Earlier this month, you may have seen our top 10 good news stories from 2013 we published. What follows covers some aspects of the other side of the coin. In order to understand the context of ‘good news’, we need to situate it alongside its opposite.
Here are 10 bad news stories that undermined and set back human development and human rights around the world.
1. Stoning, Women Rights and the UN
In April 2013 it was announced that stoning is to remain part of the criminal code of Iran after the Guardian Council (charged with interpreting the Constitution) had considered and then rejected a draft law to scrap the punishment.
Like many other regimes which support this method of killing, Iran does not discriminate against women in the matter. This, despite the fact that Iran remains a member of the UN Commission on the Status of Women until 2015; having been elected in 2010 ‘by acclamation’.
In contrast, on July 11th the U.S. and other states (along with a host of human rights organisations) strongly attacked a bid by both Iran and Syria to join the UN Human Rights Council given their appalling records on human rights. Does this appalling record not apply to women’s rights?
2. AID: Behind the Rhetoric
According to the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the world’s major aid donors spent US$125.6 billion in ODA in 2012, 4% less in real terms than they did in 2011.
More worrying however is the fact that aid is now increasingly focused on middle-income countries and away from countries with the largest MDG delivery gaps. For example, aid to sub-Saharan Africa declined by 7.9% in real terms and aid to the world’s least developed countries fell by 12.8%.
3. The transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich continues
The poor of the world continue to transfer wealth to the rich. As published in 2012 and re-affirmed in 2013 by the UN Secretary General, developing countries, as a group, are estimated to have made a net transfer of financial resources of approximately $826.6 billion to developed countries in 2011. While still below its peak level of $891.6 billion in 2008, the volume of net financial resource transfers has returned to its traditional pattern over the past two years after the sharp drop in 2009 during the global economic crisis.
For a detailed analysis of this reality see our section on 5:50:500 and for an update of the figures see https://www.oecd.org/dac/stats/ and the report to the UN secretary general on the international financial system and development (2013).
4. 2013 – Inequality deepens and threatens human development
The latest 2013 figures highlighted the fact that extreme wealth and inequality are reaching levels never before seen; in the past 30 years inequality has grown dramatically – at a global level, the top 1% (60 million people), and particularly the even more select few in the top 0.01% (600,000 individuals), over the last 30 years has been an incredible ‘feeding frenzy’, a reality that led NGO Oxfam to call for an end to extreme wealth.
In the US the share of national income going to the top 1% has doubled since 1980 from 10 to 20%. For the top 0.01% it has quadrupled to levels never seen before. In the UK inequality is rapidly returning to levels not seen since the time of Charles Dickens; in China the top 10% now take home nearly 60% of the income. Chinese inequality levels are now similar to those in South Africa which is now the most unequal country on earth and significantly more unequal than at the end of apartheid.
For an outline of how such inequality impacts on human development see this Oxfam media briefing: How wealth and income extremes hurt us all (18 January, 2013).
See this short document for broader discussion of inequality worldwide from inequality.org (2011).
5. One million €’s every 30 minutes
According to the World Health Organisation in 2013, violence against women – particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence against women – are major public health problems and violations of women’s human rights.
In Europe, an estimated 1 in 5 five women falls victim to domestic violence, costing EU Member States as much as 16 billion Euros every year, or one million Euros every half hour.
Recent figures indicate that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime while on average, 30% of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence by their partner.
Discrimination; gender equality; peaceful cultural norms: That the Bill for Women’s Rights (known as CEDAW) is still one of the most contested pieces of international legislation is not good news when we look at these facts and statistics from 2013. Women’s rights remains a key battleground for realising human rights around the world in 2014.
6. State sponsored homophobia on the rise
Life sentences, civil society crack-downs, persecution as social justice, supporting incitement to hatred based on social orientation. It has not been a good year for gay rights internationally. A succession of national legal changes, championed by socially conservative religious groups, came into force in last year that criminalise against the most basic rights afforded to gay people – just 3 examples:
India: a 153-year-old law passed under British rule was reinstated which makes sex between consenting adults of the same sex “unnatural” and punishable by up to 10 years in jail. India re-joined the more than 70 countries – mainly in Africa, the Middle East and south Asia – where homosexual relations are illegal
Uganda: backing down to international pressure from Uganda’s biggest donors, Britain and the US, over the tabling of anti-homosexuality laws in 2009, Uganda saw the bill finally rushed through in December 2013. The punishment of homosexual acts includes life imprisonment for merely touching.
Russia: suppressing homosexuality and a fledgling gay rights movement was at the forefront of legislation introduced in June. Just one deputy abstained from voting on the bill from 437 parliamentarians, which bans the spreading of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” among minors. The law in effect makes it illegal to equate straight and gay relationships, as well as the distribution of material on gay rights.
7. On the record: state supported slavery in Ireland
The scale of modern slavery in Ireland was revealed in a recent report giving a detailed account of the more than 10,000 girls and women who were sent to one of the state’s ten ‘Magdalene laundries’ into virtual servitude over a 70-year period up until 1996. The report found that 15% lived in the Church-run workhouses for more than five years, and police caught and returned women who fled. They endured 12-hour work days of washing and ironing. In the midst of the launch of this report it was also found that the scale of domestic servitude in both Ireland and England had barely been uncovered due to systemic failures by state authorities to identify and protect victims of slavery and human trafficking.
8. Hoisted on our own petards: privacy under siege in the age of surveillance society
Any myths of ‘digital privacy’ and ‘online personal security’ were well and truly lifted in 2013 as a result of documents leaked by former US National Security Agency (NSA) analyst Edward Snowden. Catalogued blow-by-blow in The Guardian and The New York Times, among other newspapers, the scale with which individuals around the world (without exception) are being recorded and profiled based on data they transmit by phone, email, website visits and search engine use would make the Stasi in East Berlin blush, and certainly Orwell’s Big Brother writhe in envy.
As Snowden pointed out in his Christmas message,
“A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They will never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves; an unrecorded, unanalysed thought.”
9. Climate Change
A leaked copy of a draft summary of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in November (set for full release in March 2014) disclosed how global warming is already affecting the way people live and what will happen in the future.
“Climate change indirectly increases risks from violent conflict in the form of civil war, intergroup violence and violent protests by exacerbating well-established drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks,” the report says. Cities, where most of the world now lives, have the highest vulnerability, as do the globe’s poorest people.
“Throughout the 21st century, climate change impacts will slow down economic growth and poverty reduction, further erode food security and trigger new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger”, the report says.
“Climate change will exacerbate poverty in low- and lower-middle income countries and create new poverty pockets in upper-middle to high-income countries with increasing inequality… [For people living in poverty] climate-related hazards constitute an additional burden.”
10. “Everyone with a bucket anymore is going to suffer” – the fallout of the CRC scandal on non-governmental organisations
The stories of top ups and pay outs to Central Remedial Clinic directors unfolded like a Christmas pantomime, culminating in the resignation of its entire board of governors. The long term damage wrought on those needing its services and their families, on other charities and NGOs is much deeper and wider than often popularly reported. Public trust in all charitable and not-for-profit work has been seriously damaged by the actions of a handful of the ‘l’Oreal’ generation as ‘house cleaning’ and pay cuts take priority in the perceived unregulated Wild West charity sector.
The tarnishing of public trust, transparency and accountability in not-for-profits in 2013 by the market values of the private sector (and its associated ‘business model’) has not been good for the core work of civil society and community groups.