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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Gaza: The Right to Life and The Right to Work

The right to life is recognized as the most fundamental and basic of human rights. Every human being has the right to life. No one should be deprived of his or her life.

The promotion and protection of the right to life is no longer considered to be a matter exclusively within the domestic jurisdiction of a State. It is also a matter of international concern. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”. The right to life is also entrenched in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which asserts that “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law.”

The right to work is also an inalienable right of all human beings. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection. This fundamental right it recognized in several international legal instruments. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment” and “Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worth of human dignity”. This right is also upheld in the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.

So what about Gaza? What about their right to life, to work, to survive?

In Gaza, fishermen risk their lives for survival. A growing number of impoverished fishermen are risking crossing the Gaza-Egypt maritime border to buy fresh fish from the country’s nearby port cities and Egyptian fishermen out at sea.

Israel and Egypt sealed their borders with the Palestinian coastal enclave after Hamas seized power in Gaza in June 2007. The ensuing economic blockade, which bans all commercial imports and exports to and from the territory, also prohibits Gaza’s 3,500 fishermen from traveling beyond 5.5km, down from the 37m limit stipulated by the Oslo Accords.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, approximately seventy percent of Gaza’s annual sardine catch if found outside the Israeli-imposed fishing zone. Moreover, the other side of the barrier, which is heavily patrolled by Israeli warships, is also home to at least a dozen other varieties of fish and seafood.

According to the United Nations, the industry makes up 2-4% of the Palestinian gross domestic product (GDP).

“The fishermen do not feel at all safe at sea,” said Stephane Beytrison, the head of the Red Cross field office here. “Not all of them have GPS [global positioning systems], and in some cases even that doesn’t make a difference. They can be shot when they are three miles out or just two, they never know.”

“If our sea were open, our fish would be better,” Fathi Sayadi, a fisherman, said. “But in Egypt, they have access to all the things we don’t. I have four children and my brother has two. What can we do?”

“If our sea were open, our fish would be better,” Fathi Sayadi said. “But in Egypt, they have access to all the things we don’t. I have four children and my brother has two. What can we do?”

The fishermen buy the Egyptian fish for what they say are good prices in Egyptian pounds, then sell it at a higher price on the Gaza market. They claim to make about 500 shekels (USD $134) in profit with each trip, which goes towards fuel and paying the salaries of workers they hire to transport the fish to market.

In comparison, the average monthly salary of a Gaza fisherman is just 250 shekels (USD $67.13), down from 1,300 shekels (USD $349.09) before the blockade, according to the Red Cross.

“Isn’t it ridiculous that fishermen are required to buy fish from other fishermen, in another country?” said Abu Nidal, an elderly fisherman whom many of the Gaza City seamen consider to be their de-facto leader. “We used to export our fish. But now we import – and we barely do even that.”

The head of the fishing department at Gaza’s ministry of agriculture, who asked to be referred to as Abu Yusuf because of his affiliation with the Fatah-led government in Ramallah, estimates between 15 per cent and 20 per cent of the fish in Gaza’s market comes from Egypt, whether through the tunnels or from fishermen making the risky trip across the border. A further five per cent is imported from Israel, and the market works against other local fishermen as a result, officials here say.

“If they don’t want us to go to Egypt, then open the sea,” Abu Nidal said. “End the siege and just let us fish, so that we can live.”

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Review of 2009, The Forum on Minority Issues

The Forum of Minority Issues was established by Human Rights Council resolution 6/15 of 28 September 2007 to provide a platform for promoting dialogue and cooperation on issues pertaining to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities. The Forum meets annually for two working days, discussion following a particular theme.

This year’s Forum convened on 12 and 13 November, focusing on "Minorities and Effective Political Participation" and around 3 core elements in particular: identification of challenges and problems facing minorities and states; identification of good practices in relation to minorities and political participation; consideration of opportunities, initiatives and solutions. The Forum considered current practices and ways to increase the effective participation of minorities in policy- and decision-making processes and institutions: national and local parliaments, “minority parliaments, advisory or consultative bodies. It also discussed possible institutions/bodies that could address obstacles to the participation of minorities in political life, such as a minorities ombudsperson or dedicated branch on minorities in the national human rights institution, a dedicated ministry, a dedicated parliamentary committee, parliamentary outreach to minority communities, and the media.

The independent expert on minority issues, Ms. Gay McDougall, guided the work of the Forum. Ms. McDougall maintained that the right to effective participation recognizes the fact that the participation of minorities in various areas of life is essential for the development of a truly inclusive and just society. Effective participation should give minorities a stake in society. Creating the conditions for the effective participation of minorities should thus be considered by states to be an integral aspect of good governance. “The right to effective participation includes participation in political decision-making at both the local and national levels. In addition, persons belonging to minorities should be given the means to participate effectively in the public, cultural, religious, social and economic spheres of their societies". The human rights principle of non-discrimination is additionally crucial. Discrimination is a key cause of the widespread marginalization of minorities in societies worldwide. “Discrimination which inhibits the political participation of minorities may manifest itself in, among others: a type of electoral system which negatively affects minority representation, political parties which are adverse to minority issues and minority membership, widespread prejudice among the electorate which punishes parties willing to include minority candidate or voice minority issues, media which are hostile to minority concerns and participation". To this effect, the effectiveness of the political participation of minorities must constantly be measured at all levels of society in order to ensure that is real and meaningful.  

Participants heard from a broad range of independent experts, NGOs and Member States. Among these experts was Ms. Graciela J. Dixon, attorney and former Chief Justice of the Corte Suprema de Justicia de Panama, who spoke on Basic requirements for effective political participation and suggestions on concrete steps to advance minority political participation,and Mr. Joe Frans, former chair of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, who spoke on the report on the Black European Summit. In order to promote States accountability, Ms. Dixon recommended the establishment of a qualification system, ensuring political participation at all levels, to promote cooperation and development programs and ensure that States are following UN standards. States should also be urged to report on the policies and actions taken on minority political participation. In addition, Ms. Dixon recommended the establishment of an international observatory as well as a periodical to register the compliance of human rights principles. Moreover, to ensure minority political participation, she suggested an assessment by the Working Group on Minority Issues. Mr. Frans spoke about the growth of racist and populist parties, which have had an impact on mainstream political parties and therefore on parties in general. He contended that there is an ongoing triangular shift on policy by mainstream political parties in order to minimize the political space. This is having a negative impact on minority participation and representation in Europe. He asserted that there is a need to focus on real participation and to move toward an inclusive society. Mr. Frans recommended that States take active measures, and adopt a code of conduct as well as policy guidelines in dealing with extreme right parties.

The outcome of the Forum will be thematic recommendations that will be included in the report by the independent expert on minority issues to be presented to the Human Rights Council at its thirteenth session in March 2010

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Review of 2009, OHCHR Expert Workshop on the Right of Peoples to Peace,

OHCHR's Expert Meeting on the Right of Peoples to Peace took place 15-16 December. This workshop on right to peace was formed at the request of Human Rights Council resolution A/HRC/11/4, entitled ˝Promotion of the rights of peoples to peace ̏. The Resolution requested that OHCHR convene a workshop before February 2010 with the participation of experts from regions of the world in order further clarify the content and scope of this right; propose measures that raise awareness of the importance of realizing this right; and suggest concrete actions to mobilize States, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations in the promotion of the right of peoples to peace.

Ms. Kyung-wha Kang, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, opened the meeting, stressing the intricate linkage between peace and human rights. ˝Respect for human rights is the foundation of freedom, peace and justice in the world. Peoples of our planet have the right to peace."

Various distinguished individuals spoke on the panels, whose topics ranged from the ‘different dimensions of the right of people to peace' to ‘measure and actions to raise awareness and to promote the right of peoples to peace'. On the ‘Different dimensions of the right of peoples to peace', Ms. Vera Gowlland, Honorary Professor, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, 1999 General Assembly resolution on the culture of peace; however, the value of these assertions depends on the subsequent practices of states of the international community. The International Court of Justice has also given great weight to these resolutions. That said, the right to peace is not clear in and of itself, although certain elements are being clarified in certain pronouncements. asserted that in recent years there has been a proliferation of a soft instrument proclaiming the right to peace. In 1984, a General Assembly declaration pronounced that peoples of our planet have a sacred right to peace.

Mr. Antonio Augusto Cancado Trindade, Judge, International Court of Justice, opened the second day of the meeting, proclaiming that, although it remains an invincible idea, the right to peace as an ideal that has not yet been achieved. ˝The 1984 Declaration on the rights of peoples to peace has not yet delivered a significant projection. ̏ That said, the right to peace is deeply rooted in human consciousness. ˝The time has come to codify peace. But, how? We do not live in a rational world. The right to peace has not had the same effect as the right to development. ̏

Continuing on the ‘Right of peoples from a human rights perspective', Mr. William Schabas, Director, Irish Centre for Human Rights, National University of Ireland, stressed the fragility of the debate on the right to peace. ˝Some question if this is the right place to discuss the right to peace. ̏ For instance, at the Human Rights Council, there were those who voted against adopting resolution 11/4 on the right of peoples to peace. ˝The right to peace is undervalued and does not yet have a proper place. This, however, does not mean that it is absent, but that it is underdeveloped. ̏

The Expert Workshop on the Right of Peoples to Peace closed successfully, and the outcome will be presented at the 14th Session of the Human Rights Council in June 2010.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

France may ban women from wearing veils in public - freedom of rights?

French women could be banned from wearing the full Islamic veil in public under legislation proposed by Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling party. Sarkozy has said that the burka is "not welcome" in France.

According to The Guardian, Jean-Francois Cope parliamentary leader of the right wing majority UMP, said a law banning face-covering in public places would be submitted to parliament next year. Citing concerns over women's freedom and 'public order', he said a total ban was justified by growing fears of equality in France, home to Europe's largest Muslim population. Mr Cope said he would put forward a bill this month banning the wearing of the veil in public as a means of defending France against 'extremists'

Debate about the burka or niqab and its compatibility with the Republican values of freedom, secularism and gender equality has reportedly been raging in France since Sarkozy called a parliamentary commission to investigate it in June. 

Recently, France's opposition Socalists have come out against the law banning the burka - even though they remain firmly opposed to the garment.

To play devil's advocate, could it not be argued that the law itself would be infringing on women's rights and freedom? I refer to those who choose to wear the burka.

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