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Declaration on the Right to Peace: Opening Statement
February 19, 2013

Opening Statement

Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group
on a Draft United Nations Declaration on the Right to Peace,
first session (18-21 February 2013)

February 18, 2013

Thank you Mr. Chairperson.

We appreciate this opportunity to provide further views both on the establishment and work of this Inter-Governmental Working Group and on its subject, the possibility of elaborating a Declaration on a “right to peace.”  As most of you know, the United States voted against the establishment of this working group.  I’d like to explain several of the reasons why:

First, we do not recognize the existence of a “right” to peace.  The United States is deeply concerned whenever conflict erupts.  We work assiduously in our diplomacy at the Security Council and bilaterally to resolve conflicts or prevent them before they can erupt, and we believe human rights and peace are closely related.  Indeed, in the words of the UDHR, “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”   But the proposed “right” is neither recognized nor defined.

Second, our concern isn’t solely that the “right” to peace is unrecognized right now.  Our concern is also with efforts to create such a right.   We are worried that such efforts not only would be unproductive, but could do serious damage.  As we will explain in more detail over the coming days, in many cases, the issues that the draft Declaration purports to address are already addressed in other, more appropriate forums, some under the Human Rights Council, and some not.  By way of example of issues that are addressed outside the Council, arms control issues are, for instance, already being addressed at the Conference on Disarmament and in the Arms Trade Treaty talks.  Peacekeeping is more appropriately addressed at the Security Council.  “Peace education” is already addressed by UNESCO.   And with respect to issues already under discussion in the Council, we would point out, for instance, that the draft Declaration has a provision on the right to development, which is the subject of its own HRC Working Group.  We see a real risk that discussions on a “right” to peace could duplicate if not undermine these different existing processes.

Third, we have a fundamental concern with some of the ideas that have long been connected with discussions on the “right to peace.”  Among them, the draft Declaration asserts that the right to peace is held by “peoples,” when the UDHR and other foundational documents accord human rights to individuals, not groups or nations.  Further the draft Declaration sometimes appears to suggest that the “right to peace” includes and subsumes a range of existing human rights, some of which are universally recognized and are not subsets of the right to peace and others of which do not exist and add little value to the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights that are foundational to the humanity and  dignity of each person  By way of example, the draft Declaration  includes the “right to live in a world free of weapons of mass destruction,” Article 3(3), “the right to have the resources freed by disarmament allocated to … the fair redistribution of natural wealth,” Article 3(5), the “the right to the elimination of obstacles to the realization of the right to development such as the servicing of unjust or unsustainable foreign debt burden and their conditionalities, or the maintenance of an unfair international economic order,” Article 9(3).   While some of these may be important national objectives, defining them as rights — which an individual may assert against a State and for which he or she may seek a remedy for violations — wholly inconsistent with and may risk eroding the international framework of universal human rights guaranteed to individuals.

Additionally the Declaration appears to envision roles for different UN entities that may be inconsistent with the arrangements set out in the UN Charter.

We would also like to take the opportunity to say a word about this Working Group.  While we are participating in the Working Group to explain our views on this issue, and appreciate the Chairperson’s efforts to bring everyone to the table and willingness to listen to all perspectives, our presence here should not be mistaken for agreement to negotiate a Declaration on the Right to Peace.  We have listened with interest to what the Chairperson has said on this subject and are pleased that he does not wish the next three days to be a negotiation, either.  Indeed, I want to be clear that we are not prepared to engage in such negotiations.

That said, we would offer the following brief preview of positions that we may take later this week:

As noted above, there are a number of issues addressed by the draft Declaration that are properly addressed in other forums.  These issues include disarmament and peacekeeping and refugees and migration.  There are also a number of issues addressed by the draft that are already under discussion in the Human Rights Council – and indeed in many cases are due for further discussion either in the coming weeks at HRC22 or later this year.  Included in that category are the right to development and the environment.  Finally, there are also issues where certain aspects of the issue are under discussion at the international level, including at the HRC, while other aspects are more appropriate for domestic regulation.  And I would put PMSCs in that category.  None of these are suitable for discussion in this Working Group.

On the other hand, we do agree with those delegations that argue that the promotion and protection of existing human rights can make a profound contribution to peace.  For instance, protecting the right to freedom of expression can make a society more stable.  As former Secretary of State Clinton has said, “[e]ach time a reporter is silenced, or an activist is threatened, it doesn’t strengthen a government, it weakens a nation.”  But we don’t think the right answer here is to draft a new Declaration that seeks to convert peace from a fundamental objective of our country and of the UN into a new human right.  Rather, recognizing the links between the promotion and protection of human rights, on the one hand, and peace, on the other, we should instead all strive to ensure our own respect for our human rights obligations and seek to learn from each other on how to strengthen that link between respecting those obligations and peace.