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22nd Feb 2019

Economic crisis damaging human rights, report says

  • Roma communities and settlements in Italy have been subjected to ongoing discrimination (Photo: Amnesty International)

Human rights violations remained widespread across the world in 2008, including Europe, with the global economic crisis not only aggravating the existing problems, but creating new ones as well, human rights group Amnesty International's yearly report released on Thursday (28 May) shows.

"The global economic crisis is an explosive human rights crisis. A combination of social, economic and political problems has created a time bomb of human rights abuses [across the world]," said Irene Khan, the group's secretary general.

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"There are growing signs of political unrest and violence, adding to the global insecurity that already exists because of deadly conflicts which the international community seems unable or unwilling to resolve. In other words: we are sitting on a powder keg of inequality, injustice and insecurity, and it is about to explode," she wrote in the introduction to Amnesty's report on the situation of human rights in the world.

The crisis, which has been widely qualified as the worst in many decades, has brought recession to many parts of the world and left many people out of work.

Subsequently, protests took place in several countries worldwide, but the protests were often met with tough responses, the report notes.

"We may well end up in a situation where recession could be accompanied by greater repression as beleaguered governments – particularly those with an authoritarian bent – clamp down harshly on dissent, criticism and public exposure of corruption and economic mismanagement," Ms Khan wrote.

Roma targeted

The study also found that the crisis had increased the deprivation and the stigmatisation of certain communities – such as the Roma, as well as diverted governments' intention from human rights problems and has had a negative impact on their immigration and asylum policies.

"Roma have remained largely excluded from public life in all countries, unable to enjoy full access to housing, education, employment and health services. The adverse economic situation seemed to provide fertile ground for old stereotypes of Roma to be exploited by elements hostile to them," the document said.

Several European countries – Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Italy, Serbia – recorded serious cases of ill treatment of people of Roma origin and practically none has noted an improvement in that respect.

"In Europe, the Roma face the most profound and systematic discrimination and marginalisation, excluded from public life, segregated in schools and ghettos, facing hostility and violence."

Harder immigration policies

The economic downturn has also started to show a tendency for a tougher policy towards refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.

"Last year borders pushed outwards from Europe into Africa as countries like Spain and Italy signed agreements with Mauritania and Libya to stop people from entering Europe, and such agreements act as a license for more human rights violations in the transit countries," Ms Khan warned.

An Italian move to return migrants rescued at sea to Libya "without proper examination of their protections needs" is against the country's obligations under refugee law and "sets a dangerous precedent for EU member states."

Meanwhile in Greece, "despite new legislation on the asylum process and conditions of reception of migrants, the treatment of irregular migrants and asylum-seekers continued to violate international standards," the report said.

A call for 'new global deal' on human rights

In the face of a worsening human rights situation worldwide, the EU itself "remains ambivalent on its commitment to human rights," Amnesty concluded.

"Europe too often lacked political leadership to ensure the protection of human rights in the region, with many of its states also lacking the political will to live up to their obligations," it went on.

The organisation urges the EU to "shoulder its responsibility in fighting against discrimination, poverty and insecurity" and calls on governments worldwide to act to set up "a new global deal on human rights."

"The world doesn't need another treaty, the world doesn't need any more paper promises – what it needs is real commitment and concrete action from governments," Amnesty says.

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