Economic Crisis a Human Rights Crisis

In its annual State of the World’s Human Rights report released May 28, Amnesty International emphasized the relationship between economic injustice and human rights, and argued that the decreasing focus on rights, both in principle and in practice, highlights the need for a new approach to the issues. In order to truly — and finally — end the cycle of global rights abuse, AI argues, the world must adopt an approach based on multilateral, multi-stakeholder collaborations that end impunity and the enrichment of the few at the expense of many.

AI’s Secretary General Irene Khan sought to rouse action in the report’s foreward:

“It is clear that the human rights costs and consequences of the economic crisis will cast long shadows. It is also clear that not only have governments abdicated economic and financial regulation to market forces, they have failed abysmally to protect human rights, lives and livelihoods . . . The crisis is about the shortages of food, jobs, clean water, land and housing and also about growing inequality and insecurity, xenophobia and racism, violence and repression. Together they form a global crisis that requires global solutions based on international co-operation, human rights and the rule of law.”

The report contained the annual review of individual countries’ performances — with places like Iran, Syria, Myanmar and China getting the dressing-down one would expect in an AI annual accounting. But it is the report’s global warning that has captured the most attention.

Inequality, insecurity and repression are all increasingly becoming characteristic of governments — and societies — across the Americas, Asia, Africa and Europe, according to the report. Civil society and the media are under assault, with popular concerns ignored, or silenced.

Khan urges the U.S. and China to ratify vital rights-related international covenants, and G-20 members to improve their records and make clear an overarching commitment to all rights as equally important. Investments in economic recovery, AI argues, should be directed at ways to combat poverty in the long term and increase capabilities among communities. Any changes to economic systems should be crafted so as to benefit as large a percentage of people as possible.

The Irish Times called the report “a topical warning that unless this is realized more widely the world could be in for a turbulent time, perhaps much more so than many now envisage or expect. Thus the deepening recession is not a time for human rights to be sidelined, but to be made more central.”

At Foreign Policy, Elizabeth Dickinson lamented that “if getting delinquent countries to fix their human rights records was arduous before, now it’s downright grueling. There’s neither money nor time for addressing the scourge — even as recession leaves unemployment, cut wages, and even hunger in its path.” Dickinson names Zimbabwe, South Africa and Nigeria as examples of where AI’s dire warnings may be most felt.