Human Rights Day 2009 focuses on ending discrimination, under the theme Embrace Diversity, End Discrimination.
“Discrimination lies at the root of many of the world’s most pressinghuman rights problems. No country is immune from this scourge. Eliminating discrimination is a duty of the highest order,” said Navi Pillay, U. N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. ““Our main objective is to help promote discrimination-free societies and a world of equal treatment for all,” she said.
The High Commissioner encouraged people everywhere to join hands in celebration of Human Rights Day to speak out and act to advocate non-discrimination and raise awareness in their local communities.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted December 10, 1948 by the international community, has served as a beacon of hope. The Declaration has been translated into more than 360 languages. It holds the Guinness World Record for most translated document in the world.
“The extraordinary vision and determination of the drafters produced a document that for the first time set out universal human rights for all people in an individual context,” U. N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said.
Many countries have incorporated provisions of the Declaration into their Constitutions and laws. The principles of the Declarationform the basis of numerous actions taken by the nations of the world.
Join hands to end discrimination
All human rights work can be viewed through the non-discrimination lens. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, colour, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, disability, property, birth or other status.
These stories describe its impact on peoples’ lives and the work everyone can support to end discrimination.
Quality Education for Indigenous Peoples
The enjoyment of the right to education is not fully realized for most indigenous peoples. The Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples says that without access to quality education indigenous communities will not be able to fully enjoy their rights. The Expert Mechanism is a group of five independent specialists who provide expertise on the rights of indigenous peoples to the Human Rights Council.
In their report to the Council on the right of indigenous peoples to education the experts say, “Deprivation of access to quality education is a major factor contributing to social marginalization, poverty and dispossession of indigenous peoples”.
The report makes the case that designing education programs for indigenous communities must take into account many factors that acknowledge the special needs of these communities. Indigenous students cannot be forced into mainstream education systems which do not integrate indigenous culture, it says.
An approach using a single model is inappropriate because of the diversity of indigenous peoples.
Promoting “indigenous perspectives, innovations and practices in an environment that replicates traditional ways of learning” is another interest of the Expert Mechanism. This includes having mother-tongue based bilingual and multilingual education at the primary as well as at higher levels. Indigenous languages should be integrated into the teaching programs. The report proposes that community members be trained as language teachers and the development of indigenous literacy material.
The report identifies gender issues as a common impediment to education for both boys and girls in indigenous communities. In fact, girls are regularly prevented from attending school. The report found that “families often prefer girls to remain at home to perform domestic chores and care for children and siblings”. When put together with other discrimination issues, this has serious social consequences for the indigenous communities.
The Expert Mechanism says that indigenous peoples have the “right to educational autonomy” including “the right to decide their own educational priorities […] as well as the right to establish and control their own educational systems and institutions, if they so choose”.
The report recommends too that human rights education be included in schools to encourage cooperation between the different cultures. The Expert Mechanism advises that “learning about human rights is the first step towards respecting, promoting and defending the rights of all individuals and peoples.” For this to happen, States must ensure funding for appropriate teaching materials and the recruitment of indigenous teachers. Education is identified by the report as “one of the best long-term financial investments that States can make.” This year on December 10, celebrate Human Rights Day by joining together to celebrate diversity and end discrimination.
22 October 2009
A story of modern slavery
The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, its causes and consequences, Gulnara Shahinian, in her latest report to the Human Rights Council, has called for comprehensive global action to eliminate the practice of bonded labour which she describes as a form of slavery. Quoting data from the International Labour Organisation, the Special Rapporteur says at a minimum, more than 12 million people are living as forced labourers. The causes are many – poverty, demand for cheap labour, unemployment, national or global crises.
“Time and realities may have changed,” Shahinian says, “but the core essence of slavery persists in modern economies. In its modern forms, we find forced labour in agriculture, domestic servitude, the garment industry, the construction industry and prostitution and in the supply chains of mainstream companies.”
Bonded labour occurs when a person offers their services in exchange for the repayment of a debt and, as part of the arrangement, loses control over work conditions and the length of the agreement. Usually there are no safeguards attached to the agreement that would normally be found with a regular loan such as reasonable conditions of repayment or agreed interest rates. Often the employer uses the debt to force individuals to work in exploitative conditions: bonded labourers commonly work very long hours, for very low wages and with no days off.
Technically, bonded labourers can end their state of servitude once the debt is repaid but as the report points out, this seldom happens. Debtors are often illiterate, lack basic maths skills and are easy prey for money lenders.
In building a profile of this form of forced labour the Special Rapporteur has found poverty first and foremost plays a crucial role: the vast majority of bonded labourers are chronically poor. Consequently, they often have little or no education, they are mostly from socially excluded groups, including indigenous people, minorities and migrants and they are more vulnerable because in many cases they have limited access to land where they might otherwise earn a living.
The Special Rapporteur is concerned that in the eyes of many, human trafficking and bonded labour are one and the same. Shahinian says seeing forced labour only through the prism of trafficking means that the magnitude of the problem is seriously underestimated. “Forced labour which may occur in the informal sector, in supply chains and export processing zones, within indigenous or minority populations and in rural areas – the overwhelming majority – is not addressed,” she says.
International efforts to sign, ratify, enforce and monitor the slavery conventions “pale in comparison” to those for trafficking, she says. Given the gravity of the human rights violations associated with bonded labour and the millions of people affected by such practices in every part of the world, it is important, the Special Rapporteur says that slavery be given its due prominence and attention.
Shahinian acknowledges that many countries have ratified the slavery conventions and the relevant conventions of the International Labour Organization. However, where laws on forced labour exist, their enforcement is limited and Shahinian says there are very few policies and programmes specifically directed at bonded labour. “Comprehensive action to eliminate this phenomenon,” she says, “requires strong political will and the coordinated actions of many Governments to enforce international law and protect the rights of all.”
4 November, 2009
Peter Gabriel and the HUB
It was an ordinary day of skateboarding dog videos on YouTube last November when a harrowing clip appeared. The grainy shots from Egypt showed police officers beating and sodomizing a man with a nightstick. The clip had been distributed by Egyptian bloggers Wael Abbas and Hossam el-Hamalawy as a call to action against police brutality.
There was one problem. YouTube has strict guidelines against graphic sexual or violent material, and suspended the bloggers’ account. Eventually the story got picked up by other bloggers and the mainstream media, and sparked international outrage that led to the prosecution of the offending officers and the reactivation of Abbas and el-Hamalawy’s YouTube account.
But with thousands of undocumented abuses playing out around the world every day, the episode highlighted the potential for an online-video network devoted to human rights. Filling that void is the Hub (hub.witness.org), a video-sharing Web site launched by ex-rock star Peter Gabriel to empower people to document and publicize unseen atrocities. Now in beta, the Hub allows anyone around the world to submit clips to a central site where its target audience of activists can connect and take action. “It’s a YouTube for human rights,” Gabriel says. And it shows how the dynamics of social networking can be applied in powerful new ways.
The Hub is an offshoot of Witness, the Brooklyn-based human-rights nonprofit that Gabriel started in 1992 after learning the extent of abuses worldwide while headlining a concert tour sponsored by Amnesty International. “What I found extraordinary was that people could suffer in this way and have their stories completely buried,” he says. “But it seemed like whenever there was video evidence, it was very hard to deny and bury and forget.”
For the past 16 years, Witness has provided video cameras to carefully selected activists and community leaders in more than 100 countries. The group has amassed one of the largest existing collections of human-rights-abuse footage and has shown its videos to policy makers and human-rights groups around the world. There have been plenty of success stories as a result, from the arrest of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo for war crimes in the Congo to raising money for land-mine victims in Senegal. Just last year, “Crying Sun,” a Witness video on the impact of war on the community of the North Caucasus mountains, was presented to Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov, whose private militia had been widely criticized by human-rights organizations. Afterward, Kadyrov funded the rebuilding of homes, a school, a medical center, and other infrastructure.
Centre for Human Rights
(University of Pretoria, South Africa)
Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law
(Washington College of Law, American University)
Human and Constitutional Rights (Arthur W. Diamond Law Library, Columbia Law School )
Human Rights Library
(University of Minnesota)