| 13-03-2012

New Human Rights Principles launched at UN, Geneva

Heidelberg, 12 March 2012 - A ground-breaking new human rights instrument, the "Maastricht Principles on Extraterritorial Obligations of States in the area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights," has been launched at the UN in Geneva.

In order to address the challenges of globalization, States' extraterritorial human rights obligations (ETOs) - that is, the obligations towards persons outside their territories - are crucial. Nevertheless, these obligations had been marginalized until recently.

ETOs have often gone unrecognized in law, policy and practice of many States. States have tended to limit obligations to their own territory, which does justice neither to the regulatory needs of the international community nor to upholding the principle of the universality of human rights.

"The gaps in human rights protection have become more severe in the context of globalization during the past 20 years," said Rolf Künnemann, Human Rights Director at FIAN International, one of the co-sponsoring organizations of this event, along with the International Federation of Human Rights, ESCR-Net, CELS and Amnesty International.

"The recent food crises have resulted largely from the policies of international actors. Areas of concern include the human rights regulation of transnational corporations, the accountability of intergovernmental organizations, rights-based development and the implementation of human rights law in the face of investment and trade law, constructed over the past 20 years."

This reductionism to territorial obligations has led to a vacuum of human rights protection in a number of international political processes and a lack of regulations based on human rights in order to promote their protection. The situation is particularly challenging in the field of economic, social and cultural rights.

"The Maastricht ETO Principles are an important step towards closing these gaps," added Künnemann. "They provide a much needed instrument for human rights organisations, like FIAN International, and for social movements that have to face extraterritorial violations of human rights."

Two cases to illustrate the use of these Principles were presented in Geneva. Dr. Christopher Mbazira of Makarere University in Uganda presented on the Mubende case in Uganda, where peasant communities were brutally and illegally displaced to make way for a coffee plantation of a German transnational coffee grower. After 10 years, the communities are still without land and compensation.

The Aguas Argentinas case was analyzed by Gabriella Kletzel of CELS from Argentina. She showed how a bilateral investment treaty was used by a consortium of European corporations in an attempt to get Argentina sanctioned for trying to meet its obligations under the human right to water.

"In both cases the Maastricht Principles guide the way for States to prevent such situations in the future," said Künnemann. "FIAN and other civil society organisations welcome the Principles, because they provide necessary building blocks for a future based on human rights."

The Maastricht Principles had been elaborated by 44 international legal experts at a conference hosted by Maastricht University and the Commission of Jurists in September 2011, after years of extensive study.

Other panelists at the presentation included Olivier de Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Margot E. Salomon of the London School of Economics and Fons Coomans of Maastricht University. Ian Seiderman of the International Commission of Jurists chaired the event.

See also     Maastricht Principles on ETOs