The 2009 Amnesty International Report highlights the fact that the world is in the middle of a human rights crisis. We are sitting on a social, political and economic time-bomb that will explode if human rights concerns are not addressed.
Billions of people are suffering from insecurity, injustice and indignity around the world and while many aspects of this crisis pre-date the economic ‘downturn’, it is clear that the global financial situation is making the human rights crisis far worse.
More people have been driven into poverty and placed at increased risk of human rights violations. In Africa, the food crisis, a hallmark of 2008, had a disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups. In Asia, millions of people have swelled the ranks of those already living in poverty, as the cost of food, fuel and other commodities increased dramatically in 2008.
In the Middle East and North Africa, the financial crisis and rising food prices affected those already living in or close to poverty, whilst in Europe, several states required interventions from the International Monetary Fund to support their economies. Across the region, the gap between rich and poor remained vast.
It is also clear that recession has fuelled even greater repression, as protests stemming from poverty, economic disparities or a lack of justice are brutally suppressed.
During 2008 many governments continued to ignore the voices of the poor and the marginalised. In Latin America and the Caribbean - where more than 70 million people are living on less than US$1 a day - poverty, inequality and discrimination have increased the numbers of Indigenous People denied their rights to health care, education, clean water and adequate housing.
By ignoring human rights governments placed their citizens in peril. In Myanmar, the authorities initially blocked international assistance to 2.4 million survivors of Cyclone Nargis, while diverting resources to promote a flawed referendum on a flawed constitution.
Financial enrichment of business and governments continued to be achieved at the expense of the most marginalised. In Nigeria, in the vast and mineral rich Niger Delta, against a backdrop of killings and torture by security forces in 2008, widespread pollution associated with the oil industry undermined people’s right to an adequate standard of living and the right to health.
By not prioritising human rights, world leaders have failed to address a central part of the solution for long-term economic and political stability. While the G-20 claims the mantle of world leadership – its members’ commitment to human rights is unclear and shows a failure to invest sufficiently in human rights. For instance Amnesty International recorded torture and other forms of ill-treatment in 14 of the G-20 countries during 2008.
China increased repression of human rights defenders, religious practitioners, ethnic minorities, lawyers and journalists throughout the country in the run-up to and during the Beijing Olympics. China is also the world’s leading executioner.
In the USA, the Obama Administration made a good start with moves to end torture and long-term secret detention by the CIA and to close the Guantánamo detention facility by January 2010. However EU member states remain unwilling to admit to collusion with the CIA on the extraordinary rendition of terrorist suspects. States such as Denmark, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK allowed unenforceable "diplomatic assurances" as a justification to deport terrorist suspects to countries where there was a risk of torture and ill-treatment.
In Brazil, police operations in impoverished urban communities involved excessive use of force, extrajudicial executions, torture, and abuse. South Africa has blocked international pressure on Zimbabwe to end political persecution. Saudi Arabia locks up political dissidents, restricts the rights of migrant workers and women and uses the death penalty extensively.
Russia continues to permit arbitrary detention and torture and, in the North Caucasus, extrajudicial executions as well as harassment and attacks on human rights defenders.
In Japan, the number of executions increased and prisoners faced prolonged periods of solitary confinement and inadequate access to medical care.
The world needs leadership that works for all and not just for the few; that moves states from narrow self-interest to multilateral cooperation.
The world needs a new global deal for human rights.
The consequences of the economic crisis can only be addressed with a coordinated global response based on human rights and the rule of law.
World leaders must invest in human rights as purposefully as they invest in economic growth. It is incumbent on those sitting at the world’s table to set an example through their own behaviour. And it is incumbent on us, as citizens, as rights holders, to bring pressure to bear on our political leaders.
Through the launch of its Demand Dignity campaign, Amnesty International hopes to address the world’s worst human rights crisis. We will work together to tackle the human rights abuses that drive and deepen poverty, so that those imprisoned by poverty are empowered to change their own lives.