in WorldAffairs

Fundamental Violation of Human Rights

Recent events in the world – Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, DR Congo and the Sudan have highlighted gross human right violoations. These occur so often now, are so widespread and commonplace as to be considered textbook violations. Genocide, ethnic cleansing, mass rapes and other crimes have become expected outcomes of conflict.

Whilst attention is rightly focused on these violations of human rights – the International Court of Justice at the Hague has formed tribunals for the investigation and trial of crimes against humanity and gross human rights violations – efforts must also be made towards understanding and bringing to account those violations of human rights at a lower level or indirect violations.

By this I mean events that lead to the violation, restriction or denial of human rights as a result of indirect action taken by say, for example, a global corporation. When an investigation into human rights abuse occurs, it is not often the case that such an investigation is concerned with whether abuses took place – that is given, it is merely to determine the extent and more importantly the cause and who is responsible.

Article 25 of the UN’s UDHR (Universal Declaration of Human Rights) – which forms the basis of international human rights, briefy states that everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living – this includes food, clothing and housing. Article 26 states that everyone has the right to education. These are but two of the thirty articles within the declaration, but they are adequate for the illustration of my point.

If we are all entitled to food, housing , clothing and education; it would seem a crime if anyone was deprived of these necessities. In a direct sense, in the event of a war and subsequent occupation, if the occupying power was to deprive the occupied population of its food, housing and education (a little like what the Israeli’s are doing to the Palestinians – who incidentally have no nationality – something the UDHR also states is a universal human right), then this would be considered a violation of Human Rights and subject to legal account. However, would it be less of a violation if there was no war and the violation of such rights was commercial policy rather than any other factor?

Many third world countries are heavily indebted to the world’s primary lenders – the IMF and the World Bank (both effectively US agencies). The nature of this debt is generally fraudulent – treasuries pillaged by thieving dictators, IOU’s taken by rogues in the name of the citizenry. I have no doubt that the lenders , with all their political and economic statistics, would have known that many of their clients were dodgy. Yet the lending continued unabated. When payments then become impossible to make, the lending agencies exercise their ‘legal’ right to step in and dictate economic policy to the borrowing state to facilitate the repayment plan. This means that the IMF and the World Bank effectively order countries to divert national spending from health, agriculture and education to servicing debt. The suffering caused by this widespread use of the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) is well documented and recognised, even by the organisations themselves (although they convince themselves that such hardships are short term and worth it for long term benefits). Aside from the direct diversion of state budgets , there is also the question of the capitalist model of opening up new markets in the debtor nation to foreign producers – more often than not – American industry. This practice has seen untold suffering in Ghana, Ivory Coast, Tanzania , Russia and many other Structurally Adjusted economies. Yet more human rights are violated, this time not by wars and soldiers, but by capitalism and economists. Does it make a difference how the rights are violated, who instigates the violation?

So, if a child in a third world state cannot be fed, housed or educated because the government’s already meagre and much mismanaged budget for these social responsiblities has now been diverted by order of the lending bodies; that child’s declared human rights have been violated and some one needs to be held accountable. The issue of who to make accountable is a tricky one. Some might argue that the government of the borrowing state needs to be held accountable for failing to meet its social obligations to its people. But what if it could, if given the freedom from the heavy burden of debt servicing. Does this not indicate that responsibility for the denial of declared universal rights to those who are entirely innocent of any crime should be laid at the feet of those that encouraged the peonage that has trapped these countries?

Article 4 of the UDHR states that ‘No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.’ – the conditions that result in the abuse of many of today’s Human Rights are inextricably linked to poverty. Poverty that is perhaps caused, but certainly exercibated, by capitalism and the promotion of wealth and profit over humanity and ethics. With all their declared good intentions, the IMF and World Bank, if judged by their results – can be considered to have brought grinding poverty to more nations , faster than any other factor. Not only do their unfavourable loan terms condemn entire countries to long term servitude. Their defaulting policies and the Structural Adjustments that cause Western business to exploit the resources of the debtor nation unchecked; all make this seem a well orchestrated strategy that results in the violation of human rights within debtor nations.

Whilst genocide, ethnic cleansing make great headlines and stir the western soul, we would do well to remember that all rights declared within the UDHR have equal standing and are all to be applied to everyone.

What do you think?