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Founding principles of the United Nations

 

 

Freedom

The idea of autonomy in the human dignity is the concept of existential minimum, also referred to as social minimum or freedom from want, or the basic right to the provision of adequate living conditions. This requires access to some essential utilities, such as basic education and health services, as well as some elementary necessities, such as food, water, clothing and shelter. In addition, autonomy is the ability to make personal decisions and choices in life. 

In accordance with second recital of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “… freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people”. Additionally, both the International Covenant on Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognized in its Preamble that “… the ideal of free human beings enjoying civil and political freedom and freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his civil and political rights, as well as his economic, social and cultural rights”. 

The World Summit Outcome document considered freedom as a fundamental value in international relations in the following terms: “we reaffirm that our common fundamental values, including freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect for all human rights, respect for nature and shared responsibility, are essential to international relations”.

The Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace recognised the respect of fundamental freedoms as a part of culture of peace as follows: “a culture of peace is a set of values, attitudes, traditions and modes of behaviour and ways of life based on…: (c) Full respect for and promotion of all human rights and fundamental freedoms” and … “(i) Adherence to the principles of freedom, justice, democracy, tolerance, solidarity, cooperation, pluralism, cultural diversity, dialogue and understanding at all levels of society and among nations.

Additionally, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action recognised that “… the human person is the central subject of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and consequently should be the principal beneficiary and should participate actively in the realization of these rights and freedoms”.

As indicated by the “Human Development Report” prepared by the United Nations Development Program (hereinafter: UNDP) in 1994, in the process of establishing an international organization like the United Nations, the questions were first, how to “maintain international peace and security” and secondly, how to pursue “freedom from fear and want”. The peace of the world could be established not only through preventing war and military conflicts among sovereign states, but also by taking initiatives to “achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion”. 

When Kofi Annan launched In Freedom from Fear in 2005, the title was deliberately chosen so as to “stress the enduring relevance of the Charter of the United Nations”. The report acknowledges that there is much work that still needs to be done in order to achieve the goals set by the United Nations. In accordance with this report “larger freedom implies that men and women everywhere have the right to be governed by their own consent, under law, in a society where all individuals can, without discrimination or retribution, speak, worship and associate freely”. 

In the context of the Human Rights Council in Geneva and the third Committee of the General Assembly in New York, the notion of freedom has been traditionally elaborated in three different areas through the adoption of their respective resolutions: right of freedom of religion or belief, expression and peaceful assembly. The exercise of these fundamental freedoms should be understood in light of the interdependence and mutual reinforced linkages existing among all these rights and freedoms. 

The commonalities and mutual bonds demonstrate the high degree of intersectionality between issues concerning the right to freedom of religion or belief, expression and peaceful assembly and those covered by the other thematic areas. These freedoms intersect with a range of other rights and are integral to the improvement of other fundamental rights and freedoms. 

While international human rights law allows, with high thresholds, for certain restrictions related to the manifestation and exercise of these freedoms, any and all limitations must be the exception not the rule. Additionally, the burden of justification for such restrictions falls on those who wish to impose them, often Governments or State organs. According to international law, all limitations on these three rights or freedoms must be prescribed by law, and they must be necessary and directly related to the pursuit of a legitimate aim: the protection of public safety, order, health or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. 

These three topics - right to freedom of religion or belief, expression and peaceful assembly-, which are currently adopted by consensus by the Human Rights Council, together with a comparable resolution of the Third Committee, highlight the key concerns of the international community with regard to the promotion and protection of these freedoms and provide a useful guidance for the work of the Special Rapporteurs. The consensus-based approach guarantees the existing pluralism within the United Nations on the one hand, while promoting intercommunal harmony among different societies on the other. 
Although the ongoing consensus in the adoption of these resolutions appears fragile from time to time, these large agreements among regional groups should be seen in a positive light and nurtured. States should avoid a return to the divisive debates that undercut efforts to combat hatred, intolerance and discrimination among peoples and individuals.  

The continuing reports about the implementation of these specific rights demonstrate a wide range of misperceptions and misconceptions about the specific content of these freedoms under international law, which requires long-term investment in the promotion and advancement of literacy regarding these freedoms and rights. 

Individuals have the right to publicly manifest and exercise these freedoms, alone or together with others, in the context of the existing domestic legal framework. It is ultimately up to the individual to decide whether they wish to exercise these rights, and if so, whether these manifestations take place in private or in public. 

Equality

Equality and non-discrimination are held to be positive and negative statements of the same principle. One is treated equally when one is not discriminated against and one is discriminated against when one is not treated equally. Equality and non-discrimination are better understood as distinct norms that are in creative tension with each other than subsumed under the human rights concept.  This is founded in equal moral status and equal moral status is realized through individual human rights. As principle, it is never defined in a single and uniform fashion. 

In his dissenting opinion to the ICJ judgment in the South West African Cases, Judge Tanaka undertook to examine whether the legal principles of non-discrimination and equality, denying apartheid, can be recognized as general principles. He came to maintain the position that
“The principle of equality before the law, however, is stipulated in the list of human rights recognized by the municipal system of virtually every state no matter whether the form of government be republican or monarchical and in spite of any differences in the degree of precision of the relevant provision. This principle has become an integral part of the constitutions of most civilized countries of the world”.

The principles of ‘elementary considerations of humanity’, ‘human dignity’ and ‘equality before the law’ have considerably broadened the scope of human rights law and its link with other fields of written und unwritten international law.

The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action of 1993 recognised the concept of equality as a principle of international law in the following terms: 
“Considering the major changes taking place on the international scene and the aspirations of all the peoples for an international order based on the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, including promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all and respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, peace, democracy, justice, equality, rule of law, pluralism, development, better standards of living and solidarity”.

The Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace adopted by the UNGA in 1999 recognised the importance of equality between men and women as follows: “Actions to ensure equality between women and men…” and the non-discrimination principle in connection with education: “Ensure that children, from an early age, benefit from education on the values, attitudes, modes of behaviour and ways of life to enable them to resolve any dispute peacefully and in a spirit of respect for human dignity and of tolerance and non-discrimination”.

The World Summit Outcome document considered equality as a fundamental value in international relations in the following terms: “we reaffirm that our common fundamental values, including freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect for all human rights, respect for nature and shared responsibility, are essential to international relations” and “we are determined to establish a just and lasting peace all over the world in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Charter. We rededicate ourselves to support all efforts to uphold the sovereign equality of all States…”. 

In this area, the Human Rights Council in Geneva and the Third Committee of the General Assembly in New York has recently adopted a resolution on realization of the equal enjoyment of the right to education by every girl by which urges all States to strengthen and intensify their efforts to realize progressively the equal enjoyment of the right to education by every girl, such as by taking the necessary and appropriate measures to prioritize education in State budgets, to build education systems, and to develop laws and policies founded on the principles of equality and the rights of the child. 

Justice

The third and final element of human dignity is community values, which is related to the social dimension of dignity. It emphasizes “the role of the state and community in establishing collective goals and restrictions on individual freedoms and rights on behalf of a certain idea of good life”. The pursuit of peace through justice is one of the most important objectives to be progressively realized by States as spelled out in their national constitutions.
 
Justice is one of the most important moral and political concepts.  The word comes from the Latin jus, meaning right or law. This aspect of the concept of justice is based upon the rights and duties of the individual person. The liberal concept of justice is an interpersonal one - resolution of conflicts between individuals. 
In accordance with article 29 of the UDHR: “Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible”. Additionally, the African Charter of the Rights of Man and of Peoples states in its article 27 that every individual “shall have duties towards his family and society, the State and other legally recognized communities and the international community”. Additionally, as indicated by Mary Robinson, former High Commissioner for Human Rights, the message of article 29 is clear: the individual must work to improve human rights, whether individually or in the community or as a member of a non-governmental organizational group in its widest sense.
 
The World Summit Outcome document considered justice as a fundamental principle in international relations in the following terms: “We rededicate ourselves … to uphold resolution of disputes by peaceful means and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law”.   
The Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace included justice is part of the culture of peace: “a culture of peace is a set of values, attitudes, traditions and modes of behaviour and ways of life based on …adherence to the principles of freedom, justice, democracy, tolerance, solidarity, cooperation, pluralism, cultural diversity, dialogue and understanding at all levels of society and among nations; and fostered by an enabling national and international environment conducive to peace.”.  

The delicate balance between peace and justice laid out in the Charter had quickly been tested by the Nuremberg trials, because several issues that have proved problematic for peacemakers left unresolved during the drafting process, namely: the retroactive application of law, human rights observance as a necessary condition to enduring peace and the situation of past accountability in contemporary discussions of post-war justice.  

The post- War World II collective system had to reconcile and link two central goals: to maintain peace and security in the world and at the same time foster respect for human rights within the domestic legal system. These twin goals are described in the Preamble of the Charter, which declares that the United Nations are determined “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”, “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small”, as well as, “to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained”.

In accordance with the UNESCO transdisciplinary project entitled "Towards a culture of peace" of 1996, “Justice - there is no justice without freedom - is essential to peace-building.  Injustice lies at the very roots of conflict and without justice there can be no peace…".

In this field, the Human Rights Council, together with a comparable resolution of the Third Committee of the General Assembly in New York, has adopted in several occasions a resolution on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence by which recalled “… the report of the Secretary-General on the rule of law and transitional justice in conflict and post-conflict societies” and “emphasized  the importance of a comprehensive approach incorporating the full range of judicial and non-judicial measures, including, among others, individual prosecutions, reparations, truth-seeking, institutional reform, vetting of public employees and officials, or an appropriately conceived combination thereof … ”. 

The Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence has stressed that victim participation is important not just because of specific contributions in terms of information or insight that victims may make, but rather because their participation puts a human face on discussions about transitional justice. 

David Fernandez Puyana, PhD, LLM and MA

 


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