Thursday, May 28, 2009

Human rights bear brunt of the crisis

The global crisis makes the world a different place where human rights are in the back seat. That's the main message of Amnesty International in its World Human Right Report 2009. Within the G20, supposed to take the lead in the economic recovery, many countries have a bad track record on human rights.

The world is sitting on a "powder keg of injustice, inequality and insecurity" according to an Amnesty International report issued Thursday. And the global financial crisis is only making things worse.

The impact of the crisis om human rights is the leading principle of Amnesty's State of the World's Human Rights 2009 report. Amnesty spokesperson Judith Arenas explains:

"We have to realize that the economic crisis makes the world a very different place and it's had a deep impact on human rights. The economic downturn has aggravated pre-existing human rights problems, for instance discrimination and migration."Repression of social unrest
The crisis has also created new human rights problems, according to AI. Look at the World Bank estimates that 53 million people will be thrown into poverty as a result of the crisis. In addition to that, new problems arise like repression of people who are demonstrating against their economic situation.
Amnesty International demonstration
As leaders look for ways of dealing with the world's economic problems, the London based human rights watchdog is appealing to them to rethink international financial structures, "in terms of respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights, including economic and social rights."

The Amnesty report singles out G20 countries for additional scrutiny. As the G20 takes on the mantle of world leadership, AI spokeswomen Arenas says, its members have a responsibility to protect human rights in their own countries.

Bad track record G20
"We've seen the G20 come to the international limelight as the ones who are trying to solve the economic agenda. However, what is worrying is that the G20 countries don't share a vision for human rights. A lot of human rights abuses are now occurring within the new leaders of the world. 15 of the G20 countries torture. That is an outstandingly high number."

According to the report, 78% of executions worldwide took place in G20 countries and some 74% of G20 countries were found to have detained people without charge or trial.

The new American administration also comes in for criticism, with the report calling President Obama's record on counter-terrorism "mixed". "Early promise and initial important steps to redress violations have been followed by limited action", the report says. The report did note that the US has joined the UN Human Rights Council for the first time.

Above all, says Judith Arenas, the global human rights situation must be kept in the spotlight, despite the world's preoccupation with the economic meltdown. Unless attention is given to it, there is a risk that things will continue to go wrong.

"Sudan and the conflict in Darfur has slipped off the international agenda. Somalia, we hear about the pirates but we don't hear about the people suffering in that country. Around the world, people are still thrown into prison for writing on blogs or posting things on the internet. Overall, it is a grim picture and there is an underlying human rights crisis underneath the economic crisis that is in the news."

Amnesty World Report on the Netherlands

AI is concerned about Dutch policy towards refugees and asylum seekers. It says a proposed procedure for asylum application might lead to inadequate scrutiny of requests and rejection of well-founded claims for protection.

Some refugee groups have lost their special status. Central and southern Iraqi's, who had been enjoying automatic protection, were forcibly returned to Iraq. Many face real risks of human rights violations there.

The rights organisation once more criticizes the Dutch government of detaining irregular migrants and asylum-seekers in prisons, including families with children.. Some were detained for more than a year and allegations of ill-treatment were not always investigated.

Poverty's magic bullet

Are legal rights the answer to tackling world poverty? Leading thinkers from around the world say a new approach is needed and that the rule of law is key. Two thirds of the world's population have limited or no access to legal rights. That's a staggering four billion people, according to the first global initiative to focus on the link between exclusion, poverty and the law. Many of these people do not even officially exist, never having been registered in the countries where they live. These 'nobodies' are at the bottom of the economic pile, surviving on less than a couple of euros a day.

Madeleine Albright addresses the conferenceBut is access to legal rights the magic bullet to solve the world poverty problem? A group of leading experts in foreign policy and development argue this is new territory in the fight against poverty and they feel it will have a huge impact.

This week saw the European launch of the report from the Commission on the Legal Empowerment of the Poor in The Hague. The commission's work is based on that of Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto. He argues that a crucial step in fighting world poverty is to increase poor people's legal rights - especially when it comes to property rights.

By doing this the disenfranchised poor will be able to stand up for themselves, the argument goes, take out loans against their newly owned property and lift themselves out of poverty.

Being registered and having personal legal documentation is also crucial in this - as once people legally exist they can take part in society, have redress to law, vote and engage in commercial activity. They then have citizenship, and the informal systems under which many of the world's poor live can slowly be merged with the formal legal world.

This is the crux of the argument underlying the work of the commission whose report, "Making the Law Work for Everyone," had its European launch this week.

Former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright is co-chair of the commission and she was in The Hague for the launch.

"The law can be an extremely powerful asset in fighting poverty but it has been chronically underused and that must change,"

she said. Her sentiments were echoed by former Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy at the launch.

"I'm struck by the fact that how, in some ways, very simple it is to register people and give them citizenship, except it is very low on the priorities of most governments and most aid agencies. It simply does not register as one of those items that should stand out as a key element, I don't think anyone can articulate yet how crucial that sense of involvement can be."

Madeleine Albright went on to say:

"The pervasiveness of extreme poverty is not an inevitable part of the human condition, we have the knowledge and the resources to make rapid progress if the political will is there. "Reducing poverty is not only a moral imperative, it is also an economic and security necessity. A more inclusive and broadly prosperous world will also be a more peaceful and secure world and that is a goal well worth pursuing."

The idea behind the commission's report is make the idea of legal empowerment a central theme in the debate in tackling poverty in the future.

"I don't think anyone on the commission thinks this is easy, this is a new concept,"

said Madeleine Albright.

"We now have to translate this into a series of actions,"

added Lloyd Axworthy.

The Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor was launched by a group of developed and developing countries including Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, Guatemala, Norway, Sweden, South Africa, Tanzania and the United Kingdom - it was hosted by the United Nations Development Programme, the UNDP, in New York.

The European launch of the commission's report "Making the Law Work for Everyone" was held at the Peace Palace in the Hague this week. It was organised by The Hague Academic Coalition and the City of The Hague.