Building consensus on human rights in a rapidly changing world

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We began 2017 with a forward looking discussion in the latest of our annual series of human rights roundtables. This year’s topic was The future of human rights in a multi-polar world: exploring opportunities for further engagement, recognising the continued diffusion of power and influence on a global scale. The rapidly evolving environment calls for human rights champions to take into account the priorities of both established and rising democracies. There also needs to be serious deliberation of the dangers that the potential erosion of human rights as an internationally accepted norm would pose to rights everywhere.

In order to guide discussion in a practical manner, key challenges and opportunities facing the human rights system were identified. Specific points of convergence could include:  the freedom of the internet, tackling corruption, rights based development and the role of business sectors in human rights.

Peggy Hicks, Director, Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division and Julia Purcell, Programme Director, Wilton Park

Peggy Hicks, Director, Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division and Julia Purcell, Programme Director, Wilton Park

The challenge of differing priorities that arise from a multipolar world was a theme throughout the conference. For emerging democracies, rising global inequality is a crucial issue, meaning that economic and social rights, as intertwined with development goals, are often seen as the most important on the agenda. This is in contrast with the more established democracies which often prioritise civil and political rights. The nature of the debate among diverse participants reinforced the idea that human rights norms should be shaped by a range of actors finding common ground.

Despite the threats facing the human rights agenda at present, through frank discussion, participants remained optimistic. There needs to be a new way to articulate the concept of ‘human rights’ to make it accessible and relatable for every individual. In this regard, the current distrust of political systems and the ‘establishment’ could be interpreted as an unmet thirst for political participation, which underlines future opportunities for new alliances to be built around shared human rights principles.

Rauno Merisaari, Ambassador for Human Rights and Democracy, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Finland

Raphael Naegeli, Deputy Head of Human Security Division, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Switzerland and Rauno Merisaari, Ambassador for Human Rights and Democracy, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Finland

The event built upon our extensive work on issues concerning human rights and good governance. In 2016, this included Supporting human rights defenders: challenges and opportunities, Preventing sexual violence initiative: shaping principles for global action to tackle stigma, Protecting children from violence: next steps for effective strategies, Opportunities and challenges: the intersection of faith and human rights of LGBTI+ persons, Protecting children from violence: next steps for effective strategies and Safeguarding rights in the big data revolution.

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