Weekly News Update April 5-9, 2021
Jerusalem Post - Forward challenges United Nations Secretary-General selection process
This article was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and written by Sarah Chemla. Click here to read the original piece.
Forward, a global political movement, launched an international political campaign aimed at challenging the UN Secretary-General selection process to make it more inclusive, insisting on both the need for a female leader and more of the public's involvement in the process. The movement is trying to fight global challenges such as climate change and the rise of extremism by establishing "coherent political force" working to solve them within elected bodies. In the optic of finding the most relevant Secretary-General of United Nations for their fight, the movement ran primaries aimed at finding a non-male, people-backed candidate to run for Secretary-General this year and replace the incumbent, António Guterres, who has been in the position since 2017. Guterres announced earlier that he will be seeking for a second five-year term. Forward gathered the need for a female leader with the need for more popular involvement in the selection process. Moreover, the movement is now trying to register as many voters as possible as well as potential candidates. "In the midst of accelerating global trends, the world needs strong global leadership backed by democratic will. Legitimacy goes hand in hand with representation, and the United Nations is in dire need of both," said Colombe Cahen-Salvador and Andrea Venzon, co-founders of the initiative. Through this project, Forward intends to give a voice and a say to those longing to see a more transparent, inclusive, and effective United Nations and to ultimately reverse people's trust in the international organization. According to the United Nations Charter, the appointment of a Secretary-General is made by the General Assembly, on the recommendation of the Security Council, which in effect means that any of the five permanent members - the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Russia, and France - can veto the nominee. Each Secretary-General has the option of a second term, provided they can muster enough support from Member States.
Amnesty International Report 2020/21: The State of the World’s Human Rights (annual report)
The United States is featured on pages 382-386, focusing on discrimination; health; deadly use of force; freedom of assembly; life and security; rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants; human rights defenders; women's rights, LGBTI rights, torture; the death penalty; arbitrary detention; unlawful killings of civilians; and international mechanisms.
COVID-19 hits those shackled by oppression hardest thanks to decades of inequalities, neglect and abuse
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The global pandemic has exposed the terrible legacy of deliberately divisive and destructive policies that have perpetuated inequality, discrimination and oppression and paved the way for the devastation wrought by COVID-19, Amnesty International said in its annual report published today.
Amnesty International Report 2020/21: The State of the World’s Human Rights covers 149 countries and delivers a comprehensive analysis of human rights trends globally in 2020.
In it, the organization describes those already most marginalized, including women and refugees, as bearing the devastating brunt of the pandemic, as a result of decades of discriminatory policy decisions by world leaders. Health workers, migrant workers, and those in the informal sector - many at the frontlines of the pandemic - have also been betrayed by neglected health systems and patchy economic and social support.
The response to the global pandemic has been further undermined by leaders who have ruthlessly exploited the crisis and weaponized COVID-19 to launch fresh attacks on human rights, the organization says.
“COVID-19 has brutally exposed and deepened inequality both within and between countries, and highlighted the staggering disregard our leaders have for our shared humanity. Decades of divisive policies, misguided austerity measures, and choices by leaders not to invest in crumbling public infrastructure, have left too many easy prey to this virus,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s new Secretary General.
“We face a world in disarray. At this point in the pandemic, even the most deluded leaders would struggle to deny that our social, economic and political systems are broken.”
Pandemic has amplified decades of inequalities and erosion of public services.
Amnesty’s report shows how existing inequalities as a result of decades of toxic leadership have left ethnic minorities, refugees, older persons, and women disproportionately negatively affected by the pandemic.
COVID-19 worsened the already precarious situation of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in many countries, trapping some in squalid camps, cutting off vital supplies, or precipitating border controls that left many stranded. For example, Uganda, the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa with 1.4 million refugees, immediately closed its borders at the start of the pandemic and did not make an exception for refugees and asylum seekers trying to enter the country. As a result, over 10,000 people were stranded along its border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The report highlights a marked increase in gender-based and domestic violence with many women and LGBTI persons facing increased barriers to protection and support due to restrictions on freedom of movement; lack of confidential mechanisms for victims to report violence while isolated with their abusers, and reduced capacity or suspension of services.
Those on the frontlines of the pandemic - health workers, and those in the informal sector – suffered as a result of willfully neglected health systems and pitiful social protection measures. In Bangladesh, many working in the informal sector have been left without an income or social protections due to lockdowns and curfews. In Nicaragua, over the course of two weeks in early June, at least 16 health workers were dismissed after expressing concerns about lack of PPE and the state response to the pandemic.
“We are reaping the results of years of calculated neglect at the hands of our leaders. In 2020, under the unique strain of a pandemic, health systems have been put to the ultimate test and people have been left in financial freefall. The heroes of 2020 were the health workers on the frontlines saving lives and those bunched together at the very bottom of the income scale, who worked to feed families, and keep our essential services going. Cruelly, those who gave the most, were protected the least,” said Agnès Callamard.
Virulent strain of leaders weaponize the pandemic to further assault human rights
The report also paints a dismal picture of the failures of global leaders whose handling of the pandemic has been marked by opportunism and total contempt for human rights.
“We’ve seen a spectrum of responses from our leaders; from the mediocre to mendacious, selfish to the fraudulent. Some have tried to normalise the overbearing emergency measures they’ve ushered in to combat COVID-19, whilst a particularly virulent strain of leader has gone a step further. They have seen this as an opportunity to entrench their own power. Instead of supporting and protecting people, they have simply weaponized the pandemic to wreak havoc on people’s rights. said Agnès Callamard.
Authorities passing legislation criminalizing commentary related to the pandemic has been a presiding pattern. In Hungary for example, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government amended the country’s Criminal Code, introducing prison sentences of up to five years for “spreading false information” about COVID-19 for example.
Across the Gulf states in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates authorities used the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to continue suppressing the right to freedom of expression, including by prosecuting individuals, who posted comments on social media about government responses to the pandemic, for spreading “false news”.
Other leaders have used excessive force. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte said he had ordered police to shoot “dead” people who protest or may cause “trouble” during quarantine measures. In Nigeria, brutal policing has resulted in security forces killing people for protesting in the streets, demanding their rights and calling for accountability. Under President Bolsonaro, police violence in Brazil escalated during the COVID-19 pandemic. At least 3,181 people were killed by the police across the country between January and June - an average of 17 deaths per day.
Some leaders have gone a step further, using the distraction of the pandemic to clamp down on criticism – and critics – unrelated to the virus, and perpetrate other human rights violations while the gaze of the world’s media was elsewhere. For example, in India, Narendra Modi, further cracked down on civil society activists, including through counter-terrorism raids on their homes and premises. Meanwhile under President Xi Jinping, the Chinese government continued its persecution of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang unabated and a sweeping national security law was ushered through in Hong Kong to legitimize politically motivated repression.
“International institutions such as the International Criminal Court and UN human rights mechanisms are there to hold states and individual perpetrators to account. Sadly, 2020 shows that they have been wrestled into political deadlock by leaders seeking to exploit and undermine collective responses to human rights violations,” said Agnès Callamard.
National self-interest has trumped international cooperation in COVID response
World leaders have also wreaked havoc on the international stage, hampering collective recovery efforts by blocking or undermining international cooperation.
Leaders of rich countries, such as former President Trump, circumventing global cooperation efforts by buying up most of the world’s supply of vaccines, leaving little to none for other countries. These rich countries also have failed to push pharmaceutical companies to share their knowledge and technology to expand the supply of global COVID-19 vaccines.
Xi Jinping’s government censoring and persecuting health workers and journalists in China who attempted to raise the alarm about the virus early on, supressing crucial information.
The G2O offering to suspend debt payments from the poorest countries, but demanding that the money be repaid with interest later.
“The pandemic has cast a harsh light on the world’s inability to cooperate effectively in times of dire global need,” said Agnès Callamard.
“The only way out of this mess is through international cooperation. States must ensure vaccines are quickly available to everyone, everywhere, and free at the point of use. Pharmaceutical companies must share their knowledge and technology so no one is left behind. G20 members and international financial institutions must provide debt relief for the poorest 77 countries to respond and recover from pandemic.”
Failed by their governments, protest movements the world over have stood up
Regressive policies have inspired many people to join long-standing struggles as seen by the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States, the #End SARS protests in Nigeria, and new and creative forms of protest such as virtual climate strikes. The report details many important victories that human rights activists helped to secure in 2020, particularly across gender-based violence. These include new legislation to counter violence against women and girls in Kuwait, South Korea, and Sudan, and the decriminalization of abortion in Argentina, Northern Ireland, and South Korea.
“Leadership in 2020 came not from power, privilege, or profiteers. It came from the countless people marching to demand change. We saw an outpouring of support for #End SARS, Black Lives Matter, as well as public protests against repression and inequality in places across the world including in Poland, Hong Kong, Iraq and Chile. Often risking their own safety, it was the leadership of ordinary people and human rights defenders the world over that urged us on. These are the people at the frontier of the struggle for a better, safer and more equal world,” said Agnès Callamard.
“We are at a crossroads. We must release the shackles that degrade human dignity. We must reset and reboot to build a world grounded in equality, human rights, and humanity. We must learn from the pandemic, and come together to work boldly and creatively so everyone is on an equal footing.”
This release and the report will be available at: https://www.amnestyusa.org/reports/annual-report-2020/
Follow @amnestyusa on Twitter, Instagram @amnestyusa, and Facebook FB.com/amnestyusa. Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning global movement of more than 10 million people who campaign for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.
Analysis - Dr J Scott Younger: What next for Myanmar?
What next for Myanmar?
I was attracted by a line from an old Japanese poem “If all the world are brothers, why are wind and waves so restless”. It made me think of all the problems, national repression, skirmishes and wars that we have today in the Middle East, Ethiopia, Myanmar, and several other countries. Peace is a very fragile thing, elusive, and we must still seek to resolve our differences.
I went to Myanmar, or Burma as it was called, some 40 years ago on the back of a UNDP project, and despite catching a bad dose of typhus fever and the plane falling out of the sky some ten days after I flew out for treatment, I went back for a few trips and got to know the country and the politics a little better.
Myanmar has been in the hands of the Burmese military ever since independence from British colonial rule in 1947. Even though Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of the independence movement leader, Aung San, who was assassinated at the beginning, won a clear mandate in 2010, increasing ten years later, the military maintained an over-riding hand.
Perhaps Burma’s problems started in 1962 when Ne Win exercised a military coup and for the next 20 or so years effectively shut the borders and ran the country into poverty. He tried to monetise the currency only for it to deteriorate further which led to the 1988 strikes and unrest.
Suu Kyi, or the Lady as she is known, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her stand over democratic freedoms while undergoing house arrest. The house arrest was relaxed and when her organisation the National League for Democracy (NLD) was allowed to stand in the election of 2010 it won a clear majority. The military still retained, however, the final say in decision-making. A number of seats in the parliament at the new capital of Nay Pyi Taw, which lies midway between the two main cities of Yangon (Rangoon) and Mandalay, are held by them. In other words, the NLD could govern subject to military approval.
This has lasted for a few years until the fairly recent Rohingya problem, but we need to go back in history a while to understand the roots of the problem. In the 19th century, the British had to bring in Bengalis from India, much as in Malaya, to help develop the estates, plantations. These people practised Islam which was anathema to the Buddhist Burmese, or so we were told, and in 2017 a move against them by the military in terms of murder, arson and rape, effectively genocide, caused the Rohingya to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh. The Burmese military, which is one of the largest of the region, have carried out decades of atrocities in the northeast of the country in the Shan and Kachin states, which have fought a guerrilla war with the Burmese army for decades. The war is still going on. The general who seized power in the recent coup is 64 year old Min Aung Hlaing. For a decade previously he was in charge of the guerrilla war in the northeast and so one would not expect much sympathy from him.
The trigger of the current situation was the result of the October 2020 election where Suu Kyi’s NLD party won an overwhelming majority over the pro-military USDP (United Socialist Development Party), who said the vote was fraudulent, which ‘justified’ the coup. Many NLD politicians have been taken into custody and the President of the country and the Lady, Suu Kyi, have been taken away to an unknown destination. Charges, undoubtedly trumped up, have been brought against Suu Kyi. Min Aung Hlaing says he will hold a fresh election early next year with the hope that he can ‘arrange’ a better result that would legitimise the coup! The people won’t wait that long.
The recent Armed Forces Day, a tour de force, was celebrated while over 100 people were shot and lost their lives in protests. In attendance at the event were the defence ministers of China and Russia, the main supplier of arms to the Burmese military. Myanmar is strategically very important to China, from access to Myanmar’s rich resources to also providing direct access to the many assets they now hold in several African countries. They view Myanmar as an important client country.
There has been a growing number of protests over the coup and the fall out from it, from the World’s main organisations – the UN, EU, Amnesty International and a number of major countries, including the US. They have written very stiff letters but with China and Russia being on the UN’s Security Council there is little that will be done. China knows that; there are examples of Tibet, islands of the S China sea taken illegally, its actions on the Uighurs and its breaking of the agreement 25 years early negating democratic freedoms for HK. Will the west just permit this creeping takeover? Will they be more forceful over Myanmar? Or will the Myanmar people sort out their big problem themselves? Alas not without outside help.
About the author:
Dr J Scott Younger, OBE, is a professional civil engineer; he spent 42 years in the Far East undertaking assignments in 10 countries for WB, ADB, UNDP. He published many papers; he was a columnist for Forbes Indonesia and Globe Asia. He served on British & European Chamber boards and was a Vice Chair of Int’l Business Chamber for 17 years. His expertise is infrastructure and sustainable development and he takes an interest in international affairs. He is an International Chancellor of the President University, Indonesia. He is a member of IFIMES Advisory Board. Lived and worked in Burma in 1980s.
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