Archive for the ‘Development’ Category

China Admits: Still Long Way to Go on Human Rights, But…

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

CHINA Flag -2011China’s defense of its human rights record has long centered on its success at lifting millions of people out of poverty, by providing food, clothing, housing and economic growth for Chinese citizens. They’ve always claimed these as the most relevant measurements for developing countries like itself.

This month, Wang Chen, head of the State Council Information Office, said in a speech published in the English-language China Daily on July 13, that China still has “a long way to go” before its citizens can enjoy full human rights. While admitting problems and challenges, the overall report adopts a positive tone. China plans to draft a new Human Rights Action Plan for 2012 – 2015.

While human rights criticism continues from the USA and other countries, only a retrospective look, at some future date, will be able to ascertain if some significant human rights improvements have yet occurred, or are on the horizon.

However, for now we can only try to provide perspective on what is involved in creating a society that honors ‘human rights’. While, admittedly, comparisons are always ‘risky’, five things should be noted:
1) Nobody has yet explained or provided an example of ‘development’ that does not involve some form of oppression and slavery for any society – since ancient times up until the present.
2) The Chinese have enough people to not have to enslave others outside their borders, while getting dirty and terrible work to be performed.
3) The USA was not a bastion of ‘human rights’ or ‘civil rights’ until the 1970’s, or 195 years after it began – else there would have been no need for a ‘civil/human rights movement’ to give rights to more than 50 million-plus people (African-Americans who led most of the fight for human-rights, plus all the other groups that have benefited – women, Hispanics, Asians, Jews, etc). Human rights efforts that had begun near the founding dates of the country, never gained momentum until the 1945-1965 period, but had little effect until the 1970’s.
4) Each step along the way to ‘human rights’ in the USA, even for the white majority, has been on a road that involved fights, murders, and other pitched battles. In other words, not a peaceful path with everyone holding hands and singing in harmony.
5) Even today, some human rights battles still continue in the USA.

UN Secretary General Discusses Role of UN in the New Year

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

On New Year’s Eve, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon wrote an editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald outlining what he sees as the role of the UN in the upcoming year, contending that “more is being asked of the United Nations by more people in more places.” He also highlights the need to refocus on the Millennium Development Goals, which is a blueprint of strategies for nations and civil society organizations in an effort to eliminate extreme poverty around the world.

In reflecting on the state of the world in 2011, it is important to critically think about how human rights strategies intersect with issues of poverty and development. Consider Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.” What similarities and differences do you see between the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Millennium Development Goals? Why are issues of health and poverty not discussed as human rights issues in the United States? Should they be?


United States finally backs the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Yesterday, on December 16, 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the United States is now supporting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (the Declaration). After 25 years of development, the Declaration was adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 13, 2007. At that time, 144 countries voted in favor of the Declaration, and only four countries opposed- Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.

Currently, there are more than 5,000 distinct indigenous peoples, totaling more than 370 million Indigenous persons in the world. The Declaration seeks to safeguard and promote their collective human rights and treaty rights within their respective nation-states.

The preamble of the Declaration affirms that “all doctrines, policies and practices based on or advocating superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust.” Moreover, the Declaration recognizes that “indigenous peoples have suffered from historic injustices as a result of their colonization and dispossession of their lands, territories and resources, thus preventing them from exercising, in particular, their right to development in accordance with their own needs and interests.”

Over the past three years, Australia and New Zealand have since announced their support of the Declaration. Canada announced its support of the Declaration on November 12th, 2010. While the United States is indeed the last of the opposing countries to support the rights of indigenous peoples, President Obama’s announcement is nonetheless being welcomed and applauded by the international human rights community and Native American right groups around the country.


Bachelet Appointed Head of New ‘UN Women’

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

In July, the United Nations boldly created a UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, or “UN Women” for short. This entity has been given a broad mandate to “promote gender equality, expand opportunity, and tackle discrimination around the globe.” Yesterday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed a strong leader to head the new organization; former President of Chile, Dr. Michelle Bachelet. While women’s rights advocates are critical of what they see as an insufficient budget for the organization, many are hopeful that under the leadership of Dr. Bachelet, UN Women will be better able to organize global efforts to forward women’s human rights and their crucial role in development. In a great blog in the Huffington Post, Nandini Oomman articulates the advantages of Dr. Bachelet’s qualifications and outlines three steps UN Women should take in the early stages of its work.

The Right to Food: A Debate in India

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

Despite recent years of tremendous economic growth, India is facing incredible challenges of how to address the desperate needs of its hungry and poor, as more than 421 million people live in poverty and nearly half of all children under five are underweight. Recent New York Times articles provide excellent coverage on this issue and a closer look at the life and challenges of India’s poor. While elected officials and experts agree on the need to reevaluate India’s failing social safety nets, they disagree on the roles of government and the market in hunger relief programs. The President of the ruling Indian National Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, is advocating for the creation of a constitutional right to food. But with widespread corruption in the existing food delivery systems, critics are skeptical that a constitutional right and expansion of the current system would solve the practical problems of distribution. Of course, Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly addresses the issue of hunger, stating “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food.” It will be fascinating to see how the world’s largest democracy will address perhaps the most complex issue facing our world today- the implementation of human rights ideals in a global reality of mass economic inequality.

Credit: Lynsey Addario for the NYTimes

Credit: Lynsey Addario for the NYTimes

Elections in Sudan – Cause for Concern and Hope

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

SudanOn April 13 – 15 the first multi-party elections since 1986 took place in Sudan. The results will be announced on Apr. 22 in Khartoum — preliminary reports suggest that the president incumbent of the ruling National Congress Party, Omar al-Bashir, is leading nationwide. However, two international observation missions have issued reports that the elections did not meet international standards and Sudanese observer groups reported widespread electoral rigging and political oppression. Leading human rights groups are calling on the Obama Administration to acknowledge that the presidential election will not reflect the legitimate choice of the Sudanese people. The past 20 years in Sudan have been dominated by warfare that has starkly divided the country on racial, religious, and regional grounds; displaced an estimated four million people; and killed an estimated two million people. The lack of investment during this time, particularly in South Sudan, has meant a generation lacking basic health services, education, and jobs. This weekend I attended the screening of a powerful documentary, Rebuilding Hope, that follows three “Lost Boys” – Gabriel Bol, Koor, and Garang – from the US to Sudan to find surviving family members, discover what the current situation is in South Sudan, and determine how they can help their community rebuild after devastating civil war. I recommend this film to all!

Egypt: Elections Without Democracy

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010


We learned, long ago, that elections are not a panacea indicator of ‘democracy’ because they can be staged and corrupted, but democracy without free and open elections is not a possibility. Mohammed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and an Egyptian citizen, has emerged as a potential Presidential candidate in Egypt. While a recent rally on his behalf in Egypt was allowed (reportedly because it was not expected to gather many attendees) in recent days his supporters have been harassed inside Egypt and been arrested and deported from nearby Kuwait, according to a report by Human Rights Watch. Dr. ElBaradei is reported to have more than 200,000 followers on a Facebook page. The Kuwaiti’s arrested and deported ElBaradei’s supporters because Kuwait “does not allow demonstrations in this country” – but there was no reported ‘demonstration’ only a meeting of expatriates at a local café. Kuwaiti law doesn’t allow any groups of more than 20 people to assemble without a permit. This would appear to make a social party illegal and perhaps some family gatherings. It is also a vague reminder of days in the USA, first under slave laws, and then later when Jim Crow Laws first began to made it illegal for more than five black people to gather together in any location, to be seen in public parks, or participate in representative democracy via elections.

Eradicating Disease: A Path to Human Rights and Development

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

We are on the verge of duplicating a feat only once before accomplished by humankind: the eradication of a disease by concerted and cooperative efforts. By doing this, men, women and children can live without fear of being incapacitated, and can enjoy the human ability to participate in their own self-determination – an integral part of any efforts to improve human rights. This time the disease to be eradicated is the Guinea Worm Disease which once had a reported 3.5 million cases in 20 countries in Africa and Asia in 1986. The Carter Center is spearheading efforts to eradicate Guinea Worm Disease and former President, Jimmy Carter, and his wife Rosalynn, have reported that only 2,753 cases of the disease remain in Sudan. This is down from 118,578 cases in 1996. Cases, overall, in all nations have been reduced by 99%. Smallpox, the only other disease eradicated by a concerted effort, was eliminated more than 20 years ago in a campaign orchestrated by the United Nations.

Earthquake in Haiti: Natural Disaster and Manmade Devastation

Monday, January 18th, 2010

HaitiMy thoughts and prayers are with the millions of people impacted by the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on Tuesday January 13. Print and online media is awash with stories and images of “one of the worst ever natural disasters in the western hemisphere.” No matter how many articles I read or how much live footage I watch the utter devastation, pain, and suffering are difficult to comprehend.

Amidst the endless stream of information detailing the destruction and tireless relief efforts there is also a plethora of suggestions of how and where to send donations, including information about the largest text-based fundraising campaign in history. As with most life-threatening emergencies there has been an immediate outpouring of support (an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review discusses why sudden crises pull heartstrings and loosen purse strings more than persistent, chronic conditions).

The media coverage is focused, in large part, on the current conditions, with only occasional reference to the historical and structural injustices that magnified the earthquake’s devastating impact. A provocative audio slideshow, published online in the July 2009 issue of Guernica Magazine, captures the reality that the current devastation is best understood as the manmade outcome of a long and ugly historical sequence. A May 2009 Times of London article points to the degree to which Haiti’s status as the poorest country in the western hemisphere – mired in historic debt, stricken by flood and famine, and rife with violence and abuse – was simply accepted.

It is critical that the international community confronts these historical and structural injustices as it considers the help that Haiti needs. An online post in Foreign Policy magazine calls on the international community to cancel Haiti’s debt. The Association for Women’s Rights in Development highlights the specific experiences and needs of Haitian women during this humanitarian catastrophe. If we are serious about Haiti’s recovery, we need to be as committed to addressing the country’s systematic injustices and inequalities as we are to emergency relief.

Clinton Outlines U.S. Human Rights Policy at Georgetown

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

Last night, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech at Georgetown University, outlining a renewed U.S. commitment to universal human rights standards. Statements by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International are supportive of the content and intent of the speech, but emphasize the need for the Obama administration to follow through with tangible policy commitments that will transform rhetoric into reality. You can read articles on the speech by Reuters and the New York Times.