Economic Crisis Leaves World Sitting on ‘Powder Keg’: Amnesty

LONDON ~ The world is sitting on a “powder keg” of social unrest, which risks exploding as human rights are eroded by the global economic slowdown, Amnesty International warned on Thursday.

But its annual report – detailing abuses from China to Guantanamo Bay and from Sri Lanka to the ex-Soviet Union – said the global meltdown also offers a chance to rebuild an economic framework putting human rights at its heart.

“There are growing signs of political unrest and violence, adding to the global insecurity that already exists because of deadly conflicts which the international community seems unable or unwilling to resolve.

“In other words: we are sitting on a powder keg of inequality, injustice and insecurity, and it is about to explode,” said Amnesty chief Irene Khan.

The 400-page Amnesty Report gives an overview of abuse around the world, including well-publicised human rights hotspots such as Myanmar, Sudan’s Darfur or the Palestinian territories.

In Asia, Amnesty noted the “magnificence” of the Beijing Olympic Games, but lamented that the run-up to them was “marred by increased repression throughout the country as authorities tightened control over human rights defenders, religious practitioners, ethnic minorities, lawyers and journalists.”

In Africa there was “state-sponsored political violence” in Zimbabwe, while war-torn areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) saw “numerous human rights abuses… committed by all the parties to the conflict.”

The election of US President Barack Obama raised hopes for progress on closing down the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, but even after only a few months “the record of the new administration has been mixed,” Amnesty said.

“Early promise and initial important steps to redress violations have been followed by limited action towards ensuring detentions are brought into line with the USA’s international obligations, and a lack of accountability and remedy for past human rights violations remains entrenched,” it added.

In Europe, Amnesty highlighted problems ranging from the use of cluster munitions during the brief Georgia-Russia war, to widespread discrimination against ethnic minorities.

“Migrants, Roma, Jews and Muslims were among those subjected to hate crimes by individuals or extremist groups,” it said.

The Israel-Palestinian conflict stayed at the heart of Middle East tensions, where the Gaza conflict in January showed “the failure of military forces… to abide by the basic requirements of… international humanitarian law.”

As well as national and regional problems, Amnesty also highlighted wider global problems, including food shortages which leave one billion people hungry or malnourished.

Growing unemployment, as the global economic suddenly contracts after a prolonged boom in many of the richest countries in the world, only adds to the crisis.

“While it is too early to predict the full impact on human rights of the profligacy of recent years, it is clear that the human rights costs and consequences of the economic crisis will cast long shadows,” said Khan.

“Billions of people are suffering from insecurity, injustice and indignity. This is a human rights crisis,” she said.

In an interview with AFP, Khan called on the Group of 20 (G20) countries to remember that human rights must go hand-in-hand with stimulating economic growth.

“Our message to them is: you can’t fix the economic problem without fixing the human rights problems that go along with it,” she said.

But the Amnesty report’s conclusions are not all gloomy: from the wreckage of the global economy, it may be possible to rebuild something better, its authors suggest.

“For the past two decades, the state has been retreating or reneging on its human rights obligations in favour of the market in the belief that economic growth would lift all boats,” said the Amnesty chief.

“With the tide receding and boats springing leaks, governments are radically changing their positions and talking about a new global financial architecture and international governance system in which the state plays a stronger role.”

That, it said, could ultimately be good news.

“That opens up an opportunity to also halt the retreat of the state from the social sphere and re-design a more human rights-friendly model… than the one that has characterized international policy-making for the past 20 years.”

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