Human rights issues are taking on new focus in the new millennium. Economic and social rights are a paramount concern as the link between adequate and inadequate living standards. Governmental and non-governmental organizations are realizing that some countries take precedent over other countries when it comes to human rights. In the new millennium, cases that violate human rights are being taken more serious than ever before. International prosecution against individuals and corporations will take place if human rights charges are brought against them. Human rights have been an issue in the international community since the beginning of time. Many bills and declarations have been written to distinguish what rights humans have by nature and what constitutes a human rights violation. The Bill of Rights in America, English Magna Carta of England, and the French Declaration of Man of France all set forth what human rights each citizen has in their respective country (Slomanson, page 494). Human rights have and will continue to be a serious issue and concern of the international community. Poverty, rights of women and children, and corporate and military involvement are only some of the issues that human rights involves.
“Everyone has that right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UN General Assembly Resolution 217A (III) of 10 December 1948. Article 25. The article above states that an adequate standard of living is a basic human right. Yet, according to the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) 1998 Human Development Report showed that nearly three-fifths of the 4.4 billion people living in the developing world lack basic sanitation, one third have no access to clean water and one quarter of the people do not have housing. These type of statistics are not only found in the developing world. Currently in the United States 35 million people live in poverty. (“Key Human Rights Issues in the New Millennium,” Human Rights Brief, vol. 27, no 3 (Summer 2000).
Although poverty is an important issue, the international human rights agenda historically has not focused on poverty. This negligence of the international human rights community has stemmed from the division of human rights. Human rights have been divided into two distinct groups: civil and political rights vs. social and economical. One example of each would be freedom of expression vs. the right to adequate standard of living. Two separate groups were formed to deal with each division’s needs. The ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) deals with the human rights issues regarding civil and political violations. The ICESCR (International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights) deals with violations to the individual or group of people. (“Key Human Rights Issues in the New Millennium,” Human Rights Brief, vol. 27, no 3 Summer 2000).
The gap between the rich and the poverty stricken is growing wider and wider each day. According to the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) 1999 Human Development Report the fifth of the world’s people living in the richest countries had an income that was seventy four times that of the fifth living in the poorest countries, up sixty times since 1990. The United States is one of these rich countries. It’s rather ironic that the one of the countries with the richest population is the most reluctant to reorganize economic rights and “true” human rights. Poverty is a universal human rights dilemma. There is no reason why one person on this planet should go without. The resources and opportunity are available.
Today’s children are tomorrow’s future. That’s all the more reason why children should have the ultimate human rights protection. According to the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) 1999 Human Development Report one fifth of children are malnourished, one fifth of children do not attend school past grade five, and child mortality is high, and fourteen percent of children make up the labor force. These numbers are surprisingly high since ten years ago the Convention on the Rights of a Child came into the international stage. This is the world’s most ratified treaty; the only two countries that have not ratified it are the United States and Somalia. The convention includes the following rights:
-The right to survival and development
-The right to be free from physical harm and neglect
-The right to the highest attainable standard of health
-The right to education on the basis of equal opportunity
-The right to be free from economic exploitation and from work that may interfere
the child’s education, health, or well being
-A child can not be drafted into the military until the age of 15. A recent Optional
Protocol raised the age to 18 for the countries that chose to ratify the protocol.
This Convention aims high to correct and protect the human rights of a child, but the actual effectiveness has been weak. The Convention on the Rights of the Child draws great attention to the issues of human rights but does not do anything specific to correct them. (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. General Assembly Resolution A/RES/44/25. 20 November 1989.)
Another aspect of human rights on the international stage is involvement of the military. As seen in Human Rights World Report 2000 “abusive militaries subcontract atrocities to irregular forces which the military [can] then claim were beyond its control”. An example of the mentioned above is in East Timor. Militia members conducted a campaign of killing, torture, and destruction throughout the country. The militia began its terrible destruction after the citizens of East Timor voted for independence against Indonesia. The government of East Timor claimed there was police and government attempting to take control of the militias but could not. This was not the case. It was proven that there was actual police and government involvement in the militias. There have been many positive strides toward prosecution of international human rights crimes involving international organizations and individual. One example is the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. This court has convicted five individuals, including Prime Minister Jean Kambanda. Another note worthy indictment was that of President Slobodan Milosevic by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslav. The most important indictment was the recent arrest of former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet. Although the indictments of Milosevic and Pinochet did not lead to convictions, these two major arrests have paved the way for further persecutions and the International Criminal Court. Hopefully within the next few years a permanent international court will be established to handle human rights violations.
When looking at human rights from afar, it seems that the only issue at hand is the well being and safety of people. A behind the scene player is the corporate world. Corporations and nongovernmental organizations play an important role in human rights development. Huge corporations have a direct impact on the human rights of individual states. Corporations can go anywhere in the world and start business. This means that they can find the cheapest land, and more important to them the cheapest help. This is where major human rights violations come into play. It is very difficult to police multinational corporations, most of the corporations do an adequate job of policing themselves. Such as Nike, this large corporation created a its own code of conduct which keeps executives as well as employees in good standings with human rights. There are many other companies that have submitted to a monitoring system such as the Fair Labor Association (FLA). These monitoring systems watch over the corporations to make sure there are no violations occurring at the top or the bottom. For those companies who chose not to police themselves a recent precedent has been set under United States Law in the case John Doe vs. Unocal Corporation.(John Doe I et al. V. Unocal Corporation, et al., 963 F. Supp. 880 (C.D. Cal. 1997). This is the case of a Burmese citizen who brought case against the United States Corporation Unocal for a human rights violation that took place under the operation of the company in Burma. The court ruled in a pretrial motion to dismiss, there is jurisdiction under the United States Alien Tort Claims Act that may allow other foreign nationals to sue for reparations from United States corporations operating in foreign countries. If corporations are held responsible then they will be less likely to operate in countries will poor human rights policy.
Human rights problems, whether they are between people, states, or corporations, are not going to be solved in one day. To even make a dent in preventing human rights violations the international community needs to come together and work as one. The new millennium is an opportunity for the world to come together and uphold the rights that the people were given by their founding fathers. Within the next few years great strides will be taken to protect the people of all nations in this world. Protecting ones inalienable rights is life long conquest. The information above is just a fraction of the whole story of human rights. Although there has been some progress, much more work needs to be done.
Unites States Constitution – Bill of Rights – 1791
French Declaration of Rights of Man – 1789
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UN General Assembly Resolution 217A (III) of 10 December 1948. Article 25
Human Rights Brief, vol. 27, no 3 Summer 2000).
John Doe I et al. V. Unocal Corporation, et al., 963 F. Supp. 880 (C.D. Cal. 1997).
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. General Assembly Resolution A/RES/44/25. 20 November 1989.
Slomanson, William R.,Fundamental Principles on International Law. 3rd Edition. West Thomson Learning. 2000