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The Future of Human Rights: Part 1: Ambassador Jan Eliasson

An event organised by the LIMUN Foundation, on 28th Aug 2020.

The pannel: Birgit Van Hout, Ambassador Jan Eliasson and Dr Youssef Mahmoud.

As we enter a new decade, it is interesting to look back at last summer’s event on the Future of Human Rights organised by London International Model United Nations.

The article on this event will be divided into three parts, allowing the clearly set out the analysis and observation each speaker.

Part 1: Ambassador Jan Eliasson: Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations from 2012-2016.

The evolution of Human Rights from World War Two to today

Ambassador Jan Eliasson began the presentation by sharing his analysis of the past, we must have a certain perspective of the past in order to understand today. He explains that the period from 1930s to 1945 was the darkest period for Humanity, we saw World War Two, we saw the Holocaust, and this called for the need of a new start. It was necessary to put forward certain bases of living together. This led to the 1945 UN Conference in San Francisco, United States, to construct the UN charter. He notes that the most important thing the charter is the first three words, “we the peoples” and not we the government, and we have to understand that Human Rights have to be seen by the perspective of the people. In 1848, the Universal declaration of Human Rights come into place, it deals not only with the political civil human rights but also the economic, social, and cultural rights. This aspect is what he qualifies as crucial, as it avoid a North-South issue.

A fun fact, he has a pocket size copy of the Universal Declaration with Eleanor Roosevelt’s signature in it.

There was a whole series of agreements and conventions that were set up in the decades following the war, it was a new start for international cooperation, he adds. The most important word in the world at that time was the word “together”, countries were working together to create an international structure that would be their first line of defence. Then came the Cold War and nations were increasingly looked upon as pawns of the geopolitical chess game. He argues that during this period, the world and the United Nations loss that idea of “We the peoples”. New hopes came once again with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, marking a turning point in the evolution of peace and Human Rights.

His experience

In 2005-2006, he served as President of the United Nations General Assembly, and during that period his team and other members developed a formula that he believes is extremely important for the work of the UN. In the preamble of the document of 16th September 2005, the formula stated “there is no peace without development but there is no development without peace. There is no peace or development without the respect of Human Rights.”. This emphasis put on HR is also visible in the work of the UN. The United Nations’ objective consists in building and strengthening three core pillars: peace and security pillar, development pillar and Human Rights and rule of Law pillar. Therefore, in the document of the 16th Sept 2005, they entered a very important principle which is the responsibly of nations to protect their populations from war crimes, massacres, genocide and crimes against humanity. This principle was a of a considerable importance for Human Rights, as it puts the responsibility of those atrocities to the leaders of the nations. Ambassador Eliasson and his team had high hopes for this declaration.

Another achievement which he is proud of is something he worked on with the eight Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, after analysing the situation in Sri Lanka in 2008-09. He concluded that Human Rights violations are at the root of many conflicts, and this continual dismissal of these rights accentuated the atrocity of the conflict. Therefore, they elaborated a system that would detect when there is a Human Rights violation in order for the UN to react and promote peace. This system, he adds, was hard to get accepted and adopted into the security council. For some countries, assessing that Human Rights is the origin of conflicts was seen as unproper, but Ambassador Eliasson states that “security in today’s world is Human Rights, security is climate change, security is pandemics”.

His hope for today and the future

Today, he describes himself as “a worried optimist” of the future, his concern comes from the fact that multilateralism seems to be weakening. The United States has left several UN agreements and organisations, the Covid-19 pandemic had led countries to turn inwards and nations have not sought international cooperation. He said that there is a lack of knowledge of international law in the world, therefore there is a need to mobilise of knowledge of Human Rights Laws. These aspects should be taught in schools and be an important part of the education of younger generations. If people forget or do not know about what has already been put in place, then we have to start from scratch, which would be a huge waste of time. The rise of problems in Human Rights is due to the rise of problem with democracy and setting this statement out in such a way leads us to question the world we live in today. He believes that democracy is facing a “up-hill battle” all over the world.

Finally, Ambassador Eliasson explained that the younger generations have an important role to play today and for the future. He also states that he had four key hopes for the future of the world. First of all, he has hope in women, he believes that they are the best news for the world and that men should join and support women’s emancipation. Secondly, he has hope in the youth, older generations and politicians should work hand in hand with the youth. Thirdly, he has hope in education and knowledge, he wishes that students and other younger generations broaden their horizons and use social media as a promoter of knowledge. Finally, he has hope in international cooperation, nations must respect and believe in the norms set up by the United Nations. He wishes that counties do not depart from the initial idea of “togetherness” the UN has promoted after World War Two.

-Natalia Vasnier, BA History at King's College London-

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