Human Rights · Riding A Dead Horse · United Nations

We can feed 12 billion people on this planet that houses only 6 billion, yet last year 5 million died of hunger (or the Eleventh Report on the 61st UN Commission on Human Rights, March 30, 2005)

Today’s will be a brief one and the item under discussion was still Item 10, on Economic, social and cultural rights.

This morning opened with the bland report of the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Open-ended working group to consider the options regarding the elaboration of an optional protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. From what I gathered, this Optional Protocol could be a complaints mechanism for both individual and State complaints. During the day, many Governments and NGOs offered their support for this Optional Protocol.

Mr. Bernards Andrew Nyamwaya Mudho, the Independent Expert on the effects of structural adjustment policies and foreign debt on the enjoyment of human rights, stated that debt continues to be a horrific problem for poor countries and seems to be a vicious cycle in which they cannot escape nor receive any substantial reprieve from the Creditor (or Predator, as I like to call the greed-monger) Governments. This was a very technical presentation about lending policies, poverty reduction methods, structural adjustment and financial things that I did not and probably never will understand. The gist of it was that foreign debt is a huge problem that impedes the full enjoyment of human rights by poor countries.

Mr. Arjun Sengupta, the Independent Expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty made a very interesting, if a bit dry, presentation in which he discussed the definition of extreme poverty and several case situations throughout the world, including the USA. Mr. Sengupta said that there are three factors that must be present in order for poverty to be considered extreme and these are: 1) poverty related to one’s income, 2) human development poverty (which would include lack of education, malnutrition, etc) and 3) social exclusion. Obviously, when extreme poverty is present, it is also impossible to fully enjoy one’s human rights and participate effectively in life and society.

Mr. Jean Ziegler, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, made a fantastic and ‘haunting’ presentation on this vital human right. He noted that last year 17,000 children died of hunger. 5 million in total died last year of starvation. The FAO has released a report saying that with current food production in the world, at 2000 calories/day we should be able to feed 12 billion people; we are only 6 billion inhabitants on this planet. Can you imagine? Here it is again. The FAO has released a report saying that with current food production in the world, at 2000 calories/day we should be able to feed 12 billion people; we are only 6 billion inhabitants on this planet. (And people die of hunger? All I could think of was the recent statistics of obesity in the west and how it is a growing ‘problem’. Obesity is a problem in the west and 5 million people died of hunger last year mostly in Africa and Asia. The mind reels.) Mr. Ziegler went on to note the ‘extraterritorial obligations’ of States with regards to the right to food, and this would include organizations like the WTO whose liberalization and privatization of the economies of its members contributes to worldwide starvation. His well-deserved criticism of the WTO was refreshing after so many Special Rapporteurs and Governments who are so concerned with being diplomatic and politically correct that they will not allow themselves to speak truth. Mr. Ziegler stated that in Iraq from June 2003-June 2004 malnutrition of children DOUBLED! There was a notable murmur that spread across the room and he even paused to let it subside. He also noted famine in Darfur, Sudan as well as the fact that malnutrition in Palestine has worsened 15% and has seriously and permanently damaged children mostly less than five years of age! Mr. Ziegler commended many Latin American countries and their European partners for improving food security. He glowingly announced that Cuba, amidst a horrific and prolonged economic blockade do in fact maintain food security for every single Cuban citizen. (Let’s see the USA top that.) Mr. Ziegler had made two country visits to Mongolia and Ethiopia and presented his findings in those regards. He observed that it was the violent democratization process of the Bretton Woods organization that contributed to the serious lack of food security in the nation. In terms of Ethiopia, successive droughts have caused serious famines and the World Food Program is doing excellent work to feed millions and also the collapse of coffee prices has removed 80% of the nation’s income. Mr. Ziegler blamed the WTO and Bretton Woods obsession with privatization and liberalization has increased worldwide hunger.

During the Interactive Dialogue Mr. Ziegler received the most praise for his report than I have heard yet during the Commission, but of course many developed nations did not take the floor to say anything at all. I hope they felt the weight of all the people they helped murder by lack of food. I certainly felt the weight, and it was heavy.

The discussion of Item 10 resumed with the remaining Member States, Observer and NGO interventions who all noted various issues relating to Economic, social and cultural rights (ECSRs) within their countries and the world. Developing nations all noted that ECSRs must be placed on equal footing as all human rights, including Civil and Political Rights (CPRs), as many developed nations do not agree that there are ECSRs. Everyone discussed the problem of poverty and poverty reduction, Governments and international organizations alike asked for lender countries to forgive debts so that poor countries could begin to break out of their misery. Some oddly notable statements were from the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies who said that Iraq is a beacon of survival amidst a very bleak situation, a comment that I really did not understand because the last I heard at least 10 people die there every day and torture continues. Iraq spoke with another brainwashed statement and once again asked the international community to assist financially in their reconstruction.

The World Bank blamed States for their failure to maintain economic security in the world. They also noted that the poor are given ample opportunity in the WB ‘client countries’ to talk to their governments and tell ‘The Bank’ what they need. (Yeah, like that’s going to happen.) They said their core mandate is, of course, poverty reduction but the Commission must remember that, as Mme. Arbour said, States are the primary actors responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights.

The Vatican made a peculiar statement talking about endemic diseases like HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which kill more people in the world each year than anything else. They expressed their support of affordable medications to be made available to developing nations, and encouraged governments to drop trade tariffs and restrictions that prevent medicines from crossing borders. It was strange to hear them talking about HIV/AIDS, and I noticed they said nothing about preventing the disease, and hmmmm, why would that be? Let’s just wait until everyone has the sickness and then emptily encourage rich governments to share their resources when they don’t really have to. Maybe I found this intervention especially skin-crawling after reading a report China has released on human rights violations in the USA which I am sure will give me nightmares tonight and stated that from 1950-2002 more than 10,600 boys and girls were sexually abused by 4,400 clergymen, but only 756 were ever charged with pedophilia. EEECH.

41 NGOs took the floor and also discussed a wide range of issues, from their support of the Optional Protocol to the right to education, food, and commentaries on various Special Rapporteurs and Government interventions. Several Cuban organizations discussed human rights violations in the USA. Sudan, Russia, China, France, Nigeria, Laos, USA, DPRK, Turkey, Rwanda, Burundi, DRC, Cote D’Ivoire, and Cameroon among others were specifically targeted with scary allegations by many NGOs. Denial of the right to education, militarization, dumping of toxic wastes and subsequent contamination of land and water, globalization as a contributor to poverty and denial of human rights, lack of adequate housing, forced evictions by governments, external debt (and the recurring and just recommendation that foreign debts should simply be cancels for poor countries), and privatization of human rights protection, were among some of the issues taken up by these NGOs.

One of two especially notable statements was from the International Federation of University Women in a joint statement on behalf of 14 other women’s rights organizations, in which they discussed the role of men and boys in furthering gender equality in the world. They noted that it was also men’s responsibility to assist women’s equal integration into all aspects of work and life. Also discussed were cultural and religious practices that create a vicious cycle of discrimination and violence against women, as well as the problematic labour market policies that also assist in women’s inequality. Furthermore, they discussed how women’s work in the house and home are consistently undermined leading to the ‘feminization of poverty’ found worldwide. They encouraged men and governments (which tend to be one and the same in my view) to increase their role in the prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS as well as eliminate their roles in sexual violence against women, this includes domestic violence normally seen as a ‘private’ issue but in fact reflects a worldwide disparity between the patriarchal power structures of the world and society and its violence against women. What a fantastic statement.

I was also intrigued by the intervention of the World Organization against Torture (OMCT) which discussed a current study that is being done between OMCT and the University of Geneva, in which they are examining how the lack of economic, social and cultural rights leads not only to poverty, but to violence in general, including domestic violence. So far, their intriguing results would show a significant link between poverty and the lack of ESCRs as well as torture and other forms of violence. I thought this was fascinating and hopefully will find the delegate tomorrow to speak with him about it. Especially provocative when one thinks of the high levels of extreme violence in the USA coupled with their belief that there simply are no economic, social and cultural rights. No right to food, no right to education, no right to the highest standard of physical and mental health, no right to adequate housing, no right to a clean and livable environment. This could very possibly explain why there is such an extreme level of violence in America for a nation that is not officially at war at home…

Tomorrow we finish discussing Item 10 and will move onto Item 11, Civil and Political rights, the one where torture and disappearances and other horrors emerge. “What a world, what a world!” I cry as I melt into a puddle of sadness as Dorothy, Toto, Scarecrow, the Tin Man and Cowardly Lion watch on despondently.

Until tomorrow then.

In honour of Tony Black Feather,



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