Friday, May 29, 2009

Human rights in jeopardy around the world: AI

by Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Amnesty International (AI) is reporting that the world is sitting on a social, political and economic time bomb fuelled by an unfolding human rights crisis, according to their latest annual report released on Thursday.

In AI's 2009 State of the World’s Human Rights, Secretary General Irene Khan cautioned in a statement, “Underlying the economic crisis is an explosive human rights crisis. The economic downturn has aggravated abuses, distracted attention from them and created new problems. In the name of security, human rights were trampled on. Now, in the name of economic recovery, they are being relegated to the back seat.”

The statement noted that higher food prices has led to more hunger and disease, notably in Burma, North Korea and Zimbabwe, where governments are accused of using food as a political weapon.

Burmese authorities are further accused of ongoing human rights abuses related to restrictions on the freedom of expression and continued offensives against ethnic groups.

Since November 2005, when a current government offensive began in the east of Burma, more than 140,000 Karen civilians are said to have been killed, tortured, forcibly displaced, sexually violated, recruited for forced labor and otherwise subjected to widespread and systematic violations of their human rights. According to AI, such actions are tantamount to crimes against humanity.

In the report's focus on Asia and the Pacific, AI highlighted the May 2008 landfall of Cyclone Nargis in Burma, which killed some 130,000 and displaced hundreds of thousands more. The rights watchdog accuses Burma's authorities of pursuing policies detrimental to the relief and rehabilitation of those affected by the killer storm.

“The cyclone should have also wiped away any lingering doubts over whether repressive government policies can impoverish a population. The world watched in horror as Myanmar’s [Burma's] government, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), refused to acknowledge the scope of the disaster and provided little assistance to the estimated 2.4 million survivors of the cyclone.”

AI’s report indicated that the SPDC rejected international assistance and blocked access to the effected area when survivors most needed food, shelter and medicine.

“Instead, a week after the cyclone, as victims were still struggling to survive, the SPDC diverted crucial resources towards a rubber stamp referendum to approve a new and deeply flawed Constitution," argues AI. "By deliberately blocking vital aid while failing to provide adequate assistance itself, the SPDC violated the rights of hundreds of thousands to life, food, and health.”

The report noted that even Burma's erstwhile defenders in the international community, including ASEAN countries and China, objected to the junta's actions following Nargis, calling on the Generals to provide access to aid and mediating between Naypyitaw and the wider international community.

The group added that setting aside its historic reluctance to speak in the language of human rights, ASEAN’s valuable efforts in the wake of Cyclone Nargis helped those devastated receive critical assistance.

AI further leant its support to the establishment of a Human Rights component to the ASEAN Charter.

Amidst trying times for human rights around the world, “The Charter asserts members’ commitment to human rights and provides ASEAN with an unprecedented opportunity to create a strong human rights body,” postulates the London-based organization.

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