New Internationalist

Facts.html

Issue 298

HUMAN RIGHTS - THE FACTS

The world is very different now from the one in which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drawn up in 1948. Countries have a responsibility to the international community and must answer for their actions - even if this doesn't stop widespread abuses of human rights.

  Treaties (on trial)

Ratification of major human-rights conventions, 1 March 1997

Convention

Countries that have ratified or acceded

Countries that have not ratified or acceded

Prevention and punishment of genocide, 1948

Convention on the status of refugees, 1951

Economic, social and cultural rights, 1966

Civil and political rights, 1966

Elimination of discrimination against women, 1979

Convention against torture, 1984

Rights of the child, 1989

120

125

135

136

153

102

190

72

67

57

56

39

90

2

Since the Universal Declaration there have been a number of treaties relating to human rights. The majority of countries have now signed up to these. Major exceptions include the US, which has not ratified the treaties on the rights of the child nor on women, nor those on economic, social and cultural rights. Switzerland and Afghanistan are among the countries which have not acceded to the convention on women. The convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment has been accepted by little more than half the world's nations, with Indonesia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan and Belgium among the objectors.

Indigenous peoples

Indigenous peoples have their livelihoods threatened, their lands taken away and their cultures colonized.

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NIGEL DICKINSON/ STILL PICTURES
Thousands of groups have been wiped off the face of the earth; their way of living destroyed and their languages gone forever. But they have not given up; from UN level to the grassroots they are standing up for their rights.

Positions of governments on indigenous peoples 1997

Cold

Brazil

China

France

Japan

US

Argentina

Bangladesh

Nigeria

Cool

Malaysia

Philippines

Aotearoa/New Zealand

Sweden

Peru

Ukraine

Indonesia

Nepal

India

Germany

Venezuela

Lukewarm

Canada

Mexico

Russia

South Africa

Chile

Norway

El Salvador

Panama

Spain

United Kingdom

Pakistan

The Netherlands

Estonia

Warm

Australia

Colombia

Finland

Bolivia

Denmark

Fiji

Cuba

Nicaragua

 

Violence against women

Violence against women, in the home and outside it, is a global phenomenon. Worldwide, more than 20 per cent of women experience some degree of domestic violence during marriage. Women and children are the primary victims of today's wars.

  • In a survey of 796 Japanese women, 77% reported that they had experienced some form of domestic battery. 58.7% of the sample reported physical abuse and 59.4% reported sexual abuse.
  • In South Africa, the Women's Bureau estimates that one in four women is beaten by her male partner.
  • In the US, a woman is beaten every 15 seconds.
  • In Britain, more than 25% of violent crimes reported to the police are domestic violence of men against women, making it the second most common violent crime.
  • Rape as a weapon of war haas become more evident in recent conflicts. In Rwanda from April 1994 to April 1995 at least 250,000 women and girls were raped.

But...

  • 44 countries have passed laws against domestic violence.
  • 17 countries have made marital rape a criminal offence
  • 27 countries have passed sexual harassment laws.

 

Disability

Disability is a human-rights issue says the UN, which in 1992 adopted a World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons. In 1993 they produced the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities. Although not legally enforceable, these offer an international instrument with a monitoring system. But they require strong political and practical commitment by governments.

  • 75% of disabled people live in developing countries. 100 million have impairments caused by malnutrition; in some countries over 50% of these are due to disease or war.
  • 98% of disabled people in developing countries have no rehabilitation.
  • 20 million people who need wheelchairs are without them.
  • In some countries disabled people are barred from standing for public office
  • In Canada and Australia, 41% of disabled people receive only primary education.
  • In the UK and the US, 67% of disabled people aged 15-64 are unemployed.

 

 

Death penalty
During 1996 at least 4,272 prisoners were executed in 39 countries and 7,107 were sentenced to death in 76 countries. [image, unknown] These were the figures known to Amnesty International; the true figures are certainly higher. But there are now 58 nations which have abolished the death penalty; plus 15 which have abolished it for all but exceptional circumstances. There are an additional 27 which have the death penalty but have not used it for ten years.

The graph shows the number of executions carried out each year in the US since the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme court in 1976

 

Conflict

Since the end of the Cold War there have been at least 30 major armed conflicts (more than 1,000 deaths in a year). Humanitarian emergencies have increased from 5 a year in 1985-89 to 26 in 1994 - with a slight decrease in 1995.

And yet... the world is disarming. Arms sales have dropped, there are fewer soldiers in the world - down from 24.6 million in 1994 to 23 million in 1995. The number of battle tanks and combat aircraft has also dropped.

1 UN Center for Human Rights, 1997.2 The Indigenous World 1996-97, IWGIA.3 Domestic Violence Action and Research Group, Tokyo 1994.4 US Bureau of Justice.5 UN Special Rapporteur on Rwanda.6 The World's Women 1995, UNDPI.7 Information Kit on the United Nations Standard Rules, Disability Awareness in Action,1995.8 The Death Penalty Information Center, Washington. 9 World Development Report 1997, World Bank. 10 Vital Signs 1997/8, Earthscan/Worldwatch Institute.

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