Human Rights … For Who?

Published on (Share The World Resources), by Robin Willoughby, Dec. 10, 2008.

… In the sphere of peace and security, the richest nations have used their political and military clout to pursue a highly defined and specific human rights agenda, highlighting the importance of themes such as intervention, democracy and political freedom. This trend is illustrated by the creation of such bodies within the United Nations (UN) as the Peace Building Commission and Counter-Terrorism Committee, as well as by the growth in interventionist peacekeeping missions …

… New actors have moved into a combined human rights and humanitarian fold. The EU is developing a rapid reaction force as part of its human rights-based foreign policy, while NATO has incorporated a ‘structural intervention force’ to intercede in countries that are perceived as ‘failed states’, humanitarian emergencies or threats to peace and security. The World Bank has also entered into this new arena, incorporating a reconstruction and intervention arm into its operations, as witnessed in the aftermath of the South East Asian Tsunami in 2006.

The result of this prioritisation of democracy, peace and security and ‘humanitarian’ causes can be seen in a split between those human rights laws most palatable to the Global North, and those most urgently needed by the majority world. Unlike the one-sided prioritisation of individual human rights and security issues by the largest powers, economic and social rights have been severely sidelined.

The largest financial powers, led by the US and EU, now channel economic policy and implementation through the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Through these bodies, their founding members are able to impose a vision of human rights and economic development that conforms to their own geo-strategic and political vision. According to this thinking, the removal of trade barriers, growth of capital accumulation and empowerment of business will lead to an inevitable ‘trickle-down’ effect to the poor to secure human rights.

In contrast, the UN remains heavily marginalised as an actor within economic affairs. The UN agencies vested with the authority to ensure economic rights and freedoms have been downsized, marginalised or silenced as a voice in policy making. The UN Economic and Social Council – the UN body endowed with the authority to promote economic rights and full employment – has never been fully enabled to fulfil its mandate. Under pressure from the larger economic powers, much of its authority has passed to the preferred international institutions of the Global North: the World Bank and International Monetary Fund …

… The recent coordinated bailout of the global banking system shows that if international governments feel there is sufficient cause then they can coordinate and act with remarkable speed. The ‘bottom billion’ excluded from the benefits of economic globalisation are now waiting for their own government bailout. It is through these policies that we can achieve the wishes of the original drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: political pluralism, peace and security and true economic and social justice for all. (full text).

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