Proceedings of the scientific committee's meeting of May 2014

1. Introductory statement

The meeting started with an address by Mr. Driss El Yazami, Chairman of the National Human Rights Council (Morocco), who highlighted some milestones in the twenty-year period between the Vienna Conference (1993) and that of Brasilia (2013). He put particular emphasis on the fact that the development of human rights globally occurred at several levels: 1) the desire to universalize these rights led to a rapid expansion of the international standard; 2) the United Nations well reflected this momentum through the development and adoption of new human rights standards; 3) national bodies, regional institutions and coordination networks proliferated; 4) new issues and challenges emerged, which the next world forums to be held in Morocco, Argentina and Colombia should deal with.

Mr. Driss El Yazami particularly stressed that by hosting the second World Forum on Human Rights, Morocco reiterates its willingness to contribute to the universalization and entrenchment of human rights in a region situated at a crossroads of continents (Africa and Europe) and cultures.

The second keynote address was delivered by Ms. Patricia Barcelos, Executive Secretary of the Human Rights Secretariat of the Presidency of the Republic of Brazil, in which she gave an overview of the Brazilian experience. She provided some general data on the first Forum that took four months of preparation, was attended by 14,000 participants from 64 countries, and mobilized 2000 persons locally as well as 700 Brazilian and foreign organizations.

She also described the manner of organizing the Forum into three main themes, each of which was the subject of three debates:

  1. Human rights as the peoples’ struggle flag;
  2. The universalization of human rights in a context of vulnerabilities;
  3. The transversality of human rights.

Ms. Patricia Barcelos put emphasis on two elements that contributed to the success of the Brasilia Forum: 1) mobilization, with the establishment of a dedicated committee that raised awareness among more than 700 organizations working in the field of human rights protection and promotion. This committee acted in close collaboration with embassies and the Foreign Affairs Ministry; 2) communication, whose strategy first targeted different groups as well as major human rights networks and social media.

The Forum’s organization took four months of preparation and featured, in addition to thematic conferences, over 400 activities self-organized by civil society organizations, a book fair and a large exhibition of solidarity economy.

Ms. Patricia Barcelos said that the keywords and paradigms of the Brazilian experience were democratic and participatory approach, integration, inclusion of the majority of civil society forces, and an egalitarian conception to involve as many stakeholders as possible. She also noted that the Forum should be designed as an evolutionary and perfectible process and not as a closed event. She expressed her willingness to work with Moroccan counterparts for the success of the second Forum in Marrakesh.

The third keynote address was made by Ms. Rabea Naciri, member of the National Human Rights Council (Morocco), who shed light on some of the issues that have been the focus of discussions among human rights researchers and advocates. She first noted the questioning/dilemma of the human rights issue since the 1948 Declaration: should we constantly strive to gain new rights in light of changes taking place in post-industrial societies or should we work for better effectiveness and consolidation of the rights acquired?

Ms. Rabea Naciri said that major mutations in modern and post-industrial societies impose new challenges that human rights thinking must address. This is particularly the case of the following issues:

  • Economic globalization and the emergence of the rule of giant transnational corporations that have dismantled the old socioeconomic balances built as part of the classical nation-state framework. Indeed, the movement of capital, goods and information conveys socioeconomic imbalances between different regions of the world, and sometimes within the same territory. Such shifts are often a source of frustration, violence and human mobility illustrated by the economic migration phenomena.
  • The developments in biology, medicine and especially in the field of assisted reproduction pose new problems in terms of bioethics. Also, the ongoing revolution in information and communication technologies has put humanity in network and raises the issue of the right to privacy and to its protection.
  • The demographic transition seen in some parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America, in the wake of Western Europe, North America and Japan, somehow universalizes social issues relating to aging populations, the rights of the elderly and the accommodations that contemporary societies must invent to manage, in dignity and equality, this profound social and anthropological mutation.

Concerning the themes likely to be analyzed and debated at the Marrakesh Forum, Ms. Rabea Naciri outlined a series of topics relating to both the theoretical issues of human rights thinking as well as the socioeconomic and cultural challenges of the modern world (see List of proposed topics).

2. Debate

After the three opening speeches, the participants (see the list of participants) engaged in a rich and deep debate on the following three points:

  • The concept of the World Forum on Human Rights: its necessity and its goals.
  • The Forum’s organization and methodology.
  • The theme of the Forum.

2.1 The concept of the World Forum on Human Rights

At the opening of the debate, some participants questioned the very concept of a World Forum of generic and general nature. Is the need for such a mode of organization and action justified, given the existence of thematic forums focused on specific human rights issues? What added value would it provide in comparison with social forums? Would it be an appropriate framework for advancing the cause of human rights (their universality, indivisibility and effectiveness)?

The answers to these questions raised by Mr. Mohamed Mokhtar Trifi, Honorary President of the Tunisian League for Human Rights, were diverse but all affirmed the need and usefulness of a “World Forum” for the universalization of human rights embodied in people’s realities and experiences. In the opinion of Mr. Abdelbasset Ben Hassan, President of the Arab Institute for Human Rights, the concept of “Forum” is effective, in the sense that, unlike other formulas, it provides an approach that does not dilute human rights. Rather, the concept of a global forum offers a unique opportunity to take stock of the current situation, measure progress and achievements in the field of human rights and assert their universality.

This is also the argument put forward by Mr. Mohamed Mabassa Fall, representative of the International Federation for Human Rights to the African Union. After having focused on institutional delays and deficiencies affecting human rights in Sub-Saharan Africa, he stressed that holding a Forum in Marrakesh would provide an opportunity to mobilize African NGOs and Sub-Saharan networks and involve them in the acceleration of human rights’ history, of which North Africa has been the scene in recent years. The Forum must be designed, according to Mr. Mabassa Fall, as a venue where different actors come to “give and take”.

It is also this ambition to give Africa and the MENA region a role as actors and producers in the world’s largest cycle of human rights which justifies, according to Mr. Abdelkader Zraih, the organization of the second World Forum in Marrakesh in November 2014.

Mr. Ricardo Espinoza, Chief of the NGO Liaison Unit of the Office of the Director General (United Nations Office at Geneva), underscored that the concept of “Forum” is an effective tool to overcome the rigidity of international instruments and allow greater participation of civil society in order to influence the future of human rights globally.

2.2 The Forum’s organization and methodology

Participants in the debate expressed their support for the general approach and methodology behind the organization of the first Forum in Brasilia, as they were explained by Ms. Patricia Barcelos. Following the Brazilian paradigms listed and summarized by Mr. Driss El Yazami, the Forum’s organization should be based on a participatory and inclusive approach (self-organized workshops by NGOs and regional and international networks); an approach that embodies democratization in action, with an emphasis on horizontality and the integration of all stakeholders (governments, NGOs, etc.) without hierarchy. Such principles should be put into practice at all stages of the Forum: design and preparation, organization and conduct.

The Forum, while aiming at accelerating the universalization of human rights, should seek to boost the reform process taking place in the MENA region and strengthen democracy. Therefore, it is necessary to include in the program, activities with a cross regional perspective (e.g. the issue of truth, memory and history that is of concern to various regions of the world).

Participants emphasized the importance of the preparation process that needs to have a specific structure (organizing committee), sufficient time (four months in the case of the first Forum), a dedicated structure tasked with mobilization to ensure the participation of all world regions. Particular attention should be devoted to communication, particularly the one which uses internet and social media and targets groups (human rights NGOs and networks).

In addition, the program should combine the formula “thematic conferences” and “activities or workshops self-organized” by civil society or even training schools targeting the youth. It would be better to include cultural and artistic activities (book fairs, movies, shows, etc.) and activities around solidarity and fair economy.

2.3 The Forum’s themes

The discussion first focused on the possibility of choosing a generic title for the 2nd Forum of Marrakesh which would reflect a strong and memorable theme. However, in response to multiple and diverse proposals, the participants opted for an open collection of themes, in a first phase, leaving the choice of the major theme and its subtopics to the next meeting in June 2014.

Below is the list of topics proposed by participants in this first Scientific Committee meeting:

  • The process of human rights universalization.
  • Human rights universality in the context of cultural relativism and the objection of cultural specificity.
  • Democracy and human rights: convergences and contradictions.
  • Civil and political rights/economic and social rights between the declaration of principle and political exploitation.
  • Right to self-determination/right to intervene: what borders from a human rights perspective?
  • How to rethink the issue of reservations to international conventions?
  • How to articulate culture, education and human rights in contemporary societies?
  • What about human rights awareness amid contemporary theoretical breakthroughs?
  • The issue of complaint mechanisms.
  • Access to justice: a challenge for human rights.
  • Human rights: how effective?
  • The right to difference or difference of rights: Human rights and the risk of particularism.
  • Truth, history and memory in light of human rights.
  • Human rights complementarity and subsidiarity at the different levels (national, regional and international).
  • The death penalty: a challenge for human rights advocates.
  • Gender equality and non-discrimination against women: achievements and obstacles.
  • Violence against women: what protection?
  • For an evaluation of human rights mechanisms.
  • How to ensure greater participation of civil society in international human rights mechanisms?
  • Complaint mechanisms.
  • The issue of protecting human rights defenders.
  • Security and human rights.
  • Human rights and youth exclusion: education, inclusion, autonomy.
  • Economic and social rights and the challenge of sustainable development.
  • Rethinking corporate responsibility in the context of a globalized economy.
  • The immigration/poverty nexus: what approach?
  • Life protection, bioethics and human rights.
  • Information/communication and the right to privacy.