Globalization is no excuse for states to shirk their human rights responsibilities

Report
from Amnesty International
Published on 30 May 2001
AI Index: POL 10/005/2001
Publish date: 30/05/2001
Amnesty International outlines human rights violations in 149 countries

In a world where globalization is impacting upon every nation state and bringing poverty to the forefront of the human rights agenda, the challenge today is how to hold states accountable for their conduct, Amnesty International said as it released its annual report in the week of its 40th anniversary.

"Globalization -- the spread of the free market economy and technological change -- has led to enormous economic expansion, but has been accompanied by debt, poverty and widening inequalities," the organization said.

Many states claim they have been forced to adopt economic policies which undermine social, economic and cultural rights. This, Amnesty International believes, is a disingenuous claim, because governments have the power to defend their people against the arbitrary actions of multinational corporations or the pressures of intergovernmental financial institutions.

The picture that emerges from Amnesty International's annual report on its 40th anniversary is one of a world where the perpetrators of human rights violations in at least 149 countries are not only confined to government officials and state agents. The perpetrators are often family or community members or employers against whom governments fail to take action. Human rights abuses are also committed on a daily basis by armed opposition and paramilitary groups.

The annual report documents extrajudicial executions in 61 countries; judicial executions in 28 countries; prisoners of conscience in at least 63 countries; cases of torture and ill-treatment in 125 countries and "disappearances" in 30 countries. However, Amnesty International believes that the true figures for all these statistics are much higher.

"Governments have adopted the rhetoric of human rights, but few have delivered this as a reality," Amnesty International said.

"There is much that governments can and should do: They can ensure that workers are protected from the worst forms of exploitation; they can combat impunity which is the poison that allows human rights violations to spread, to recur or to re-emerge; they can stop attacking human rights activists; they can, and must, live up to their human rights obligations," continued the organization.

"The challenge for Amnesty International today remains above all to hold states accountable. Recentring the debate to focus on the powers and obligations of governments does not mean ignoring the responsibilities of others. It does mean insisting that states have to confront their cowardice, their cover-ups and their efforts to shirk their responsibilities. It does mean stressing that they have the power, despite external constraints, to deliver on human rights if they have the political will."

"Economic insecurity has stoked internal conflicts that nation states have proved unable to resolve or contain. But that does not mean that economic instability is an excuse for governments to escape from their responsibilities."

The human rights challenges which arise from globalization have stimulated Amnesty International to expand its work by promoting the human rights agenda within the business community, confronting multinational corporations and insisting that companies engage in protecting human rights -- particularly those active in countries where there are massive human rights violations.

Last year, Amnesty International vigorously lobbied the international diamond manufacturing and trading communities to take effective measures to develop a tamper-proof system to prevent conflict diamonds from Sierra Leone from reaching international markets. Amnesty International activists campaigned before jewelry stores in the United States and engaged in discussions with Hoge Raad voor Diamant of Antwerp, as well as the DeBeers group. The organization also publicly called upon oil companies active in Sudan to raise human rights concerns with the Sudanese authorities, and to take measures to protect human rights in their sphere of operations.

Amnesty International has also revealed that the international trade in high voltage electro-shock batons, shields, stun guns, and stun belts has been expanding throughout the 1990s. In the last two years, over 150 companies operating in 22 countries have been making or marketing electro-shock weapons. The organization has called for a ban on the use of police and security equipment whose use is inherently cruel, inhuman or degrading.

The potential conflict between the pursuit of profit and the protection of human rights has led Amnesty International to communicate its concerns with the international financial institutions, like the World Bank, which is in a position to exert great influence over national economic and political agendas. Amnesty International will continue to press for real change, so that human rights are given proper consideration in all the Bank's work.

The indivisible links between socio-economic and political rights have been mirrored in the emergence of a new network of protest movements. A global solidarity movement is forming out of the negative consequences of globalization. Amnesty International offers its unique experience to this endeavour to bring human rights protection and justice to the majority of peoples in the world today.

"The forces against human rights may be formidable, but the outrage at injustice that led to the founding of Amnesty International 40 years ago continues to motivate millions of people to tackle governments with a determination to build a better world: utopia may not be within reach, but positive change is."

Full version of the Amnesty International Report 2001

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