Monday’s Daily Brief: increasing inequality, human rights and climate, civil war crimes, Ethiopia reforms

9 December 2019

New UN development report warns global inequality breeding a “new generation of inequalities”; human rights linked to climate change by senior UN official; intentional starvation in civil wars classified as a war crime, UN rights expert calls for Ethiopia reform support.

Inequality risks splitting society apart ‘on scale not seen since industrial revolution’

A new generation of inequalities risks splitting communities around the world on a scale not seen since the industrial revolution. That’s the message from the 2019 Human Development Report, produced by the UN Development Programme, UNDP.

The report suggests that, although people worldwide have seen some progress in securing access to education, healthcare and technology, disparities are high, or increasing, between the so-called haves and have-nots.

Taking the example of two 20-year-olds – the first from a developed country and the second from a poor one - UNDP said that while the first individual was likely to be a healthy, highly-skilled graduate, the second was “much less likely to be alive”.

Achim Steiner, head of the UN agency that produced the report, highlighted the “wave of demonstrations sweeping across countries” as a sign that “something in our globalized society is not working”.

Full story here

Official: it’s now a war crime to intentionally starve communities in civil wars

Protection for besieged communities has been given a boost after International Criminal Court (ICC) States Parties agreed to prosecute intentional starvation in civil wars as a war crime. 

The move, brought by Switzerland, amends the court’s statute, which already includes starvation as a war crime, but only for international conflicts.

The initiative received the unanimous support of 122 member states to the court in The Hague at last week’s annual meeting. 

In a statement, the Swiss Foreign Ministry said that the majority of the over 800 million people who suffer from hunger every day, live in conflict zones.

The fact that the International Criminal Court will now be able to prosecute such acts as a war crime will help to prevent this crime and bring justice to victims, the Swiss ministry maintained.

Bachelet: mobilize everywhere to protect climate and dignity for everyone

Meanwhile, the impact of climate change on human rights was raised by UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, ahead of Human Rights Day, which takes place on Tuesday.  

In a message to mark the day on 10 December 1948 – when UN Member States adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Ms. Bachelet asked whether world leaders today still stand by the UN’s opening statement, that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and “should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” 

Highlighting how 2019 had seen tremendous activism by millions of young people over the climate emergency, the High Commissioner insisted that “hostile nationalism” and short-term financial gain “would tear our world apart”.
World leaders everywhere should do more to fight discrimination, Ms. Bachelet said, and reply to people’s concerns with more effective, and more principled strategies.

Ethiopia reform process ‘encouraging and fragile’: UN rights expert

Ethiopia is embarking on a reform process that is both encouraging and fragile, David Kaye, an independent human rights expert, declared on Monday, following a week-long visit to the country.

In his preliminary statement on Ethiopia, Mr. Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, said that the situation in the country has changed dramatically, since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed – who will receive the Nobel Peace Prize on 10 December – initiated change by ending the state of emergency, freeing journalists and human rights defenders, and opening up civil society, just 18 months ago.

However, Mr. Kaye noted that these efforts are “only the start of a process that will take years of legal and policy commitment, and persistent dedication to public participation and human rights oversight”.

Hate speech in the media, he warned, remains a major cause of concern, and poses a threat to the stability of the process. In October, for example, 86 people were reportedly killed in unrest attributed partially, he said, due to an environment of hate speech and disinformation, including on social networks.

With elections due in May 2020, Mr. Kaye urged the Government to renew its efforts to “promote and protect freedom of expression, take strong measures to combat any forms of harassment, attacks or violence against journalists, protesters and anyone exercising her right to expression, and strengthen a national dialogue and tolerance across the country”.

Read the statement here

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