This post first appeared on IPS News
By Baher Kamal
”All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” These words are a sound introduction to the transcendental issue of human rights and equalities, as stated by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
The Declaration proclaims the “inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
“All Human, All Equal” is the slogan for the 2021 Human Rights Day, marked 10 December. Its theme relates to equality: “The principles of equality and non-discrimination are at the heart of human rights.”
“Equality includes addressing and finding solutions for deep-rooted forms of discrimination that have affected the most vulnerable people in societies, including women and girls, indigenous peoples, people of African descent, LGBTI people, migrants and people with disabilities, among others.”
According to the UN, “equality, inclusion and non-discrimination, in other words – a human rights-based approach to development – is the best way to reduce inequalities and resume the path towards realising the 2030 Agenda,” which principle is leaving no-one behind.
Shamefully, this is not the case. In spite of all well-intentioned words, declarations, statements and appeals, the grave spread of inequalities all over the world remains prevailing and expanding.
The numerous and severe aspects of inequality are manifested in rampant poverty, pervasive inequalities and structural discrimination are human rights violations and among the greatest global challenges of current time.
A new social contract, urgent
Human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights as well as the right to development and the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, are central to building a new human rights-based economy that supports better, fairer and more sustainable societies for present and future generations. A human rights-based economy should be the foundation of a new social contract, according to World Day. Here are just some examples of the prevailing violation of the most basic freedom, equality and human rights.
Racism is just one of the various severe forms of inequalities.
In fact, racism, xenophobia and related discrimination and intolerance exist in all societies, everywhere. Racism harms not just the lives of those who endure it, but also society as a whole. “We all lose in a society characterised by discrimination, division, distrust, intolerance, and hate. The fight against racism is everyone’s fight. We all have a part to play in building a world beyond racism,” the UN urges.
The COVID generation
Successive financial and health crises have had long-lasting and multidimensional impacts on millions of young people, according to this year’s World Day. Unless their rights are protected, including through decent jobs and social protection, the “COVID generation” runs the risk of falling prey to the detrimental effects of mounting inequality and poverty.
Vaccine injustice through unfair vaccine distribution and hoarding contravenes international legal and human rights norms and the spirit of global solidarity. In fact, while rich societies have reached between 70 and 80 percent of vaccination, only 1 percent of the population of some countries in Africa has been vaccinated.
Environmental degradation, including climate change, pollution and nature loss, disproportionately impacts persons, groups and peoples in vulnerable situations. These impacts exacerbate existing inequalities and negatively affect the human rights of present and future generations.
In a follow-up to the Human Rights Council’s recognition of the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, urgent action must be taken to respect, protect and fulfill this right.
“Such action should be the cornerstone of a new human rights-based economy that will produce a green recovery from COVID-19 and a just transition.”
According to recent estimates, the number of climate migrants and refugees could rise to up to one billion in the coming few years.
They would proceed from continents and countries that are the least polluting and the least responsible of the ongoing climate emergency.
For example, Africa has generated around four percent of the causes of the climate crisis, while bearing the brunt of 80 percent of its consequences.
Human rights have the power to tackle the root causes of conflict and crisis, by addressing grievances, eliminating inequalities and exclusion and allowing people to participate in decision-making that affect their lives, says the UN. “Equality and non-discrimination are key to prevention: all human rights for all ensure everyone has access to the preventive benefits of human rights but, when certain people or groups are excluded or face discrimination, the inequality will drive the cycle of conflict and crisis.”
Such an abohrent abuse against women and girls is carried out all over the world. In fact, one third of all women and girts have been subjected to physical or sexual violation in their life-time. And it is estimated that 800 million girls are being pushed into early marriage and forced to become child-mothers.
Child forced labour
Meanwhile, it has been reported that more than 160 million boys and girls are subjected to the abuse of forced child labour. Many of them are recruited as child soldiers in armed conflicts. Others are being smuggled and trafficked for sexual exploitation, begging, and organs removals, among other forms of cruelty.
It is estimated that one billion humans are victims of the so-called ‘modern’ slavery, including forced labour, migrants smuggling, sexual exploitation, youth sold and bought in public squares, migrants and refuggees stranded in borders behind barbed walls, millions of dispalced due to violence and armed conflicts they did not launch.
“Human trafficking and migrant smuggling have evolved a lot since I first took over this job. They have become more severe, in the sense of what the criminals involved inflict on people. There is more violence, victims are younger and there are more child victims,” said Ilias Chatzis who heads up a global team of more than 60 experts at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), committed to countering Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling.
“It is a crime that can sometimes happen in front of our eyes, as we go to work, do our shopping, drive our children to school or meet friends for dinner. There are industries that we come into contact with in our everyday lives, like hospitality, agriculture, construction, and others where trafficking victims are exploited.”
Traffickers in Europe take groups of children from country to country and force them to beg. Then they take all the money and often let them starve. For criminals, it is all about the money, and people are just a way to make a profit, the expert warned.
The number of the poor and poorest and hungry is steadily rising. It is estimated that the figure is now approaching one billion, in a world that produces enough food for the global population. And that rich societies waste up to one-third of purchased food.
”All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Nice words. But the dramatic reality shows all the opposite.