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Economic crisis a human rights time bomb

28 May 2009
Amnesty International

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London - The world is sitting on a social, political and economic time bomb fuelled by an unfolding human rights crisis, said Amnesty International’s Secretary General Irene Khan today as she launched Amnesty International Report 2009: State of the World’s Human Rights.

“Underlying the economic crisis is an explosive human rights crisis,” said Irene Khan. “The economic downturn has aggravated abuses, distracted attention from them and created new problems. In the name of security, human rights were trampled on. Now, in the name of economic recovery, they are being relegated to the back seat.”

“The world needs a new global deal on human rights – not paper promises but commitment and concrete action from governments to defuse the human rights time bomb. World leaders must invest in human rights as purposefully as they are investing in the economy.”

“Billions of people are suffering from insecurity, injustice and indignity,” said Irene Khan. “This crisis is about shortages of food, jobs, clean water, land and housing, and also about deprivation and discrimination, growing inequality, xenophobia and racism, violence and repression across the world.”

  • Marginalized and Indigenous communities were denied basic rights for a decent life, despite economic growth in countries like Brazil, Mexico and India.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people in slums and rural communities were forcibly uprooted in the name of economic development.
  • Skyrocketing food prices led to more hunger and disease, and – notably in Myanmar, North Korea and Zimbabwe – governments used food as a political weapon.
  • Discrimination and violence against women persisted.
  • In response to migratory pressures, receiving and transit countries adopted even more restrictive measures to keep people out, with the EU leading the way in collusion with governments like Mauritania, Morocco and Libya.

“There are growing signs of unrest and political violence and a risk that recession will lead to more repression,” said Irene Khan, noting the harsh reactions of governments to protests against economic, social and political conditions in countries like Tunisia, Egypt, Cameroon and other African countries. Impunity of police and security forces was widespread.

“China and Russia are proof that open markets have not led to open societies,” said Irene Khan. “Human rights activists, journalists, lawyers, trade union representatives and other civil society leaders were harassed, attacked, or killed with impunity in every world region last year.”

She said that world leaders are focussing on attempts to revive the global economy, but neglecting deadly conflicts that are spawning massive human rights abuses.

“From Gaza to Darfur and from eastern DRC to northern Sri Lanka, the human toll of conflict has been horrendous, and the lukewarm response of the international community shocking. Huge resources are being dedicated to fight piracy off the coast of Somalia but not to stop the flow of arms that kill civilians in that country. Military action is being stepped up in Afghanistan and Pakistan but the human rights and humanitarian implications of the conflicts are being underplayed,” said Irene Khan.

“Ignoring one crisis to focus on another is a recipe for aggravating both. Economic recovery will be neither sustainable nor equitable if governments fail to tackle abuses that drive and deepen poverty, or armed conflicts that generate new violations.”

She added: “The new leadership of the G-20 is marred by old, failed approaches to human rights. Abuses, rhetoric without action, promoting human rights abroad but ignoring them at home or shielding allies from accountability does not engender confidence in the collective leadership of the G-20 on human rights.”

Amnesty International warned that a new global deal on human rights must reject a ‘pick and choose’ approach to human rights. Global leaders will not be credible or effective if they fail to confront their own tarnished records and double standards on human rights.
“We welcome President Obama’s decision to close Guantanamo and reject torture. We urge him to help ensure that those responsible are brought to justice. Accountability will strengthen - not weaken - global security and the USA’s moral authority,” said Irene Khan.

Citing that the human rights crisis has created a burning need for change, Ms Khan announced the launch of Amnesty International’s new global “Demand Dignity” campaign to fight the human rights abuses that drive and deepen poverty.

“Our first demand in our new campaign is to the USA and China. The United States does not accept the notion of economic, cultural and social rights while China does not respect civil and political rights. Both governments must sign up to all human rights for all," said Irene Khan.

“Solutions to global problems must be underpinned by global values of human rights – and those at the top table of world leadership must begin by setting an example.”

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