This article was published first in Left Foot Forward
Lucy Shaddock, Public Affairs and Campaigns Manager, The Equality Trust; and Koldo Casla, Policy, Research and Training Manager, Just Fair
The countdown is on to the General Election, and party manifestos have been coming thick and fast. There’s plenty of rhetorical commitment to a more equal and fair society, with the Conservatives proclaiming that they ‘abhor[s] social division, injustice, unfairness and inequality’, and Labour declaring itself ‘the party of equality’. The Liberal Democrats say they will focus on ‘breaking down the barriers that hold people back’, while Plaid Cymru wants a country based on ‘fairness and equal opportunity’. The Green Party promises to ‘fight for equality, and for a society where nobody is left behind’, and the SNP says ‘tackling rising inequality must be one of the key priorities of the next parliament’.
They all use the word ‘rights’ a good number of times. In fact, for the first time in too many years no serious political party threatens to repeal the Human Rights Act in the next Parliament, which is only thanks to the tireless campaigning of so many activists up and down the country.
There are many levers available to policymakers to ease our social divisions – taxation, spending, investment and regulation offer opportunities to tackle inequality. We need them all: the UK has among the most unequal incomes in the developed world, and an eye-watering wealth gap that sees the richest 1,000 people hoarding more wealth than the poorest 40 per cent of the population combined. This economic gulf hurts us. It undermines our enjoyment of human rights by harming our physical and mental health and by hindering our education, it damages our economy, restricts social mobility, reduces levels of trust and civic participation, and weakens the social ties that bind us.
Yesterday, 15 June, Britain celebrated the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. The text proclaimed some of what we now call “human rights”, related to fair trial and the rule of law. It was meant to be a peace treaty between English barons and a particularly bully monarch, King John. Magna Carta did not really apply at the time, war resumed soon after and most of the text was repealed throughout history. However, yesterday, the birthday was greeted with royal splendour and the Prime Minister said that Magna Carta “changed the world”. Not bad for someone who not long ago didn’t know the literal translation of Magna Carta (it’s “Great Charter”, by the way).
David Cameron is not alone in his enthusiasm. Others have claimed that we still enjoy the rights “won” in 1215. BBC refers to Magna Carta as “the document that heralded modern democracy”. And the rather obsessive-looking historian David Starkey is convinced that the proclamation of property rights in Magna Carta was “the foundation of everything else”, in a way that other countries, like China and Russia, have not experienced to this day; Magna Carta was “unique in Europe” and Americans and continental Europeans learned about civil liberties from it.
Western European countries promote international human rights norms. The summits of London and Madrid are just two examples of what and how they do it. Now, the questions are: Why do they do it? And, related to this, what kind of norms do they promote?
According to Finnemore and Sikkink’s famous model of international norm diffusion, states play a major role in this process when they choose to embrace certain norms, understood as “standards for the appropriate behavior of states”. Finnemore and Sikkink are of the opinion that states promote human rights norms “for reasons that relate to their identities as members of the international society”. In other words, states promote norms because they consider them legitimate.
The United States and the Vatican have recently been criticised by three UN committees for the very same reason: Because both States refuse to accept that their human rights obligations have effects beyond their national borders.
In February, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) demanded the Vatican to put an end to the impunity in relation to sex abuse and to remove immediately all clergy who are known or suspected child abusers (find CRC’s Concluding Observations here). In its defence, the Vatican representative argued that “priests are not functionaries of the Vatican”; they are “citizens of their own states, and they fall under the jurisdiction of their own country”. The CRC rightly responded applying the general principle of International Human Rights Law that says that States must respond for the human rights abuses committed wherever they exercise “effective control”, regardless of whether it is within or beyond national boundaries. Continue reading “UN bodies insist: Human rights have extraterritorial effects”→
This article was originally published in Dialogue, issue 6, winter 2013.
In the last two decades, norms and beliefs have put on weight in scholarly research in international relations. Traditional (neo)realists would still insist that international relations are only about one predetermined goal, that is, survival. Nonetheless, among those willing to accept that there is room for choice in foreign affairs, the study of human rights in foreign policy has focused so far on issues like motivations, consistency, assessment and impact. These are certainly critical aspects that deserve due attention in order to comprehend the possibilities of a foreign policy that includes human rights into its defining elements. However, I believe it is time to take another step and make the case that the existing global legal regime imposes certain human rights duties on States also when they work as international actors. Continue reading “A normative defence of a foreign policy in line with human rights”→
The puzzle is probably as applicable to Europe as to the rest of the world. Looking at the way intelligence agencies have been spying over European citizens, or at the “legacy of poverty” that the austerity policies are leaving behind, we can legitimately wonder if freedom, social justice, democracy and human rights are at all appealing within the West itself and, specifically, in Europe. However, the question that I ask myself today is whether these values and norms are still attractive in developing countries, if they ever were.
A few days ago, I attended an event co-organised by Ipsos Mori and KCL International Development Institute, where they presented a research into public perceptions about growth and prosperity in emerging economies. The survey was conducted online and about 6000 people were interviewed in 11 countries: Brazil, Argentina, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, India, China, South Korea, Indonesia and Mexico. When asked about what country/region has the best economic ideas and offer better employment opportunities, the US and China led way ahead (28 and 26%) and the EU came third (16%). In fact, the EU only was first in 2 of the 11 countries: Turkey and South Korea. Interestingly enough, Brazilians, Russians and Indians all agree that China is leading the way among the BRICs. From the perspective of the emerging world, the Chinese model now seems at least as relevant as the American one, and the decline of Europe is just evident. Continue reading “Are freedom, social justice, democracy and human rights appealing outside the West?”→
A few days ago the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, met the Prime Minister of Morocco, Abdelilah Benkirane. In a short press note, the Foreign Office said that “Morocco stands as a strong example of peaceful reform and progress in North Africa, and the UK will continue to support the government’s reform process”.
Perhaps the Foreign Secretary forgot that since the mid-1970s Morocco occupies militarily a territory roughly the size of the UK: Western Sahara. A colony of Spain since the mid-19th century, the territory and its population were left on their own when Spain left shamefully in 1975-1976. Morocco immediately occupied the land upon the Spanish retreat. In an advisory opinion issued in October 1975, the International Court of Justice rejected the Moroccan sovereignty claims over Western Sahara. For fifteen long years, the Moroccan army and the Saharawi national liberation force (Polisario Front) fought a bloody war that scattered landmines across the territory and expelled tens of thousands of refugees to the neighbouring Algeria. The Polisario Front also fought against Mauritania until the latter’s withdrawal in 1979. After some years of military stagnation, in 1991, under the auspices of the United Nations Morocco and the Polisario agreed to a settlement plan that included a referendum where the local Saharawi population would have the chance to determine its own future. A UN mission (MINURSO) was set up to ensure the settlement was respected and fulfilled. However, to this day, Morocco has consistently refused the Saharawis the referendum they are entitled to by international law and the 1991 peace agreement. Morocco uses its military force to retain control over Western Sahara, while around 100.000 people survive in the refugee camps of Tindouf, in the Algerian desert. Those who remained in the occupied territories suffer continuous violations of their human rights, including torture, unresolved disappearances, restrictions to the freedom of association and discrimination in the access to work, education and healthcare. In the meantime, the natural resources of Western Sahara, particularly fisheries and phosphates, are plundered in front of the eyes of the local population, which doesn’t benefit from these industrial activities and doesn’t have a say on them. Continue reading “Mr. Hague, considering Western Sahara, Morocco is not a strong example of peaceful reform and progress”→