The world’s commitment towards human rights

Published : 04 Jan 2022 09:52 PM

The end of  2021 has persuaded geo-strategists  to  try and  determine as to whether different communities and countries have been  involved in good governance, participatory democracy and the upholding of human rights.. Such an effort has only created debate and divergence instead of convergence.  Many have responded by pointing out that assessments should have also taken into consideration  the multiple negative effects of the Covid pandemic, the shadow cast through racist attacks in different countries and also how climate vulnerability has affected this dimension.

There has also been the interesting revelation through the New York Times of a report that has exposed  certain aspects of the  United States Pentagon documents  which indicate that thousands of civilians were killed in ‘deeply flawed’ precision airstrikes  carried out by the US armed forces in the Middle East in Syria and Iraq during 2015.  Investigation carried out since then has shown that the number of civilian deaths had been “drastically” undercounted.  It may also be recalled that the US air campaign in the Middle East grew rapidly, according to AFP, in the final years of President Obama’s administration as the public support waned for the seemingly endless ground wars. Such misuse of weapons continued afterwards in Afghanistan- which led to numerous deaths of civilians who were not involved in terrorism but became ‘collateral damage’ The last attack on innocent civilians, mistakenly identified as terrorists -that led to more than 10 deaths in the middle of August in Kabul, as the US forces were departing from Afghanistan will hopefully will not be remembered as upholding democratic governance.

In this context, one is reminded of the transcendental issue of human rights and equalities as noted in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). It states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”  The Declaration also proclaims through denotation that human rights are “inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, color, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”  The emphasis is on non-discrimination and equality. This  “includes addressing and finding solutions for deep-rooted forms of discrimination that have affected the most vulnerable people in societies, including women and girls, indigenous peoples, people of African descent, LGBTI people, migrants and people with disabilities, among others.” According to the UN, “equality, inclusion and non-discrimination,– a human rights-based approach to development – is the best way to reduce inequalities and resume the path towards realizing the 2030 SDG Agenda.” This approach can basically be described with the phrase- leaving no-one behind.

However, despite all the so-called good intentions, declarations and statements, the osmotic effect of inequality and mal-treatment continues to exist, expand and grow. Those associated with the United Nations have highlighted that harsh reality underlines clearly that rampant poverty, pervasive inequalities and structural discrimination have now become a great global challenge.

The socio-economic strategists, associated with the United Nations, have in this context pointed out correctly that “human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights as well as the right to development and the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, are central to building a new human rights-based economy that supports better, fairer and more sustainable societies for present and future generations. A human rights-based economy should be the foundation of a new social contract”.

Recently, discussions in Geneva and New York have highlighted some basic freedoms, equality and human rights that have been affected through the erosion of values.

They are-

(a) Racism- a severe example of inequality. It is true that racism, xenophobia and related discrimination and intolerance exist in many societies. This harms not just the lives of those who endure it, but also that society as a whole.  It generates discrimination, division, distrust, intolerance, and hate. Such a situation can only be overcome through an engagement where everyone plays a more constructive role.

(b) The Pandemic affected youth generation- it is vital that we realize that Covid has been creating multidimensional after effects on the growing youth population- both in terms of financial and health related dimensions. They have to overcome the negative effects of growing inequality and poverty.

(c) Unfairness and unequal availability of vaccination- has been noted by economists as well as doctors. It has been pointed out by political leaders as well as strategists that such a course of action by certain wealthy countries- in the domain of vaccine distribution and hoarding- within the developed world is contravening international legal and human rights and also the spirit of global solidarity. In this regard it has been pointed out that only about 1 per cent of some of the African countries has been vaccinated as compared to about 70 per cent in some developed countries. The question of receiving booster doses is not even being brought within this equation. It would be pertinent at this point to draw attention to the fact that the government in Bangladesh, which believes in human rights, is trying its best to ensure vaccination for its population despite economic hardship. This has helped it to bring down drastically both Covid infections as well as deaths.

(d) Conflicts- according to the United Nations human rights have the power to tackle the root causes of conflict and crisis, by addressing grievances, eliminating inequalities and exclusion and allowing people to participate in decision-making that affect their lives. In this context it has been underlined that non-discrimination is an important instrument for preventing conflicts. We have seen how negation of human rights in the case of different ethnic minorities in different parts of the world, including Myanmar has led to confrontation and misery. We have to understand that unless inequality is stopped, it will remain a driving force in the paradigm of conflict.

(e) Child forced labor and gender exploitation- abhorrent abuse against women and girls has apparently increased in different parts of the world due to the severe consequences of the pandemic. Sociologists have suggested that more than 100 million girls have been pushed away from education into early marriage and forced to become child-mothers. In addition, it has also surfaced that in low income, impoverished countries in South Asia, Africa and Latin America, boys and girls are being subjected to the abuse of forced child labour. Many of them are also being recruited as child soldiers in armed conflicts currently raging in Africa. Many of them, after being kidnapped are being smuggled and trafficked for sexual exploitation, begging, and organs removals-terrible examples of forms of cruelty. For criminals, it is all about the money, and people are just a way to make a profit.

Such a terrible situation within the world matrix tends to remind us of the famous adage-”All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” However, we appear to have moved miles away from this dream.

As analyst Ben Phillips has stated – “Human rights has come under global assault”. In 2021, we have watched with sadness clampdowns on civil society organizations, attacks on minorities and the undermining of democratic institutions. Human rights came under attack not only from coups, from Myanmar to Sudan, but also from strong men in democracies. In this context reference has been made particularly to the dynamic in Brazil, the Philippines and 6th January attack in 2021 on the US Capitol in Washington, USA. All these only exemplified the fragility and decline of human rights worldwide- both in terms of economic as well as social rights.

It would be correct at this point to also refer to some reports being prepared by certain civil society organizations related to the growing inequality crisis and its effect on overall human rights. Civicus’s 2021 State of Civil Society report has noted how “economic inequality has become ever more marked, precarious employment is being normalized and big business has become a key source of human rights violations. Similarly, the Global Witness’s 2021 Last Line of Defence report has noted that “unaccountable corporate power” in many cases, all over the world, has become the underlying force that is affecting the rights of environmentalists who are worried about misuse of land and river bodies, including lakes and canals. In some countries politicians and others involved with governance are carrying out this culpable crime. This is also facilitating corruption on an institutional basis.

Human rights, it must be remembered, can only be protected in their fullness – civil, political, economic and social. Fittingly, the Human Rights Watch’s 2021 World Report has also noted that “A rights-based recovery means governments provide access to healthcare, protect labor rights, gender equality, and everyone’s access to housing, water and sanitation. It needs to be noted, that to a great extent, despite paucity of financial resources, this dynamic is being followed in Bangladesh. This has also included investing in public services and social protection, and strengthening progressive fiscal policies to fund programs so everyone can fulfill their right to a decent standard of living.

We all have to, in an organized manner, formulate policies- not based on politics- that can be implemented.  We have to carry this effort forward so that we can stimulate the creation of a more equal society, powerful enough to win the common battle.

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