Monday, December 17, 2012

The UN and Property Rights

by Bill Bryant, President
Oklahoma City Chapter
United Nations Association of the USA

A small minority of our neighbors has waged an intense battle against the efforts of the United Nations to support the sustainable development of our planet. In particular, they have keyed their criticism on the UN's Agenda 21 initiative.

The Anti-UN Crowd has been small but vocal. Their opinions seem to be inflamed by a dysphoric vision of the UN as a tyrannical superpower bent on world domination. They see a monster where none exists.

Sadly and incredibly, as we have seen, they have been able to influence policy makers at the state and local level. The latest example is an Alabama law that received unanimous approval in the 2012 session of the Alabama legislature. Gov. Bentley signed the law last June.

The premise of the Alabama law is an unfounded assumption that Agenda 21 is designed to limit or destroy property rights and to take away the due process rights that all of us enjoy. You can read more about the Alabama law here.

I don't know where this assumption comes from. The United Nations was founded upon the stated goal of reaffirming faith in fundamental human rights, of promoting social progress, and achieving "better standards of life in larger freedom."

The issue of property rights has been addressed repeatedly by the United Nations. There is a long-standing historical context for the UN's commitment to protect the fundamental right of people to own and use property.

The historical context for this commitment has three chapters.

Chapter One is the world's common experience of the brutal suppression of human rights by the Axis Powers in World War Two. You know about the history of this era. The confiscation of property by the Nazis is well-documented. For example, you can refer to this book: "Robbing the Jews: The Confiscation of Jewish Property in the Holocaust, 1933–1945," by Martin Dean. See a synopsis here.

At the conclusion of the war, after the signing of the UN Charter, the member states of the United Nations drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Universal Declaration was the thoughtful and deliberate reaction of the nations of the world to the "barbarous acts" of the Second World War which, in the words of the Declaration, "have outraged the conscience of mankind."

Among the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is this one:

"Article 17.
" (1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with   others.
" (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property."

This Declaration by the United Nations has been constantly remembered and referred to in subsequent UN documents (even in the Agenda 21 report).

Chapter Two is the history of de-colonization that occurred in the years immediately after the founding of the United Nations. One of the common issues for many newly-independent nations was how to deal with the legacy of property confiscation by the colonial powers.

Within this context, it is easy to understand how UN member states and UN agencies have remained focused on the importance of property rights -- because so many UN nations have suffered from the effects of past abuses. This is a topic that we in Oklahoma can relate to, particularly with regard to the property rights of Native American people. (Think of Angie Debo's celebrated book, "And Still the Waters Run").

Chapter Three is the UN's more recent concern for the development of poor nations -- an effort that has focused particularly on the empowerment of women and families. In this regard, experts in economic development have noted that property rights have an important relationship to poverty reduction. For example, a 2009 paper published by the UN's Department of Economic & Social Affairs has this statement:

"Property rights do play a fundamental role, not only in increasing economic productivity, but also in raising the social standing and dignity of those who have them. Strengthening the property rights of poor people can therefore make important contributions to poverty reduction. Not surprisingly, the Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor recommended property rights as the second pillar of legal empowerment, after access to justice and the rule of law."

(Source: DESA Working Paper No. 91, "Property Rights for Poverty Reduction?" by Ruth Meinzen-Dick)

All of this serves to illustrate that the United Nations has a strong historical commitment to the protection of individual property rights. This commitment is not in any way diminished by the UN's goals related to sustainable development.

The 2013 session of the Oklahoma Legislature will convene next month. We anticipate that an Anti-UN measure will be filed like the one that passed in Alabama. We'll know more in the next 3 - 4 weeks.

We're prepared for a vigorous debate. In the meantime, please consider joining our advocacy group, the Jeane Kirkpatrick Society, and you'll be among the first to be notified when action is required.


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