In reviewing, assessing and acknowledging the effects of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, enslavement and colonialism, the groundbreaking Durban World Conference of 2001, represented a “milestone” in the common fight against racism, xenophobia and related intolerance, the UN human rights chief said on Monday.
High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet said that in examining “the legacy of some of the most appalling chapters in human history”, the historic conference in South Africa, and resulting declaration inspired by the host nation’s struggle against Apartheid, is a work in progress, she reminded the Intergovernmental Working Group on the declaration’s Programme of Action.
Durban was the first UN Conference to address the historical roots of contemporary racism and acknowledge slavery and the slave trade, as crimes against humanity.
‘A long way to go’
Recent months, however, have been a reminder that “there is still a long way to go for human rights to be equally enjoyed by all”, flagged the UN rights chief, naming COVID-19 a “stark” example of a recent obstacle.
Ms. Bachelet noted that the pandemic has taken more than a million lives, prompting the deepest economic recession since the Second World War. She said more than 100 million people may be pushed into extreme poverty, the first global rise since 1998.
“As we have seen since the beginning of this crisis, while the virus itself does not discriminate, its impacts certainly do”, she attested, painting a picture of those whose voices are silenced and interests rarely served, as being worst affected by COVID-19, through health or socio-economic repercussions.
Among them are the indigenous, people of African descent and those belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, whose rights have been denied by systemic racial discrimination.
Ms. Bachelet emphasized that those suffering racial discrimination, more often work in the informal sector, many living in poverty and at risk of losing their jobs, with no social protection.
“Yet again, those facing racial discrimination are most often the ones with fewer conditions to study at their homes, fewer digital skills and limited or no access to the Internet. Some may even never return to school”.
Still, despite overwhelming evidence, a lack of disaggregated data on how the COVID-19 pandemic has been affecting victims of racial discrimination are underestimating – or even denying – disparities and human rights violations. MW
The pandemic has also revealed the additional vulnerability of migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and Stateless people, Ms. Bachelet pointed out.
Without State protections and with serious restrictions on their rights, many are harassed, arbitrarily arrested and face mass deportation.
“We have seen a rise in discriminatory and xenophobic attitudes affecting Asians and people of Asian descent, which often lead to violence”, Ms. Bachelet underscored. “Even before the pandemic, we were witnessing a worldwide increase in negative stereotypes against certain groups”.
Migrants and other racially discriminated groups are often the scapegoats for problems, particularly in relation to housing and employment shortages, according to the High Commissioner.
Women facing ‘excessive burden’
The crisis is disproportionately impacting women as well, particularly those already facing gender, race and ethnic discrimination.
“They are subject to an excessive burden of unpaid work, increased poverty, job insecurity and limited access to public services”, the UN rights chief said. “Women have also been on the frontlines of response to the health crisis and are more exposed to infection”.
Greater equality is “an ethical obligation…a pre-requisite for overcoming these crises and a requirement to recover from COVID-19 and build back better”, she upheld.
Israel: ‘Halt and reverse’ new settlement construction
Israel’s decision to advance plans for some 800 new settlement units, most of which are located deep inside the occupied West Bank, has sparked the concern of UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
In a statement issued on Monday by his spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, the UN chief urged the Israeli Government to “halt and reverse such decisions”, calling them “a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution, and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace”.
‘No legal validity’
Mr. Guterres reiterated that Israel’s establishing of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law”.
“Settlement expansion increases the risk of confrontation, further undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, and further erodes the possibility of ending the occupation and establishing a contiguous and viable sovereign Palestinian State, based on the pre-1967 lines”, he said.
Israel has given the green light to 780 new homes in West Bank settlements on Sunday in a move widely seen as being influenced by the imminent transfer of power in the United States.
Breaking with decades of US diplomacy, outgoing President Donald Trump, in 2019 unilaterally declared that the settlements no longer breached international law.
Against that backdrop, Israel has been increasing construction and either approved or made plans for more than 12,000 homes in 2020, according to news reports.
Spectre of unrest, violent repression looming over Haiti
Increasing political tensions in Haiti coupled with insecurity and structural inequalities could result in protests followed by violent crackdowns by authorities, the United Nations human rights office (OHCHR) warned on Tuesday.
According to the office, criminal activities, such as kidnappings, gang fights and widespread insecurity have increased, with “almost total” impunity.
Added to the volatile mix is resurging political tensions over the timing and scope of elections and a constitutional referendum proposed by the Government, OHCHR spokesperson Marta Hurtado told journalists at a regular briefing in Geneva.
“Calls for mass protests have been growing. This in turn raises concerns of renewed human rights violations by security forces during the policing of protests as seen during the months-long protests in 2018 and 2019, as well as during demonstrations in October and November of last year.”
According to an OHCHR report on the unrest, protests started relatively peacefully in July 2018 but became increasingly violent over time, with many violations and abuses of the rights to life, security of the person and effective remedy.
‘Pattern of violations’
The report also documented violations to the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. In 2019 demonstrations, barricades were set up that blocked people’s access to hospitals and passage of ambulances. Health facilities were also attacked, severely impacting the daily lives of the Haitian people, particularly those in a vulnerable situation.
In addition, protesters and criminal elements imposed “passage fees”, further impeding the movement of people and goods and exacerbating economic hardship.
“The report shows a pattern of human rights violations and abuses followed by near lack of accountability,” Ms. Hurtado said.
The OHCHR spokesperson called on Haitian authorities to take “immediate action” to avoid repetition of such violations and abuses by ensuring that law enforcement officers abide by international norms and standards regarding the use of force when dealing with protests; as well as ensuring that gangs do not interfere with people’s right to demonstrate peacefully.
She also urged the Government to guarantee accountability for past violations and abuses, ensuring justice, truth, and reparations. Alongside, Haiti should take steps to address people’s grievances and the root causes that fuelled the protests, she added.
“OHCHR stands ready to continue supporting State authorities in their fulfilment of human rights international obligations [and] expresses its willingness to continue working towards the establishment of a country office,” Ms. Hurtado said, welcoming commitments made by the Haitian National Police to reform practices documented in the report.
Child labour ‘robs children of their future’, scourge must end
Although child labour has decreased significantly over the last decade, one-in-ten children are still caught up in harmful work, the UN’s labour agency said on Friday, kicking off a year-long bid to eradicate the practice.
Breaking down the stats
While the number has dropped from 246 million in 2000 to 152 million in 2016, ILO noted uneven progress across regions.
It pointed to some 72 million children working in Africa, which account for almost half of the world’s total. This is followed by Asia and the Pacific, home to 62 million child labourers.
ILO highlighted that 70 per cent of these children work in agriculture – mainly in subsistence and commercial farming and livestock herding – and almost half in occupations or situations considered hazardous to their health and lives.
The COVID factor
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has considerably exacerbated the situation by rendering everyone more vulnerable to exploitation, compounding poverty within defenseless populations and jeopardizing hard-fought gains in the fight against child labour.
Furthermore, school closures have pushed millions more children into the labour market, so they can contribute to the family income.
“With COVID-19 threatening to reverse years of progress, we need to deliver on promises now more than ever”, said the ILO chief.
A year of action
On a positive note, ILO said that joint and decisive action can reverse this trend.
In collaboration with the Alliance 8.7 global partnership, ILO launched the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour to encourage legislative and practical actions to eradicate child labour worldwide.
Target 8.7 calls for immediate measures to end forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking while also eliminating the worst forms of child labour, including use of child soldiers, and by 2025 ending child labour in all its forms.
The 12-month campaign will also prepare the ground for the fifth Global Conference on Child Labour (VGC) in 2022, which will welcome additional commitments towards ending child labour in all its forms by 2025, and forced labour, human trafficking and modern slavery by 2030.
“This International Year is an opportunity for governments to step up and achieve Target 8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals by taking concrete actions to eliminate child labour for good”.
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