Climate change is a racial justice issue

Climate change is a racial justice issue

Climate change is a racial justice issue

first nations women protesting
Kate Bisogno

6th August 2021

 

What is environmental racism? The term, first coined in 1982 by US civil rights leader Dr. Benjamin Chavis, can be defined as ‘‘racial discrimination in environmental policy-making, the enforcement of regulations and laws, the deliberate targeting of communities of colour for toxic waste facilities, the official sanctioning of the life-threatening presence of poisons and pollutants in our communities, and the history of excluding people of colour from leadership of the ecology movements”.

 

The birth of the environmental justice movement took place in the 1980s in the US, as reports and findings came out that indicated that communities of colour are disproportionately affected by health hazards through policies and practices that essentially force them to live closer to toxic waste sites and pollutants. 

 

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, which began in 2014, is a clear example of ongoing environmental racism in the US. In a cost-saving move, the city’s water supply was switched from Detroit’s system to the Flint River. As a direct result of inadequate treatment and lack of water testing, residents of Flint were burdened with a series of major health and water quality issues, including foul-smelling and discoloured water, causing skin rashes, itchy skin, and hair loss.

 

Complaints by residents were continuously ignored by government officials and the Michigan Civil Rights Commission concluded that such a poor governmental response to this crisis was clearly due to systemic racism. 

 

While there are unfortunately many examples of environmental racism and discrimination in the US, it is clear that climate injustice is a global problem.  

 

Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate highlighted in a now-viral Twitter video that she could for the first time in her life understand ‘‘the definition of the word racism,’’ after she was cut out of an image with four other climate activists by US news agency Associated Press in early 2020. The image also included young activists Greta Thunberg, Loukina Tille, Isabelle Axelsson and Luisa Neubauer, with Vanessa being the only one removed from the picture.

 

‘‘We don’t deserve this. Africa is the least emitter of carbons, but we are the most affected by the climate crisis. You erasing our voices won’t change anything. You erasing our stories won’t change anything,’’ she also said in the emotional Twitter video accusing the media of blatant racism.

 

“Climate justice recognises that the people who suffer the worst environmental consequences are often the ones least responsible for climate change.”

It was also discovered by Twitter users that some media outlets had actually misidentified Vanessa Nakate as Zambian activist Natasha Mwansa.

 

Many fellow activists and supporters came to Vanessa Nakate’s defence, highlighting the urgent need to address issues of climate injustice and the importance of opening up a conversation on racism and lack of representation within environmental movements themselves.

 

Climate justice recognises that the people who suffer the worst environmental consequences are often the ones least responsible for climate change.

 

As a result, not only is climate change a racial justice issue, it is also a socioeconomic issue as well. Youth Work Ireland’s Climate Injustice Report 2020 found that “71 per cent of landfill sites and waste incinerators in the country are located in areas that are below the national average of deprivation, as indicated by the Pobal HP Deprivation Index.’’

 

Former President of Ireland and Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, established her eponymous foundation – Climate Justice, which is a platform for solidarity, education and advocacy on the urgent need to secure justice around the world for the poor and marginalized people vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

 

Mary Robinson also currently holds the position of Chair of The Elders, which is a non-governmental organization of public figures, brought together in 2007 by Nelson Mandela. The Elders promote climate justice and the need to eliminate discrimination and encourage diversity within environmental spaces. 

 

One such blog post on The Elders’ website includes Colombian-American climate activist Jamie Margolin, in which she outlines how ‘‘the fight for climate justice and the fight for social justice are inseparable.’’

 

Jamie highlights that as a white Latina, she is someone with privilege within the climate movement and she calls on the climate community as a whole to support the Black Lives Matter movement. She points out that while the climate itself isn’t racist, the systems that caused this climate crisis are. Therefore, it is the responsibility of particularly those in the environmental movement who are not black, to use their privilege to support and stand up for racial justice on a global scale. 

 

As Jamie Margolin puts it, ‘‘if you care about climate justice, you have to care about racial justice too.’’

 

 

 

Featured photo by Pascal Bernardon

This article was supported by: STAND Environment Editor Anastasiya + Programme Assistant Alex

 

Is the EU migrant return policy ethical?

Is the EU migrant return policy ethical?

Is the EU migrant return policy ethical?

sign draped across a building that reads refugees welcome
Ellen Coburn

28th July 2021

 

The EU migrant return policy aims to increase return rates of asylum seekers to their country of origin by making border procedures as efficient as possible. Nonetheless, it remains one of the most contentious yet foundational elements of the Common European Asylum System. Since the increased amount of people fleeing wars in 2015 and seeking refuge in Europe, EU asylum policy has been polarising, with Europe often being dubbed “Fortress Europe” – an impassable fort with watchtowers and border guards prepared to stop at nothing to keep those seeking refuge out. In April 2021, the EU unveiled its very first strategy aimed at encouraging rejected asylum seekers to voluntarily return home and begin a process of reintegration in their country of origin.

 

On the surface level, this new scheme is marketed as being hugely cost efficient for EU member states and as a “more dignified way” for asylum seekers to return home, according to Ylva Johansson, EU Commissioner for home affairs. But does the voluntary returns and reintegration scheme really promote a more humane, compassionate approach to rejected asylum seekers and demolish the xenophobic backdrop of “Fortress Europe”?  Even so, the system of voluntary returns begs a wider question, one that brings ethics and humanitarian concerns to the table and one that asks, is the right of asylum threatened?

 

“If a migrant chooses to voluntarily return to their country of origin or transit, member states may offer to cover travel expenses to assist the return of the applicant and also offer financial assistance for a period of time upon arrival back to the country of origin.”

Before answering these questions, what positives, if any, arise from the EU’s new proposal? The new voluntary return strategy represents a key objective under the New Pact on Migration and Asylum which represents a holistic and inclusive approach that gathers together relevant EU policies to create a long-term and sustainable asylum and migration system. It differs from previous schemes in that the 2021 proposal provides a clearer framework for setting up assisted return programmes focusing on the reintegration of migrants who do not have the right to reside in the EU. If a migrant chooses to voluntarily return to their country of origin or transit, member states may offer to cover travel expenses to assist the return of the applicant and also offer financial assistance for a period of time upon arrival back to the country of origin. According to the Commission to the European Parliament and Council, the new system will focus on reintegration as a core component of a common EU system for returns and will theoretically help defeat the psychological and socio-economic difficulties that can arise from migrants returning to the community they fled from.  But what happens when voluntary return is neither humane nor ethical? Already the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights and the European Parliament have criticised the new returns scheme and have presented studies outlining the drawbacks in implementing a procedure merging asylum and returns, particularly with regards to cases concerning non-refoulement (the practice of not forcing refugees or asylum seekers to return to a country in which they are liable to be subjected to persecution).  

 

In 2018, a case involving voluntary return was brought to the European Court of Human Rights. The case originated in an application against the Republic of Finland by an Iraqi national who alleged that the expulsion of her late father to Iraq violated several articles in the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. After multiple assassination attempts were made on the applicant’s father’s life following his line of work, he sought international protection in Finland. However, over a year later, the asylum application of the applicant’s father was rejected by Finnish Immigration Services. Finnish Immigration Services accepted the facts laid out by the applicant’s father of the assassination attempts made on his life including shootings and car bomb attacks but stated that what the applicant’s father disclosed was hearsay and that these incidences had nothing to do with his personal circumstances or background. Finnish government officials believed that there was no imminent threat to this man’s life and he was to be returned to Iraq. Assisted voluntary return was granted to the applicant’s father and in November 2017, he left Finland. In December 2017, the applicant’s father was murdered by gunshot wounds to the head and body.  

 

The story of this case is by no means an isolated incident. Rejected asylum applications are a narrative known all too well by migrants around the globe who flee their homes, families, and friends because of imminent danger in search of a brighter, more hopeful future. Those who suffer the most unimaginable hardships, harrowing journeys and inexplicable losses are rejected and failed by a system that focuses more on how the EU can send away those who are the most vulnerable instead of prioritising reform of EU immigration services. Instead of focusing on returns, immigration services should instead be more focused on ensuring proper integration for those seeking asylum and proper alternatives to returning migrants. While the prospect of financial assistance and reintegration plans seem theoretically sound and optimistic, they stand for nothing when one must return to a country where political unrest, violence and war are rife.  

 

If the shoe was on the other foot, wouldn’t we want to be treated with compassion and empathy without the fear of deportation to a country that puts human life in imminent danger? Would the EU care more if these migrants were white Americans and not dark-skinned Middle-Eastern people? Perhaps this is a one-dimensional way of thinking about what is a very complex policy, but when a rejected migrant’s only option is to leave the country they sacrificed so much to get to, it makes me wonder, how ‘voluntary’ is voluntary return?

 

 

 

Featured photo by Maria Teneva

This article was supported by: STAND Programme Assistant Alex

 

Humanitarian activist profiles

Humanitarian activist profiles

Humanitarian activist profiles

fist raised close to the camera
amyrose - stand news

23rd July 2021

 

Nancy Herz was born in 1996. She is a Lebanese-Norweigien activist for human rights, women’s rights and religious freedoms. The principles of feminism, anti-racism and free speech are at the core of her work. In 2016, Herz’s article “We Are The Shameless Arab Women and Our Time Starts Now” kick started the #shameless movement in Norway. The aim was to reclaim a word often used derogatorily against Muslim or Arabic women: ‘shameless’. Herz has become a figure of public discourse on the topic. She advocates for women and girls to free themselves from any constrictive gender roles assigned to them – be it due to institutional patriarchal systems or a religious shame-honour culture.

 

A year later, alongside Amina Bile and Sofia Nesrine Srour, Herz published the book Shameless, cataloguing the stories of Muslim women and girls who have experienced negative social control. Their stories of limitation are on one hand inspiring and on the other a reminder that society has some way to go before stereotyping and stigmatisation against women, and specifically Arabic women living in Europe. They have received the Shameless Award (2016) and the Fritt Ord Tribute (2017) for their work.

 

Herz has worked with Amnesty International since she was aged 15 and is now a deputy member of Amnesty’s Norweigian board. She told Amnesty International: “This is what fighting against injustice is about. By using our voices, we can make the space for freedom of expression bigger… it’s an ongoing struggle, but I believe that we have to keep pushing towards a world in which everyone can enjoy their basic right of living freely.” In 2016, Herz received the Freedom of Expression Tribute award. Her memoir, Aren’t You Getting Married Soon? will be published later this year.

 

Fabiola Gutiérrez Arce is a Peruvian political scientist and researcher. The principles of feminism, safety and accountability are at the core of her advocacy. She has campaigned for a government-led independent inquiry to investigate cases of misconduct and violation of human rights throughout the 1990s, a period in which forced sterilization of women targeted Peru’s indigenous population. Arce centres her research work on cases of violence against women in armed conflict; she has undertaken fieldwork and data collection in high-risk or dangerous locations across South America. Her academic work led to her leading the Governance Training Commission of Amnesty Peru and the Environment and Human Rights and Legal Affairs commissions.

 

Since 2017, Arce is also one of nine elected International Board Members at Amnesty International. Her work here involves advising and holding Amnesty accountable. The International Board provides global stewardship and ensures that Amnesty complies with its policies and standards. It also appoints and directs Amnesty’s Secretary General and thus plays an important role in the day-to-day running of the movement.

 

Arce told Amnesty International: “We are determined not to let the injustices of the past go unaccounted for. Peru has a huge historical debt to women, and that’s part of what motivates me to work towards shaping a different future.”

 

 

 

Featured photo by Clay Banks

This article was supported by: STAND Humanitarian Editor Amyrose + Programme Assistant Alex

 

The Black Lives Matter Movement and Police Brutality

The Black Lives Matter Movement and Police Brutality

Business & Politics

The Black Lives Matter Movement and Police Brutality

Black and white photograph of yemeni children

3rd July 2020

 

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement was founded in 2013, as a response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin, which occurred in February 2012. The movement was founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, who met through the Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity (BOLD); a not for profit organisation which ‘facilitates social transformation and improves the living conditions of Black people by (re)building the social justice infrastructure’. Although the founders met through this organisation, the movement began with a Facebook post by Garza titled ‘A Love Note to Black People’ in which she stated ‘Our Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter’, to which Cullors replied #BlackLivesMatter. With Tometi lending her support, a movement was born. The movement continues to embrace social media as a tool to mobilise and garner attention for their causes and has been dubbed ‘a new civil rights movement’ by prominent media outlets such as The Guardian and The New York Times. According to Pew Research, between July 2013 and May 2018, #BlackLivesMatter was tweeted nearly 30 million times, averaging 17,002 tweets a day.

 

The BLM movement is now a global organisation, with branches in the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. According to the movement’s website, their goal is to ‘eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes’. The organisation remains decentralised, with ‘leaders’ encouraging organisation at a local level, rather than national leadership. Local BLM chapters commit to the movement’s 13 guiding principles but operate in the absence of a hierarchy or central structure.

 

The BLM movement is particularly known for coordinating demonstrations protesting the deaths of numerous members of the Black community as a result of their interactions with law enforcement. They have advocated for community control of law enforcement officials; through empowering communities to hire and fire officials and issue subpoenas and promoting the community’s role of deciding disciplinary consequences and controlling the funding of the police department. In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd on May 25 2020, due to the actions of police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota; the movement gained international attention once again. They coordinated protests via social media, which spread to all 50 US states and six continents. The impact of this movement has been felt globally, reaching unlikely corners of the world including Syria, where a mural for George Floyd surrounded by rubble was unveiled in Idlib. Importantly, these protests have sparked conversations around all forms of systemic racial inequality worldwide, from Direct Provision in Ireland to protesting the glorification of slave traders in the form of statues in the UK and Belgium. The protests have spearheaded the ‘Defund the Police’ slogan in the US and in response, the Minneapolis City Council voted to disband their police department on June 7 2020 with the City Council president Lisa Bender stating ‘Our efforts at incremental reform have failed. Period’.

Police target the African American community at disproportionate rates. 13% of the US population are Black, yet, according to Vox’s analysis of the FBI’s 2012 Supplementary Homicide Report, they account for 31% of all people killed by police and 39% of unarmed suspects killed by police. When you examine the data relating to white people, the reverse happens. They make up 63% of the US population, yet account for 52% of all people killed by police and 46% of unarmed suspects killed by police.

 

“Importantly, these protests have sparked conversations around all forms of systemic racial inequality worldwide, from Direct Provision in Ireland to protesting the glorification of slave traders in the form of statues in the UK and Belgium.”

In the US, police are required to complete, on average, 672 hours of basic training. In contrast, a barber requires 1,200 hours of training to cut your hair. When you compare the training period in the US with other countries, the disparities are startling. In Germany, 2.5-4 years of basic training are required before joining the police force. Even more concerning is the content of this training in the US. In a 2006 report by the US Justice Department, it was found that police officers clock up 111 hours on firearm skills and self-defence but spend just 8 hours being trained in mediation and conflict management, 11 hours on cultural diversity and human relations, 8 hours on community policing strategies and a mere 4 hours on hate crimes. This demonstrates the priorities rooted in police recruits from the beginning of their career. Rosa Brooks, Georgetown Law Professor, stated ‘many police recruits enter the academy as idealists, but this kind of training turns them into cynics’.

 

A significant part of the problem is police unions. They have stood against reforms of police departments and advocated for increased pay and quality of working conditions. They have successfully created a ‘hero narrative’ which puts the police on a pedestal of unquestionable power. This narrative states that the ordinary citizen could not possibly understand the daily difficult work a police officer does, therefore, they are not in a position to question them. The unionisation of police departments has been shown to encourage police brutality. A study by the University of Chicago Law School found that the unionisation in Florida resulted in a 40% increase in violent incident complaints.

 

Another consideration is the robust employment contracts the police unions fight for. In light of George Floyd’s death, it was revealed that Derek Chauvin, the policeman who knelt on the victim’s neck, had 17 complaints against him. However, this is unlikely to be representative of the actual number of complaints. It is extremely difficult to investigate the number of complaints against individual police officers as union contracts allow for the erasure of these records, which prevent us from knowing the nature of the grievance and act as built in protections making it difficult to discipline officers as a result of a complaint. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, the police chief fired all officers involved in the incident. However, this is not necessarily permanent, as union contracts prevent the firing of officers, even by the police chief. Therefore, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that all of the officers involved will be reinstated through an adjudication process. Union contracts are a major hurdle in ending police brutality, holding police accountable and getting justice for victims.

 

Traditionally unions tend to identify with the ideological left. However, police unions are outliers and tend to draw support from the ideological right. The Republican party, who have historically sought to weaken unions, have supported and strengthened police unions. This has led to the politicisation of police unions. Standing against police unions or suggesting police reform is considered political suicide in the US, as unions have incredible fundraising power. San Francisco District Attorney, Chesa Boudin, ran for the office in 2019 and had a campaign agenda that included decarceration, eliminating cash bail, establishing a unit to re-examine wrongful convictions, and promoting police reform. In response, a coalition of police unions across California raised $700,000 for his campaign opponents and spent $400,000 on TV ads against Boudin’s campaign. Their efforts were unsuccessful, and Boudin was elected as District Attorney, but given their power, it is unsurprising that politicians often cower in the face of police unions.

 

The BLM movement works for a world in which ‘Black lives are no longer systemically targeted for demise’. However, it is clear that the agenda of police unions is fostering a culture of impunity, permeating the police force and enabling police brutality, directly translating into an unacceptably dangerous environment for Black communities in America. Police union contracts put accountability beyond the realm of possibility and fortify the notion that law enforcement are truly above the law. The obstacles and exceptions created by police unions protecting police officers such as Derek Chauvin, are not obvious to all people celebrating his arrest for the murder of George Floyd. It remains to be seen if these latest Black Lives Matter protests will be able to take on the hypocrisies of the American justice system.

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Clay Banks

 

 

The Extraction and Sales of Minerals and Natural Resources: A Modern Day Colonialism?

The Extraction and Sales of Minerals and Natural Resources: A Modern Day Colonialism?

Jewelry, watches and high-end technology signifies wealth and power for many people all over the world. According to a Human Rights Watch report, roughly every year almost 1,600 tons of gold and 90 million carats of diamonds are mined for jewelry, generating over US$ 300 billion in revenue. However, the countries that have the abundance of these resources more often than not find themselves in the Global South where they either lack a solid governance system, resources, or both, to extract and distribute these highly valuable resources at their own will. Multinational Institutions and companies have been known to come in and extract minerals from countries in the Global South like Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo since colonial times. Companies like De Beers who introduced the concept of using diamond rings to propose marriages during the late 1940s have been present in the Global South since their formation. 

 

For millions of workers and many states, the mining and minerals industry is their primary source of income. However, the conditions under which mining takes place can be brutal. People including young children have been killed during the extraction of various resources. But more importantly, there is an ongoing pattern of displacement of indigenous people and local residents who have homes around the mines. In times of war, like in the DRC, civilians are suffering continuously at the hand of armed groups and rebels who have enriched their interests by exploiting various resources. The conditions under which the mines are run are also very hazardous; no environmental precautions are in place and therefore many residents and mine workers constantly face health risks.

 

Mining and extraction has contributed to the abuse of human rights on various levels. An estimated one-million and perhaps many more children globally work in mines in defiance of international human rights law. Children who work in mining are often exposed to extremely dangerous environments. Many of them  are forced to work in deep, unstable mines and end up being injured or even killed in accidents. In some mines, both adults and children have become victims of forced labour and human trafficking and those who try to escape end up facing abuse and other forms of violence. In many cases, international mining companies like Shell and De Beers and governments have abused the rights of local and indigenous people, especially when they need land for extraction and mining. In Zimbabwe for example, the government has been accused of forcibly displacing villagers in order to make way for diamond mining. 

 

A lot of mining companies have been linked to direct violation of international humanitarian law, which also applies to armed conflicts and war. The mining and trade of rare valuable resources have helped fuel and finance various authoritarian governments and the income generated has helped them stay in power. For example, the oil giant Shell has been continuously accused by human rights agencies like Amnesty International for killing and displacing indigenous and local residents by “motivating” the military to do so in order to free up land for oil mining and extraction. The illegal trade of these resources has  also benefitted armed groups who are responsible for horrific crimes against humanity including massacres and systemic sexual violence. 

 

The involvement of companies from the Global North has  to a large extent contributed to the continuous offences  mentioned above. Companies have a responsibility to maintain the human rights of all the people involved in their work. This is clearly stated in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and under this, companies are expected to take proactive steps to ensure that they do not contribute to any breaches of human rights within their global operations and respond to abuses if they ever occur. Despite these organs, numerous international companies are accused of being  involved in infringing the human rights of millions of people in the Global South.

 

The question here is, who will ever take accountability for all these actions? Governments in the North? The Companies? Will these abuses and violations ever come to an end? Most of the international companies have enough resources to face off courts and governments in order to continue their multi-million dollar operations but the victims of their abuses find themselves in life and death situations, without any support and most of them therefore decide to migrate either within the state or to other countries where they hope to be safe, creating a large continuous upsurge of migrants. 

 

On 1 January 2020, the Conflict Minerals Regulation developed by the European Union came into effect. The purpose of this regulation is to ensure that EU importers of four  key minerals (Tin, Tantalum, Tungsten and Gold) meet international, responsible sourcing standards set by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. It is also  meant to help break the link between conflict and illegal exploitation of minerals and to help put an end to the abuse of local people and communities, including mineworkers, and promote local development. The EU says that it only covers four minerals because the above-mentioned minerals are the ones that are most linked to conflict and human rights abuses. However, resources like oil, diamonds and coltan are also linked to these issues. As mentioned before, Shell, who have been extracting oil in Nigeria, have been accused of fueling the killings and displacement of thousands of people without being held accountable. So despite the creation of this regulation there needs to be greater attention paid to all forms of extraction and mining and regulations should involve far more companies than those that operate within the EU only. 

 

The demand for these resources is created by us, the general population. We have equal responsibility to ensure the rings, watches and jewelry we buy do not contribute to the destruction of a family thousands of miles away but, at the same time, companies and governments should be held more accountable for all the resource-related crimes and abuses that go on in the Global South. There should be more attention paid to the already existing mechanisms that ensure international companies operate within their boundaries. But more importantly, there needs to be solidarity with the people who are affected by these abuses, their protection should be at the forefront of both government and organizational policy. The international community needs to stand together with them because without their sacrifices the world perhaps would not be as revolutionized as it is today.

 

 

Photo from JSTOR Daily

 

 

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Ethiopia’s forgotten war

More than two million people have fled the region, and there have been at least 10,000 reported deaths with tens of thousands of people are currently seeking refuge in the neighbouring country of Sudan. However, as communications have been almost entirely cut in the region, it is impossible to calculate exact numbers.

Is a diamond anyone’s best friend?

The lack of laws leads not just to well-below-the-poverty-line wages, but also to fatal working conditions, child labour, and the flourishing of public health issues as the sex trade thrives in many diamond mining towns, leading to the spread of HIV and other STI’s.

The rise of antisemitism in Europe

The recent rise in antisemitic acts has at times been linked to Covid-19 restrictions. During periods of turmoil, it seems that anti-Jewish sentiment rises. We need only look to poverty-stricken Germany in the 1920s or to the Partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century.

Is the EU migrant return policy ethical?

The EU migrant return policy aims to increase return rates of asylum seekers to their country of origin by making border procedures as efficient as possible. Since the increased amount of people fleeing wars in 2015 and seeking refuge in Europe, EU asylum policy has been polarising, with Europe often being dubbed “Fortress Europe” – an impassable fort with watchtowers and border guards prepared to stop at nothing to keep those seeking refuge out.

Humanitarian activist profiles

STAND News Humanitarian editor, Amyrose, takes a look at some influential activists from around the globe.

Humanitarian crisis journalism with Philip Kleinfeld

Philip Kleinfeld, correspondent and editor with The New Humanitarian, recently met with aspiring journalists in conjunction with STAND News and SIN. Kleinfeld relayed his experiences in the humanitarian crisis sector, outlined tips for eager journalists and reiterated the inefficiency of the traditional humanitarian sector of journalism.

The Intersection of Human Rights And Covid-19 Restrictions in Europe

The Intersection of Human Rights And Covid-19 Restrictions in Europe

It is a dangerous time to be living in Europe. As of 29 March 2020, of the ten countries with the most covid-19 related deaths in the world, seven are European, and medical experts and epidemiologists believe the continent could be as far as two weeks away from the peak. The EU has produced a €37 billion emergency fund for sectors impacted by the coronavirus. The outbreak of this virus requires increased involvement by individual governments to protect their populations and ensure procedures are in place to help the most vulnerable. Measures like social distancing, or indeed, cocooning, are necessary and have obvious and immediate implications to ‘flatten the curve’. It is understandable that citizen’s rights such as free movement and public assembly have been temporarily curtailed.

 

But what happens when governments overextend their executive power during a state of emergency? In China, citizens have been instructed to install an app which tracks one’s movement and proximity to others using facial recognition, while in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has frozen courts, including postponing his own trial concerning three counts of corruption. Across the world, from Somalia to Lesbos to the Mexican border, those living in refugee camps await with bated breath for the potential arrival of the coronavirus. 

 

This month, concerns have been raised regarding the emergency measures introduced by some European democracies. Six European countries – Armenia, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Moldova and Romania – have notified the Council of Europe that during this outbreak they will forgo commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) under Article 15 which allows derogation during “public emergency threatening the life of the nation.” Yet it seems unlikely that non-compliance with the ECHR will, in any case, save more lives than continuing compliance. Derogation by these countries could be seen as attempts to limit freedom of the media or freedom of information. 

 

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, of the right-wing populist Fidesz party, is straddling the line between democracy and authoritarianism after the introduction of an Emergency Powers bill was passed into law this week. It allows Orbán, individually, to rule by decree. He can single-handedly override any existing legislation. As well, the new bill states that the spreading of ‘false’ or ‘true but distorted’ information could lead to a five-year prison sentence, and that all public information concerning government actions must come through him. This clause directly targets freedom of thought and expression, namely anyone – journalist, citizen – critical of Orbán’s actions. Parliament is suspended and there will be no elections while this law is in place. Orbán has been Prime Minister of Hungary since 2010, and in that time has curtailed NGO activity and media independence in Hungary. It is likely his party is taking the ‘opportunity’ afforded by the coronavirus pandemic to implement tighter civic control in line with their populist stance. Because the law has no time period attached to it, MEPs are worried that these measures could continue past the outbreak and curb freedoms for years to come.

 

 

In France, Emmanuel Macron’s new doctrine passed on 22 March has specifically targeted workers’ rights, or “acquis sociaux”, including the right to vacation pay, delaying salary bonuses for low-paid workers, and the power for employers to force overtime work on staff. In Britain, Boris Johnson’s lockdown measures allow for the arrest and detaining of those believed to be infectious, including children, by state authorities. Those detained can be placed in custody facilities for up to 14 days. Doctors can sign death certificates without seeing the patient’s body. Measures like these are a large jump from the Prime Minister’s previous “herd immunity” tactic. For those living hand to mouth across the continent, lockdown measures directly cut through a right to livelihood, food and shelter. In recent days, as Italy enters week 3 of lockdown, a notable increase in social unrest has been reported, stemming from those living in the poorer southern regions where hunger is increasingly rampant. 

Alongside emergency powers aiming to prevent the spread of coronavirus, governments must implement social security measures to help the most vulnerable populations. Citizens can only comply with social distancing and lockdown measures should they have food, shelter, and peace of mind that they will have a livelihood to support themselves and their loved ones once this epidemic is over. We are living in an age of anxiety – and, should you follow President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, a time of war. Covid-19 is the invisible enemy. But, governments should not take this pandemic as an opportunity to over-extend power structures, or exploit humanity. 

 

 

Photo from freepik

 

 

Browse more stories below or sign up to our newsletter to receive our top news straight to your inbox!

 

 

 

Ethiopia’s forgotten war

More than two million people have fled the region, and there have been at least 10,000 reported deaths with tens of thousands of people are currently seeking refuge in the neighbouring country of Sudan. However, as communications have been almost entirely cut in the region, it is impossible to calculate exact numbers.

Is a diamond anyone’s best friend?

The lack of laws leads not just to well-below-the-poverty-line wages, but also to fatal working conditions, child labour, and the flourishing of public health issues as the sex trade thrives in many diamond mining towns, leading to the spread of HIV and other STI’s.

The rise of antisemitism in Europe

The recent rise in antisemitic acts has at times been linked to Covid-19 restrictions. During periods of turmoil, it seems that anti-Jewish sentiment rises. We need only look to poverty-stricken Germany in the 1920s or to the Partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century.

Is the EU migrant return policy ethical?

The EU migrant return policy aims to increase return rates of asylum seekers to their country of origin by making border procedures as efficient as possible. Since the increased amount of people fleeing wars in 2015 and seeking refuge in Europe, EU asylum policy has been polarising, with Europe often being dubbed “Fortress Europe” – an impassable fort with watchtowers and border guards prepared to stop at nothing to keep those seeking refuge out.

Humanitarian activist profiles

STAND News Humanitarian editor, Amyrose, takes a look at some influential activists from around the globe.

Humanitarian crisis journalism with Philip Kleinfeld

Philip Kleinfeld, correspondent and editor with The New Humanitarian, recently met with aspiring journalists in conjunction with STAND News and SIN. Kleinfeld relayed his experiences in the humanitarian crisis sector, outlined tips for eager journalists and reiterated the inefficiency of the traditional humanitarian sector of journalism.