Are human rights being followed around the world?

Published : 08 Feb 2022 08:47 PM
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There has been international focus not only on the observance and violation of human rights principles but also on the culture of impunity in this regard. This has included examination of erosion of democratic norms, growing authoritarianism and alleged crackdowns on freedom of press, speech and dissent. This assessment is taking place as countries across the world continue to battle the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, causing a serious public health and economic crisis.

There has been particular attention with regard to the evolving situation in South Asia. In this context analysts appear to have overlooked what has also been happening within the United States which has grabbed world attention over the last year. In this regard one has to refer to how three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights did nothing to intervene as fellow officer Derek Chauvin pinned the Black man’s neck to the street, and held it there till he was killed in front of them. 

As one who has been involved with human rights for more than three decades, I have also looked carefully as to whether the Human Rights Watch has given any explanation with regard to deaths and injuries resulting from drone attacks that have been classified as “collateral damage''. We have seen how this has taken place with increasing intensity in Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq and Syria. Unfortunately, there has been no such clarification as yet with regard to the absence of judicial accountability in this regard. 

Analyst Sania Farooqui has referred to Bangladesh and drawn attention to aspects like- enforced disappearances, abductions, torture and extrajudicial killings by its security forces with impunity-  that have been underlined by the United States, a senior Official of the United Nations and several organizations associated with the promotion of human rights. The analyst, while also acknowledging that Bangladesh has been making economic progress has not taken into account our achieving the goals associated with the MDGs and the SDGs- in the context of education, literacy, healthcare and promoting the rights of women and girl children.

We have had a Member of the European Parliament Ivan Stefanec sending a letter to Josep Borrell, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and mentioning to him that the civil and political rights situation is deteriorating in Bangladesh. He has also asked for the EU to enforce sanctions on Bangladesh’s RAB as has been done by the USA. One would like to know whether Ivan Stefanec knows about the role played by RAB and the Bangladesh Police Force in containing the extreme right and IS efforts that were initiated in Bangladesh after the Holy Artisan incident. They managed to restore a degree of stability within Bangladesh.

One has to however agree with the world’s anxiety and concern about the evolving crisis in Afghanistan. That country is rapidly transforming into the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis. After the international military forces withdrawal in the middle of August last year, government collapse and the return of Taliban rule, the country has plunged into a severe economic crisis. There has been a meeting in the recent past in Oslo, Norway where it has surfaced that up to 23 million Afghans might experience severe famine in the winter of 2021-2022, and 8.7 million people could suffer “emergency levels of hunger”.

In that country, the Taliban rule is having a devastating impact on the lives of Afghan women, girls, journalists and human rights defenders. Heather Burr of the Human Rights Watch has drawn attention to a report which states that “the crisis for women and girls in Afghanistan is escalating with no end in sight. Taliban policies have rapidly turned many women and girls into virtual prisoners in their homes, depriving the country of one of its most precious resources, the skills and talents of the female half of the population.” Taliban authorities are also allegedly using intimidation to extract money, food, and services and gender based bias and other harmful practices.  The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, should have compared the Afghan situation pertaining to human rights with that of Bangladesh where there is effort not only with regard to parity in approach on gender requirements but also in opening its border to receive more than a million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar for humanitarian reasons.

There has also been severe criticism of India and its current governance process in terms of the human rights paradigm. Attention has been drawn to the fact that in 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has also been reduced from being a free democracy to a “partially free democracy” by global political rights and liberties US-based nonprofit Freedom House. Following this, a Sweden based V-Dem institute said, India had become an “electoral autocracy”. It has also been reported that the country has slid from No. 35 in 2006 to No. 53 today on The Economist’s list. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is reported to have also recommended that India be designated as a “country of particular concern, or CPC, for engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing and egregious religious freedom violations, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act. The media has pointed out that attacks against religious minorities are being carried out with impunity under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Hindu nationalist government.

It has also been reported by some human rights activists that Indian authorities have continued to press charges against activities of students and journalists under counter-terrorism and sedition laws. In this context an allegation has also been made that to undermine rights to privacy and freedom of expression, spyware developed and sold by Israeli company NSO group, has been used to target Indian human rights defenders, journalists, and opposition politicians.

There is however also reference to other aspects taking place in India. Some of them are human rights violations that need to be tackled by the Modi government from New Delhi. That includes harassment of journalists, including particularly those reporting from and in Kashmir and alleged custodial killings. Genocide Watch has also drawn attention to the unfortunate spectre of Hindu extremists organizing 12 events over 24 months in four Indian States, calling for genocide of Muslims, attacks on Christian minority and insurrection against the government. Such activity affects good governance and democratic traditions and need to be avoided.

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director, Human Rights Watch has also drawn attention to Nepal and has been critical of  lack of effective government leadership, inadequate and unequal access to health care in that country. There are also claims that the authorities routinely fail to investigate or prosecute killings or torture allegedly carried by security forces and that the situation of women’s and girls’ human rights continues to be alarming in the country. This needs to be looked into carefully by the government of Nepal.

Human Rights Watch has also alleged that the Pakistan government harasses human rights defenders, lawyers, and journalists for criticizing government officials and policies. Other significant human rights issues include- freedom of religion and belief and removal of law enforcement abuses. The Human Rights without Frontiers in their Report has also mentioned that 1,865 people have been charged with blasphemy laws, with a significant spike in 2020. In this context attention has also been drawn to attacks on journalists for violations of the Electronic Crimes Act, campaigns against women journalists on social media, and reported intimidation of nongovernmental organizations, including harassment and surveillance.  Sri Lanka has also come under criticism for the alleged suppression of minority Muslim and Christian communities. Concern has been expressed about the existing stance on religious clothing and the government’s order not to allow the bodies of their Covid victims to be buried- something that is part of their religious ritual.

In addition to the above it will only be correct to also refer to what is taking place in certain African countries. However, before assigning guilt for human rights abuse one need to also view the unfolding dynamic that has been generated due to the pandemic, recurring bouts of Ebola, cholera and measles; economic woes; climate change and internal conflicts. This list includes the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Northern Ethiopia, Madagascar, South Sudan and Nigeria.

Similarly, harsh economic and financial crises have plummeted Lebanon into poverty and inability to uphold human rights. This is also true of war affected Syria, Yemen and Libya.

We have to understand that over the last two years various factors have affected generation of employment, raised internal migration from rural to urban areas despite lack of facilities- affecting sustainable development. Climate change and climate variability have also induced flooding, affecting agriculture and food production. The Asia-Pacific region is also experiencing growing inequality even while registering impressive economic growth and poverty reduction. Such sharp inequalities continue to be persistent in the region, with nearly 2 in 4 people still unable to afford a healthy diet. All these elements need to be tackled not just through criticism but through cooperation. This will enable us to overcome the challenge of insecurity and inequality.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs right to information and good governance