The scope of today's global human rights problems far
exceeds the capacity of global institutions to address them, Human Rights Watch charged. In
its annual survey of human rights conditions around the world, the organization called for a "reinforced
global architecture" to meet these challenges.
The Human Rights Watch World Report 2001, issued in advance of Human Rights Day on December 10, describes human rights developments over the past year in 70 countries. It also analyzes the international community's response to serious human rights abuse.
Global trade and investment should provide for greater protection for human rights, the Human Rights Watch World Report says. The report also argues that the United Nations needs more resources to help end armed conflicts and aid refugee problems. The emerging system of international justice, including the international criminal court, should have more robust support from all countries, including the United States.
"The world doesn't have global institutions with the muscle to adequately address the most urgent human rights issues of our time," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "We urgently need to remedy these institutional failings."
Among the crises addressed in the report:
Russia has conducted its war in Chechnya with gross disregard for the suffering of the civilian population. Although the United Nations did censure Russia, Moscow has largely escaped international penalties for its conduct in Chechnya.
Fresh atrocities continue in the nine-year civil war in Sierra Leone, despite the capture of a major rebel leader there. International efforts to establish a war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone are not proceeding quickly enough.
The military in Colombia has still not severed its links with paramilitaries who are responsible for grave human rights abuses. U.S. President Clinton's waiver of the human rights conditions on "Plan Colombia," the massive U.S. aid package, is almost certain to exacerbate the abuses.
The government of Indonesia has not reined in militias in West Timor who were responsible for scorched-earth tactics in East Timor in 1999. Armed insurgencies in Ambon and Aceh are testing civilian control over the military.
Israel responded to Palestinian demonstrations protesting continued military occupation of parts of the West Bank and Gaza with force that was frequently excessive and indiscriminate, leading to many civilian casualties.
The campaign for the International Criminal Court has picked up speed, with 115 countries having signed the treaty so far, and 23 having ratified it, despite concerted U.S. opposition. The court will become operational when 60 countries have ratified.
As the fiftieth anniversary of the office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees approaches on December 14, some of the least developed countries in the world are bearing the brunt of caring for refugees. Developed countries, which were responsible for establishing UNHCR in the first place, should bear a greater burden financially and keep their own doors open to refugees.
Human Rights Watch said the global economy had yielded undeniable wealth, opportunities, and jobs. But street protests over the past year in Seattle, Prague, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere reflect widespread popular concern over associated ills, such as an increase in the number of people living in poverty and the abuse of migrant workers.
In the polarized debate over globalization, human rights offer an important and promising framework to address many problems, such as the tendency of some governments and corporations to compete by profiting from repression. Within the workplace, respect for freedom of association should allow workers to join together - in trade unions should they choose - to improve wages and working conditions. Similarly, the prohibition against discrimination should be used to help ensure that historically marginalized people enjoy the fruits of their labor on the same terms as others.
On a societal level, respect for civil and political rights, including the right to elect one's government, should enable the disadvantaged to have a voice in the direction of their country's social and economic development, including on such matters as increasing the minimum wage, protecting union activists from retaliation, enforcing prohibitions on discrimination, regulating extraction industries, or ensuring that investments are made with social values in mind.
This emphasis on rights would not guarantee particular wage levels, working conditions, or regulatory policies. Nor would it eliminate inequalities in bargaining power or eradicate all forms of social exclusion. But rights guarantees would allow a vigorous civil society to make its views heard, and permit people from around the world to have a say in the pace and direction of global developments.
Human Rights Watch is an international monitoring agency based in New York. It accepts no funding from any government.