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Africa: Economy and Human Rights, 1
Jun 1, 2009 (090601)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"Our first demand in our new campaign ["Demand Dignity"] is to the
G-2 leaders, USA and China. The United States does not accept the
notion of economic, social and cultural rights while China does not
respect civil and political rights. We call on both governments to
sign up to all human rights for all." - Irene Khan, Amnesty
This blunt statement, at the launch of the 2009 Amnesty
International annual report on the state of the world's human
rights, marks a dramatic evolution in the focus of the work of the
organization, founded 48 years ago. Like other international human
rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty has in
recent years increasingly stressed the connection between social
and economic rights and their previous primary focus, on civil and
political rights. The global economic recession, Amnesty notes in
its latest report and new campaign, makes that connection even more
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains Ms. Khan's speech at the report
launch on May 27, and excerpts from her foreword to the report,
which elaborates on the same themes. The full report, with
additional background materials, is available at
Another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today contains the full-text
of the regional overview for sub-Saharan Africa in the report. The
Amnesty report also includes sections on the Middle East & North
Africa, on other world regions, and on 157 individual countries.
Many thanks to those of you who have responded to the most recent
appeal for voluntary subscription payments to support AfricaFocus
Bulletin. If you haven't yet, and are able to do so, please help
AfricaFocus reach more people with reliable information on Africa.
Send in a check or pay on-line through Paypal or Google Checkout.
See http://www.africafocus.org/support.php for details.
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Irene Khan's Speech
May 27, 2009
Welcome everyone to the launch of our Amnesty International Report
2009. This report reflects the state of the world's human rights in
157 countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe for the period of
January to December 2008.
Our report this year is different from previous years. That is
because we are living in a different world. The global economic
crisis has changed the world as has the emergence of the G-20
leaders. Our report too is different. It takes a holistic approach
-- highlighting economic, social and cultural rights as well as
political and civil rights. It draws attention to deprivation,
insecurity, discrimination and the suppression of people's voice
around the world.
There are two key messages to which I want to draw your attention:
First, world leaders are focussed on the economic crisis. We say to
them: it's not just the economy. It's injustice, insecurity,
inequality and indignity.
Second, world leaders need to put human rights at the centre of
their economic rescue plan -- but to be credible leaders they need
also to fix their own appalling human rights records.
Let me start with the first key message of our report 2009 the
underlying the global economic crisis is an explosive human rights
crisis. A combination of social, economic and political problems
has created a time bomb of human rights abuses.
- The economic downturn has aggravated pre-existing human rights
- It has created new human rights problems.
- It is diverting attention and resources from many burning human
This ticking bomb was not created overnight -- it is the result of
decades of human rights failures -- decades in which governments
failed to deliver on their human rights promises and commitments.
I do not use the analogy of a time bomb lightly. Billions of people
face shortage of food, jobs, clean water, land and housing. They
face deprivation and discrimination, growing inequality, and
insecurity, xenophobia and racism, violence and repression.
Boom times did not improve their situation -- the bust will bring
more suffering because of the failure of governments to uphold
To give you some concrete examples:
- A billion people live in slums around the world without basic
services or security of tenure or physical security. We documented
forced evictions in 24 countries in our report. Millions of people
were forcibly evicted or uprooted to make way for economic
development projects, 150,000 in Cambodia, 2 million over the past
few years in Nigeria, hundreds and thousands in India.
- Latin American is the most unequal region in the world. Our
report shows Indigenous communities in every Latin American country
worse off than the rest of the population, deprived, discriminated,
marginalized, denied health care, clean water, education and
- Migrant workers fuelled the global economy but are being
discriminated and exploited from Central America to the Middle
East. China built its economy on the back of millions of migrant
workers who moved from the villages to the cities but who were
denied health, education and residence rights in the cities. 20
million migrant workers in China lost their jobs last year and were
sent back to the countryside where they face worse conditions.
- In Europe, the Roma face the most profound and systematic
discrimination and marginalization, excluded from public life,
segregated in schools and ghettos, facing hostility and violence.
- The food crisis pushed more people into poverty. It was
aggravated by discrimination and political manipulation in
countries like Zimbabwe and North Korea. In Sri Lanka, the
government and the LTTE armed group denied access to humanitarian
organizations to provide food and aid to trapped civilians. The war
is now over but the government is still refusing full and free
access to national and international organizations although the
displaced persons are in desperate material need and also risk of
serious human rights violations.
Much of the discrimination that I have highlighted is not of course
the direct result of the economic downturn, but the downturn is
likely to aggravate the problem. Those who are marginalized, poor
and discriminated will feel the brunt of the economic downturn more
sharply than others as governments tighten their belts, as social
tensions increase and as extremist views take hold.
The economic downturn will also reinforce the tendency of
governments to introduce restrictions against refugees, asylum
seekers and migrants. Last year borders pushed outwards from Europe
into Africa as countries like Spain and Italy signed agreements
with Mauritania and Libya to stop people from entering Europe, and
such agreements act as a license for more human rights violations
in the transit countries.
The economic downturn is generating new threats to human rights.
There are growing signs of social discontent and political
violence. South Africa saw one of the worst cases of xenophobic
and racist attacks last year. In other countries, when people took
to the streets to protest desperate social, economic and political
conditions governments responded very harshly. Amnesty
International's report documents protests in 17 countries, which
were met with excessive force. In Cameroon 100 people were shot
dead. In Tunisia, two people died, hundreds were injured and many
persons were prosecuted and imprisoned following labour unrests.
There is a real risk that the recession could lead to more
repression. I say that also because in many countries, open markets
have not led to open societies. Two of the clearest examples in
our report are Russia and China but they are unfortunately not the
only ones. Human rights activists, journalists, lawyers, trade
unionists, and other civil society leaders were harassed, attacked
or killed with impunity in every region of the world.
Freedom is an asset that needs to be developed, not undermined at
a time when governments are seeking to stimulate the economy.
After 9/11 we saw human rights trampled in the name of security --
after 9/15 (the day Wall Street crashed) human rights we see are
now being relegated to the back seat in the name of economy.
Our report highlights three key areas that are being neglected:
- violence against women
- torture and ill-treatment, and poor policing
- armed conflicts.
And I refer you to our report for more information on those issues.
I will just say a word about armed conflicts.
From Gaza to Darfur, from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to
northern Sri Lanka the international community has stood impotent
or immobile or inadequate in its response, doing too little too
late to protect civilians. The priorities need to be re-set. If we
look at Somalia, governments are pouring money into protecting the
shipping lanes off the coast of Somalia but doing very little to
stop the shipment of arms into the country that fuel conflict and
feed human rights abuses.
Impunity for war crimes was allowed to flourish -- in the case of
Gaza, it was the USA and western governments, in the case of
Darfur, it was the Arab League and the African Union. The myopia of
misguided solidarity does no good either to justice or to security.
If governments ignore deadly conflicts or undermine human rights in
the name of security, they will promote political instability which
will undermine economic recovery. One just needs to look at the
rapidly deteriorating crisis on the borders of Afghanistan/Pakistan
to see the truth of that statement.
So our message is: governments must focus on the human rights
crisis alongside the economic crisis. Ignoring one crisis to focus
on another is a sure recipe for aggravating both. Economic recovery
will be neither sustainable nor equitable if governments fail to
tackle human rights abuses that drive and deepen poverty, or that
if they leave unaddressed the armed conflicts that are generating
more human rights abuse.
Now I turn to the second point that we are making in our report and
that is: the world needs a new global deal on human rights, a new
kind of leadership. The world doesn't need another treaty, the
world doesn't need any more paper promises -- what it needs is real
commitment and concrete action from governments.
The G-20 has emerged to lead the economic revival -- but human
rights have barely figured in their economic diagnosis or in their
prescription and worse still their own record on human rights is
marred by old failed approaches. They may be new leaders but as far
as human rights goes they are using very old approaches which is of
open denial and violation of human rights; rhetoric without action;
promoting human rights abroad but ignoring them at home; sometimes
shielding allies from accountability -- that in plain language sums
up the collective performance of the G-20 human rights record.
- Amnesty International recorded torture in 15 of the 19 countries
that make up the G20.
- Three members of the G-20 were responsible for 3/4 of all
executions that took place in the world. (China, Saudi Arabia and
the USA being the worst offenders)
- Their individual record is no better. Saudi Arabia severely
restricts women's rights. Brazil has a notorious record on the
excessive use of police force. Saudi Arabia, China and Russia do
not tolerate political dissent. The EU has failed to come clean on
renditions or to live up to international standards on refugees and
- Yes, of course the decision of the new US Administration to close
Guantanamo and end secret detention and torture is very welcome and
a breath of fresh air for us. Amnesty International is very proud
of that change -- some of you will remember that 4 years ago in
this building I called for the closure of Guantanamo and not many
people supported Amnesty International at that time. But now the
entire war on terror has been discredited. Of course there are
still some big questions hanging over whether and how the Obama
Administration will bring full closure, disclosure and
accountability. We urge President not to falter or relent -- the
world is looking to him for leadership, accountable, responsible
leadership on human rights.
A Global Deal on human rights must begin with those sitting at top
table. First, they have to set to their own tarnish records
straight. They must use peer pressure on each other to improve
performance. The USA and the European Union must call on China to
improve its human rights record -- and China must do the same with
Myanmar and Sudan, and South Africa must do so with Zimbabwe.
They will have no credibility as global leaders if they fail to
uphold global values of human rights. We are calling on them not
simply to flaunt their political and economic clout but to show
moral leadership. Nor will they be effective in their goal of
economic recovery. If economic recovery is to be sustainable or
equitable, then human rights abuses must be put at the centre of
those efforts. Governments need to invest in human rights as
purposefully as they are investing in the economy.
Tomorrow it will be 48 years since Amnesty International was born.
We mark that anniversary by taking up the cause of prisoners of
poverty with as much determination as we once took up the cause of
prisoners of conscience. As I release the AI report 2009, I am also
announcing the launch of our new campaign to Demand Dignity. You
will find more information on it outside this room, and at the
bottom of the press release.
Our first demand in our new campaign is to the G-2 leaders, USA and
China. The United States does not accept the notion of economic,
social and cultural rights while China does not respect civil and
political rights. Both governments, we call on them to sign up to
all human rights for all.
Some of you may say this is a pipe dream of Amnesty International
-- but look at what we have achieved the last year. The closure of
Guantanamo, the conviction of Fujimori in Peru, the opening of the
first trial of the International Criminal Court, the arrest and
transfer of Karadzic to the Hague, the reiteration by the UN for a
universal moratorium on the death penalty with ever increasing
numbers of governments supporting it, the banning of female genital
mutilation in Egypt, 147 countries voting for an Arms Trade Treaty.
It is possible to bring about change.
It's Not Just the Economy, It's a Human Rights Crisis
[Selected excerpts from Foreword to Amnesty International 2009
Report, released May 28, 2009. The full report and additional
briefing materials are available at
In September 2008 I was in New York to attend the UN high-level
meeting on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the
internationally agreed targets to reduce poverty by 2015. Delegate
after delegate talked about the need for more funds to eradicate
hunger, to cut preventable deaths of infants and pregnant women, to
provide clean water and sanitation, to educate girls. The life and
dignity of billions of people were at stake, but there was only
limited will to back up the talk with money. As I left the UN
building I could see the ticker tapes running a very different
story coming from another part of Manhattan: the crash of one of
the largest investment banks on Wall Street. It was a telling sign
of where world attention and resources were really focused. Rich
and powerful governments were suddenly able to find many more times
the sums that could not be found to stem poverty. They poured them
with abundance into failing banks and stimulus packages for
economies that had been allowed to run amok for years and were now
By the end of 2008, it was clear that our two-tier world of
deprivation and gluttony -- the impoverishment of many to satisfy
the greed of a few -- was collapsing into a deep hole.
As with the case of climate change, so too with global economic
recession: the rich are responsible for most of the damaging
action, but it is the poor who suffer the worst consequences. While
no one is being spared the sharp bite of the recession, the woes of
the rich countries are nothing compared with the disasters
unfolding in poorer ones. From migrant workers in China to miners
in Katanga in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), people
desperately trying to drag themselves out of poverty are feeling
the brunt sharply. The World Bank has predicted 53 million more
people will be thrown into poverty this year, on top of the 150
million hit by the food crisis last year, wiping out the gains of
the last decade. International Labour Organization figures suggest
that between 18 and 51 million people could lose their jobs.
Skyrocketing food prices are leading to more hunger and disease,
forced evictions and foreclosures to more homelessness and
Billions of people are suffering from insecurity, injustice and
indignity. This is a human rights crisis.
From recession to repression
On the one hand, we face the grave danger that rising poverty and
desperate economic and social conditions could lead to political
instability and mass violence. On the other, we may well end up in
a situation where recession could be accompanied by greater
repression as beleaguered governments -- particularly those with an
authoritarian bent -- clamp down harshly on dissent, criticism and
public exposure of corruption and economic mismanagement.
We had a taste in 2008 of what could lie ahead for 2009 and beyond.
When people took to the streets to protest against rising food
prices and the dire economic conditions, in many countries even
peaceful protests were met with tough responses. In Tunisia strikes
and protests were put down with force, causing two deaths, many
injuries and more than 200 prosecutions of alleged organizers, some
culminating in long prison sentences. In Zimbabwe, political
opponents, human rights activists and trade union representatives
were attacked, abducted, arrested and killed with impunity. In
Cameroon, following violent demonstrations as many as 100
protesters were shot dead and many more imprisoned.
In times of economic stress and political tensions, there is need
for openness and tolerance so that dissatisfaction and discontent
can be channelled into constructive dialogue and the search for
solutions. Yet, it is precisely in these circumstances that the
space for civil society is shrinking in many countries. Human
rights activists, journalists, lawyers, trade union representatives
and other civil society leaders are being harassed, threatened,
attacked, prosecuted without justification or killed with impunity
in every region of the world.
New kind of leadership
Deprivation, inequality, injustice, insecurity and oppression are
the hallmarks of poverty. They are clearly human rights problems
and will not yield to economic measures alone. They demand strong
political will and a comprehensive response integrating political,
economic, social and environmental issues within an overarching
framework of human rights and the rule of law. They demand
collective action and a new kind of leadership.
Economic globalization has brought about a shift in geopolitical
power and a new generation of states, in the form of the G-20, is
claiming the mantle of world leadership. Composed of China, India,
Brazil, South Africa and other emerging economies from the global
South as well as Russia, USA and leading western economies, the
G-20 claims to be a more accurate representation of political power
and economic clout in the world today. That may be so, but to be
truly global leaders, the G-20 must subscribe to global values and
confront their own tarnished records and double standards on human
It is incumbent on those sitting at the world's top table to set an
example through their own behaviour. A good start would be for the
G-20 members to send a clear signal that all human rights,
economic, social or cultural rights, political or civil rights, are
equally important. The USA has long denied the validity of economic
and social rights and is not a state party to the International
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. China, on the
other hand, is not a state party to the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights. The two countries should accede
immediately to the respective treaties. All G-20 members should
ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted by the UN General
Assembly in December 2008. Signing up to international treaties,
however, is only one step in what needs to be done.
New opportunities for change
Global poverty -- exacerbated by the economic situation -- has
created a burning platform for human rights change. At the same
time, the economic crisis has triggered a paradigm shift that opens
up opportunities for systemic change.
For the past two decades, the state has been retreating or reneging
on its human rights obligations in favour of the market in the
belief that economic growth would lift all boats. With the tide
receding and boats springing leaks, governments are radically
changing their positions and talking about a new global financial
architecture and international governance system in which the state
plays a stronger role. That opens up an opportunity to also halt
the retreat of the state from the social sphere and re-design a
more human rights friendly model of the state than the one that has
characterized international policy-making for the past 20 years.
Governments should also work together to resolve deadly conflicts.
Given the inter-relationships, ignoring one crisis to focus on
another is a sure recipe for aggravating both.
Will governments seize these opportunities to strengthen human
rights? Will corporate actors and international financial
institutions accept and live up to their human rights
responsibilities? So far, human rights have barely figured in the
diagnoses or the prescription being proposed by the international
History shows that most struggles for great change -- such as the
abolition of slavery or the emancipation of women -- started not as
the initiative of states but as the endeavour of ordinary people.
Successes in establishing international justice or controlling the
arms trade or abolishing the death penalty or fighting violence
against women or putting global poverty and climate change on the
international agenda are all largely due to the energy, creativity
and persistence of millions of activists from around the globe. It
is to people power that we must now turn to bring pressure to bear
on our political leaders. ...
Almost 50 years ago, Amnesty International was created to demand
the release of prisoners of conscience. Today we also "demand
dignity" for prisoners of poverty so that they can change their own
lives. I am confident that with the help and support of our
millions of members, supporters and partners around the world we
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