Are human rights always the scapegoat of economic development? : Miryang, a troubled city

human rights the scapegoat of economic development

by Hanna Noh

[1] South Korea, the first country to become the UN assessment contributor from UNAIDS, miracle of the Han River. Those are common accolades commemorating South Korea’s incredible development over the past half-century. After three years of a devastating Korean War (1950-1953), the country was left impoverished and in a dire state. Consequently, basic human rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of assembly were often sacrificed in pursuit of industrialization and development. Now, South Korea enjoys its status as the world’s 15th largest GDP (Gross Domestics Products)[2] and is ranked 7th largest merchandise exporter in the world[3]. Nevertheless, what we are witnessing now in Miryang, a small farming village located in the Southeast region of South Korea, resembles the development stage of South Korea seen in the 1970’s, when government prioritised national development over individual rights.

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Egypt’s Super Women

You would more likely expect a chat on metal knickers and spiked bras to be about Lady Gaga or a fashion shoot for Vogue than a discussion on ideas for protest outfits. But unfortunately, you would be wrong. I learnt this first-hand from a group of twenty-something women in Cairo last week, as we chatted about what they will wear for protection to the mass protests taking place across Egypt on Sunday, 30 June.

Protests against Morsi's Policies  - Talaat Harb square

30 June Protestor against Morsi’s Policies by bora25 on Flickr

They were actually half joking about measures to make themselves seem no longer human to the touch, to frighten away the wandering hands of men seeking to invade female clothing and assault girls at protests. As discontent grows against Mohammed Morsi, the winner of Egypt’s first free Presidential elections held a year ago, many Egyptian women will be attending these protests calling for his resignation. President Morsi has sought to consolidate his power and abuse the rights for which the revolution was fought, and these women want their voices heard.

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Advancing the Business and Human Rights Agenda: Key to Reform Financial Sector

*The UN Secretary General’s July 2012 report on Business and Human Rights provides a critical insight on the need for enhanced corporate accountability and financial regulation. Governance gaps at many levels are blamed in the report for creating a “permissive environment for wrongful acts by economic actors of all kinds, without adequate sanctioning or reparation.”

Closely linked to the business and human rights agenda is the role of dominant economic policies in spurring inequality which is threatening global political, social and economic stability. A 2011 study by UNICEF estimates that the top 20% of the world’s population accounts for 70% of global income. Civil society group Oxfam estimates that the top 100 billionaires of the world earned enough money in 2012 to “make extreme poverty history four times over.” Yet, we find increasing talk about privatisation and advancement of the same neo-liberal agenda which has spurred inequality by governments around the world. Public-private partnerships are becoming the new mantra at international conferences on development as civil society groups lament the failure of states to fulfil their social contract to citizens. More and more governments are outsourcing basic services which are their responsibility to provide such as health, education, mass transport and even policing to private players as politicians and business leaders collude. Continue reading

Dispatches from Geneva: 1st Week of the Human Rights Council (25th February 2013-1st March 2013)

By Aisha Onsando, CIVICUS Intern, Geneva

The 22nd Session of the Human Rights Council opened with a high level panel commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and plan of action. The panel consisted of more than 70 dignitaries. Many speakers expressed concern for country situation’s already on the Council’s agenda such as Syria, Mali, Sri Lanka, DPRK and Bahrain. There was a general call for greater involvement by the Human Rights Council and the Commissioner of Human rights with a particular call for the extension of the mandate of the special rapporteur on Syria.

The High level panel also focused on the legacy of the Vienna Declaration and plan of action. Article 5 of the Vienna Declaration stresses that all human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated, that the international community must treat human rights globally in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing, and with the same emphasis. While the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind, it is the duty of States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

This was the main focus of the majority of the high level panelists on the real contribution that the Vienna Conference contributed to the human right’s discourse. No right is more important than any other. No group of rights can be given primacy over the other. No right is fully achieved until they all are. Continue reading

Pharaonic powers and a struggling Egypt

Seven people were killed on the night of 5 December in Cairo, Egypt, with reports of over 770 injured after peaceful protesters were attacked by Muslim Brotherhood supporters outside the Presidential Palace. They were there to protest the new draft constitution and a constitutional decree giving President Morsi nearly unrestricted powers when they were set upon by a mob.  Witnesses said Brotherhood members marched to the palace and tore down the opposition’s tents before throwing stones and using clubs to attack demonstrators. Clashes between both sides then ensued. Continue reading

UN Member States Call on the Republic of Korea to Remove Arbitrary Restrictions on Freedom of Expression and Assembly

by Tor Hodenfield, Policy and Advocacy Consultant, CIVICUS

Consistently ranked among the top nations in the UNDP’s Human Development Index and with a robust, consolidated democracy, the Republic of Korea (South Korea) is largely insulated against international criticism for its human rights shortcomings.

However, on 25 October 2012 during 14th Session of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UN UPR), South Korea’s human rights record was put under the microscope.

Of the approximately 70 governments which made interventions during the three-and-half-hour examination, thirteen governments, including Hungary, Japan, South Africa and the United Kingdom, raised concerns relating to arbitrary and unwarranted restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

Highlighted by CIVICUS and the South Korea-based People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) in a joint submission to the UPR in April 2012, the government of South Korea has increasingly silenced dissenting voices under the National Security Act (NSA), which criminalises speech in support of North Korea. In February 2012, Mr. Jeong-gun Park, a prominent South Korean activist was arrested for re-tweeting messages from the North Korean Government’s official twitter account. Since 2008, at least 80 other people have been arrested in South Korea for posting pro-North Korean comments online. Continue reading

“It is Not Enough to ‘Have’ Human Rights, It is Essential to Know Them and Own Them As a Way of Life” – Shulamith Koenig – Founding President of PDHRE, People’s Movement for Human Rights Learning – UN Chronicle , October 2012.

In 2008, Alongside the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the ‘Elders’, led by Nelson Mandela, sent out a clarinet call proclaiming: “every HUMAN has RIGHTS.” Recalling Voltaire, who was asked “what should we do about human rights?”  To which he answered: “Let the people know them…” –and having facilitated for the last 25 years the learning and integration of human rights as a way of life in more than 60 countries, I sent the Elders a note saying: “but do the ‘humans ’know them?  Most do not!” – It is therefore an imperative to add to the Elders call, loud and clear: “and every human must learn, know them and own them as a way of life!”  It is not enough to “have” human rights, it is essential that everyone owns them and be guided in their day to day life by the holistic human rights framework, enabling women and men to participate as equals in the decision making process towards meaningful, sustainable economic and social transformation. We have no other option! Continue reading

Reflections on day one of a human rights defenders workshop, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

Discussions on the first day of the CIVICUS and RESOCIDE human rights defenders workshop, supported by Irish Aid in Burkina Faso, focused on the sharing of experiences on the state of human rights and human rights defenders in different countries in West Africa.

The experiences shared brought to light several underlying similarities on the state of human rights in these various countries. First, governments in almost all of the countries continue to restrict the activities of human rights defenders and intimidate journalists and civil society activists who voice concerns over malpractices and violations of human rights.  The levels and extent of intimidation vary from country to country.  Second, political transitions and changes in government, either through democratic means (elections) or undemocratic methods  (such as civil wars or coups d’état) do not guarantee a change in the way human rights activists are perceived or treated, as they still encounter threats and harassment as they carry out their activities.  Third, human rights activists and members of the judiciary need to have a better understanding of the concept of human rights or be trained on human rights issues in order to better entrench human rights principles in their work.

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Cambodia: civil society activists defending land rights must not be silenced

Defending land and housing rights in a country marked by illegal land confiscations and forceful evictions of poor communities can be risky business for activists. Civil society activists against forceful eviction of communities from their lands and houses experience repression from the government of Cambodia. In common with others in Cambodia, activists on land and housing rights have over the past four years been faced with new legal restrictions and ferocious retaliation from government authorities for documenting and denouncing abuses. Continue reading

Protecting civil society: will India lead the way in Geneva?

On 24 May, India undergoes its Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. UPR, as the Universal Periodic Review is commonly called, has emerged as a critical global process where all UN member states submit turn by turn to an evaluation of their human rights record by other governments.

For India, engaging substantively with the process is vital to enhance the legitimacy of its aspirations to play a greater role in world affairs through representation at various multilateral forums, including its campaign for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. Equally, it will reinforce the consistent claims ofIndia’s diplomats at international forums that the country’s democratic institutions, constitutional bill of rights and vibrant civil society are proof of its commitment to the UN Charter and the international human rights framework. Continue reading