, development could not occur without security, and that both security and development were not possible without human rights.

The Secretary-General's proposal to establish a standing Human Rights Council, therefore, was a welcome recommendation and would give human rights "the centrality that it deserves," he said.

Responding to a question about when the need to protect human rights superseded a country's national sovereignty, Ambassador Chowdhury said the current discussion was centred on the globalization of values and how this value was to be accepted in a particular society.

"Could this value be imposed? Does the international community or the United Nations have the right to impose this value on someone who is different? Now this is the big debate," he said.

For Ambassador Alsaidi, when the international community determines that there are violations of human rights in a given country, it should intervene. "But it is the Security Council, not a country by itself, no unilateral [action], no pre-emptions – it is the Security Council that must be the organ that allows for humanitarian intervention. Otherwise we will live in a state of anarchy in international relations," he said.

The meeting was organized by the Institute for Civic Leadership (ICL) – a non-governmental organization that aims to help students examine current events, develop leadership skills and create their own community service projects – and hosted by the UN Department of Public Information's Outreach Division through its UN CyberSchoolBus, a website offering lesson plans and project ideas on global issues for teachers and students from around the world.


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