Top 10 Human Rights Reports on International Human Rights Day

10 Dec

Every year, NGOs, UN and state agencies produce countless human rights reports documenting an extensive range of human rights issues. To commemorate International Human Rights day on the 10th December, I have decided to compile and publish a list of my personal top 10 important human rights reports of the year. This list is however not meant to be comprehensive nor does it adequately address the many more human rights violations that have occurred in 2009. I have chosen these reports mostly based on personal factors, also taking into consideration human rights violations that garnered media coverage (or not) and the severity of the violations. In no particular order, they are:

1. The Goldstone Report – UN fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict
The UN report which was produced and headed by Justice Richard Goldstone, former judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, has become a major embarrassment for the Israel government and its supporters. In this report, the UN Mission focused on the violation of international human rights laws and international humanitarian laws during the incursion of Gaza from 27 December to 18 January 2009. It concluded that the military campaign launched by Israel is in violation of international laws including but not limited to indiscriminate and deliberate attacks against the civilian population.

2. Challenging repression – Human Rights Defenders in the Middle East & North Africa

Kudos to Amnesty International for producing a report on the profiles of human rights defenders in the Middle East and North African region and the repression that they had to go through. While stories of human rights abuses tend to promote a bleak view of humanity, the courage of their defenders are inspiring. Though AI claims that the Middle East and North Africa region is still failing in many aspects on human rights protection, there have been noticeable gains in some countries such as the improvement of womens’ rights in Kuwait.

3. The resistance of the Monks – Buddhism and Activism in Burma

With more than 90 percent of Burmese believed to be Buddhist, the clergy is an influential  social institution that has always found itself at the forefront of political activism since the fight for independence. This report by Human Rights Watch weaves together a narrative of how Burmese monks had been involved in promoting the human rights of ordinary Burmese in Cyclone Nargis (2008) and their participation in the 2007 anti-junta protests.

4. Going it all alone – The workers’ movement in China (2007- 2008)
As multinational corporations and business think tanks continue to exhort the virtues of capitalist globalisation by moving their production facilities to developing states, this report by China Labour Bulletin serves as a timely reminder of the erosion of workers’ rights due to such measures. According to the organisation, many of the strikes and work-related incidents were initiated by rural migrant workers whose rights are least protected in China. The workers’ movement is also hampered by a lack of genuine trade union representation.

5. Death sentences and executions in 2008
Another encouraging report by AI on global developments in the repeal of the death penalty. According to the international human rights organisation, more states around the world are increasingly becoming more reluctant to enforce capital punishment. In December last year, the UN General Assembly adopted by a large majority, a second resolution, calling for a moratorium with a view to abolish the death penalty. Today, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan and USA are the five states which carry out the majority of executions worldwide.

6. Assessing Damage, Urging Action
This report by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) is an extensive study that took three years involving hearings from over 40 countries. It delves into the interlocking themes of terrorism, counter-terrorism, human rights and state security and discovers that some of the liberal democratic societies that have previously been vocal on protecting human rights are now guilty of undermining these practices in the name of combating terrorism. The authors of the report argued that human dignity and the respect for the rule of law must not be compromised in forging an international consensus in response to terrorism.

7.   The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis

Produced by the Global Humanitarian Forum and produced months ahead of Cophenhagen, this report looks at the impact of climate change on human society. According to the network, hundreds of thousands of lives are lost annually due to climate change. This figure is expected to increase to half a million in 20 years. More than nine out of ten deaths are currently associated with environmental degradation due to climate change. Today, more than half a billion people are at threat due to climate change as a result of their inability to meet these changes. Furthermore, climate change hits the poor in developing countries the most. It also exacerbates current inequalities faced by vulnerable groups such as women, children and the elderly.

8. The Chavez Administration at 10 years: the economy and social indicators
While most liberal western governments have denounced Hugo Chavez for clamping down on the Opposition and the media, much less has been reported on the economic gains in Venezuela that has benefited the poor in his new socialist vision/ project. This report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research produces statistics proving that the poor in Venezuela has seen their living conditions improved since Chavez came to power a decade ago and rejected the Washington Consensus model of growth. For example,  the percentage of households in poverty has been reduced by 39 percent while those in extreme poverty, by more than half. Between 1998 and 2006, infant mortality has decreased by more than one-third. Primary health care has also been boosted in the public sector 12-fold between 1999 and 2007, ‘providing health care to millions of Venezuelans who previously did not have access’.

9. White paper on the repression of political freedoms in Singapore – the case of opposition leader Dr Chee Soon Juan

Even though Singapore is one of the worlds’ most prosperous countries and has been constantly ranked by the business press and think tanks as an exemplar, the city state continues to be dominated by an authoritarian one party government since independence. This white paper provides a succinct background to the political control exerted by the party and reveals specifically through the case study of Opposition politician, Dr Chee Soon Juan on how human rights, specifically, civil and political rights are suppressed.

10. The National Human Rights Consultation Report (Australia)

The National Human Rights Consultation is an Australian-wide governmental effort primarily on community feedback to study how it could better protect and promote human rights. The committee tasked to overlook the project received more than 35 000 written submissions, by far the largest ever recorded in Australia. One of the many recommendations made by the Committee is the enactment of a federal Human Rights Act.

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