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21 / 09 / 2004
Jérôme Bindé, UNESCO: It is not the best of times to rewrite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Forum open debate series “141 Questions” (135): “How would the Universal Declaration of Human Rights be written today?” Jérôme Bindé, Deputy Assistant Director General for social and human sciences of Unesco expressed his disagreement with regard to rewriting the Universal Human Rights Declaration. “We live in times of threats, risks and fears. We must find the right historical moment to draft a new text.” Bindé reminded that the Universal Declaration “is a mere recommendation” and that other international instruments are in place and bind signatory states to extend the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration. He insisted, “We must enforce that which we already have,” and went on to regret “people’s short memory” for considering that our rights nowadays are fewer than those we had forty years ago while defending the UN efforts despite the fact that headlines only report on its failures. “It seems as if the eradication of smallpox was never newsworthy enough.”

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Jérôme Bindé, Deputy Assistant Director-General for social and human sciences and Director of the Division for Foresight, Philosophy and Human Sciences of Unesco, stated this evening at the Haima Stage that he was skeptical of the purported benefits of redrafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in a time of threats, risks and fears.” For Bindé the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “enshrines fundamental principles” that are also quoted by many national constitutions and therefore still have considerable influence. On the other hand, he warned that the Universal Declaration also has opponents: “Some people argue that universal rights reflect the values of the West. These people ignore that among the writers of the declaration there were secular as well as religious people from Lebanon and India, for instance.”

After reminding the audience that the Universal Declaration, unanimously adopted in 1948, "is nothing more than a recommendation", he pointed out that there are other international mechanisms that, being binding for signatory states, extend people's rights: "In the 1960s the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights were signed". Going on to explain that the first of these covenants has never been ratified by China, and that the second does not have the support of the United States, Jérôme Bindé stated that he is in favor of adding new commitments to the already existing commitments whenever this is required by global social evolution: "We have to add all of the appropriate sections. For example, those who wrote the Universal Declaration could not put forward the themes related with the environment. It is a vast area, which is however included in three Rio covenants. However, these are agreements that have very seldom been respected".

Bindé declared that the additional material that should be included in the subsequent covenants and agreements should include all the initiatives that imply "a great multiplication of judicial features": "The most successful religions are those that present very simple principles. The key lies in a clear drafting, economic wording, and, then, in the appropriate process of information and education". He highlighted that rights are useless if they are not applied and, in this sense, also pointed out the way for social mobilization so that politicians are forced to make sure that such rights are respected: "Issues such as social exclusion, the right to employment or a fair wage, are all dealt with in the Declaration's subsequent covenants. Another problem to be resolved, however, is the interpretation of the texts".

The UNESCO representative for Social and Human Sciences regretted that there are people "who have a short memory" who believe that at present there are less rights than forty years ago, when "there were a lot of dictators around and personal liberties were few and far between". He defended the UN action saying that the newspaper headlines are only interested in failure: "It's obvious that the eradication of smallpox is not newsworthy enough".