Ecocide: The Bomb in our Backyard

Focusing on the on-going environmental degradation and various ways to address and create awareness about it, this video project aims to explore the way in which people in London view their environment and environmental impact.
The project links personal experiences with academic and legal endeavours to address the environmental crisis; how the impact is understood and addressed locally. The video makes mention of a growing movement – The Ecocide Project – in an attempt to explore the academic and legal response to the environment as a human rights issue.

All participants were informed of the content and nature of this video

Copyrighted material by: Bobby McFerrin, ‘Circle Song 2’; Lauren Hill, ‘ A Change is Gonna Come’.

Antonina Radeva and Deanna Warren

Discrimination: The True Barrier to Clean Water

“We have to use the water from the stream which is very dirty. Children vomit and get diarrhoea very often” (Amnesty 2011:40).

These words belong to Silvana Hudorovac, recorded by Amnesty International in their 2011 report ‘Parallel lives’. In 2011 Silvana was living in a community without access to clean running water and basic sanitation. In this report Silvana explains how her family are forced to defecate in trenches behind their homes (Amnesty, 2011).

Silvana’s experience is not uncommon.  According to Water Aid 783 Million people are living without access to clean running water. A further 2.5 billion people are without the use of a proper toilet or basic sanitation. Water Aid describes this situation as a ‘water crisis’ and for good reason. The impact on global health is devastating as an estimated ‘3.4 million people die each year from a water related disease’ (Water Org, 2013).

The human right to water was officially recognized by the Human Rights Council in 2010 with ‘The human right to water and sanitation’ resolution. Article (1) of the resolution ‘ recognises the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights’.

Since 2010 any state that has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ‘can no longer deny their responsibility to provide safe water and sanitation to all people’ (Right to water, 2013). Yet this entitlement is not being provided and individuals, such as Silvana’s human rights are being violated.

Improving water and basic sanitation has been a focus of international development initiatives over the last ten years. It is also a target of the seventh Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs were devised by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development. The MDGs focus on eight global targets aimed at alleviating global poverty. They range from the eradication of hunger to ensuring environmental sustainability (UN, 2013).

In September 2000 the largest ever meeting of world leaders took place at the ‘UN Millennium Summit’. At this summit leaders signed the Millennium Declaration and agreed to achieve the eight goals by 2015. The expiry date of the MDGs is looming in the not so distance future.  One target of the seventh goal ensuring environmental sustainability has been achieved and is triumphed as a development success story.  The target that has been met is to ‘half the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation’ (UN, 2013).

The UN  2012 MDGs report states that since ‘2010  89% of the world’s population was using improved drinking water sources up from 76% in 1990’. This sounds like a grand achievement particularly in conjunction with the statistic that ‘more than two billion people gained access to improved water sources’ (UN, 2013). However it is hard to assess whether the MDGs have impacted on the increased proportion of people who have improved water sources. This is because over half of global development in improved water sources is attributed to India and China (UN, 2013). And efforts to improved water sources started before 1990 with economic growth of these countries.

Data is also not available to measure how much water sources have improved and if they now provide safe drinking water. The statistics are less optimistic for the global improvement on sanitation. This has only measured to have increased from ‘36 per cent in 1990 to 56 per cent in 2010’ (UN, 2013). The lopsidedness of the gains made by access to improved water sources and not by sanitation are concerning as water does not stay clean for long without sanitation.

What is also apparent from the UN report is that global improvements in drinking water are by no means evenly spread. This is in-between regions and within countries.

Data compiled from 35 Sub-Saharan African states in the UN report shows that ‘over 90 per cent of the riches quintile in urban areas’ is using improved water sources. Whereas ‘piped- in water is non-existent in the poorest 40 percent of households, and less than half of the population uses any form of improved source of water’ (UN ,2012).

Even when the MDG target for improved access to drinking water has been met it remains that clean water is still out of reach for the poorest members of society. This also disproportionately affects the lives of women who in regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa bear the brunt of water collection.

When interviewed, Silvana Hudorovac was living in Slovenia where according to Amnesty nearly 100 percent of the population have access to clean water.  Silvana is a member of the Roma minority group.  Roma communities face widespread discrimination across Europe in access to resources such as clean water.

The MDGs as a development framework have not impacted on this deep-rooted discrimination or exclusion from water and the effect is felt from Slovenia to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Access to water and sanitation is denied to the Roma because of multi-generational discrimination.  Amnesty reported that the Roma in Slovenia cannot access government or private rented housing. They are forced to live in segregated, unpermitted and secluded settlements without running water, toilets or electricity. The Slovenian government does not provide water to housing without building permits (Amnesty, 2011).

Access to water and sanitation is thus denied through a series of discriminatory practices.  The situation of the Roma in Slovenia is reflected in much of the developing world. Water Org state ‘for the vast majority of the nearly one billion people without safe drinking water, today’s water crisis is not an issue of sacristy but of access’.

It is the systematic social exclusions that are not challenged in the developed or developing world in regards to access to clean drinking water (Melamed and Samman, 2013).

The MDGs have not managed to invoke behaviour change of the government of Slovenia to prioritise the individual’s human right to water and sanitation or ensure the equitable distribution of clean water.

Discussion between the UN and civil society is already taking place to devise a post-2015 MDG development framework (Melamed and Samman, 2013).  It waits to be seen if there will be a real attempt to challenge the barrier of discrimination so communities, such as the Roma in Slovenia will no longer be denied their human right to water.

Anna Keane

Food for Thought

As millions across the world living in extreme poverty were forced again to feed themselves for less than £1 a day, many more joined them this week as part of the Live Below the Line campaign. The campaign challenged people in the UK to live on a fiver from Monday until Friday to get them thinking about what poverty really means on a day-to-day basis (and to raise some money while they were doing it!).

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Christian Aid, Oxfam and Save the Children are some of the organisations behind this campaign and having read blogs and articles all week about people’s experiences, what struck me is how much we take for granted.

I spent yesterday afternoon wandering around Borough market, admiring the piles of fresh fruit, the vast wheels of cheese and shining fishmonger stalls and munching through a salt beef sandwich. I am beyond lucky. Deciding what I want for dinner and then going to the shop to buy the ingredients is something I am able to do each week. Having the means to do this is a luxury. My basic human right to food is being fulfilled, and then some!

This right to food is universal; it is codified in international law under Article 11 of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. But why do I have enough food? Why are there people in the world who have so little to eat that they die of starvation?

Human rights scholar, Michael Freeman, highlighted this in his book, Human Rights: An Interdisciplinary Approach. He stated that ‘the rhetoric of human rights is universal; the scope of human rights is not: there is a human right to food, but millions starve’.

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The Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign is also working to close this gap between the rights outlined in existing legislation, and reality. The IF campaign is focused on four issues: aid, tax, land, and transparency. The idea is that there will be enough food for everyone if leaders act on these issues by giving ‘enough aid to stop children dying from hunger and help the poorest families feed themselves’, by stopping large companies from ‘dodging tax in poor countries’, by stopping ‘poor farmers being forced off their land and grow crops to feed people, not fuel cars’ and if governments and companies are ‘honest and open about their actions that stop people getting enough food’.

There are concerns that the IF campaign lacks a clear message and is just a new version of the Make Poverty History campaign. However, with 150 organisations behind it and a plan of action linked to David Cameron’s Hunger Summit and the UK G8 Summit, both in June, perhaps this campaign will have a real impact in tackling world hunger.

A photo essay published last week (http://www.visualnews.com/2013/04/27/hungry-planet-what-the-world-eats-in-a-week/) gave an insight into the weekly diet of families around the world. The variety of fresh produce, packaged foods and bottled drinks was fascinating. One photo that stood out was of a family in Chad who sat with a sack of rice, another of lentils and some smaller bags of what looked like spices and limes. Scroll down the page and there is a picture of a family in Germany with upwards of 50 bottles and cartons of wine, beer and juice in among their weekly shop.

It is clearer now more than ever that as a global community we need to re-evaluate what it means to have “enough”.

What can you do? The IF campaign has outlined six areas get involved in, including fundraising and upcoming events: http://enoughfoodif.org/get-involved. It’s also not too late to take part in the Live Below the Line challenge and raise money for the Global Poverty Project: https://www.livebelowtheline.com/uk?lang=en.

Georgia Booth

The Extreme Energy Initiative at the Human Rights Consortium

The past year has been an extraordinarily busy one for the Human Rights Consortium.  We have launched and developed new research projects; continued to hold events and workshops; published academic volumes on human rights topics; built a new website for the Extreme Energy Initiative; and applied for funding for a teaching program for our Ecocide Project.

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Former and current MA and PhD students at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies will know that the core teaching team – Drs David Cantor, Corinne Lennox and Damien Short – are dedicated to their specific research interests.

Last summer, I was hired (fresh off the MA course) to be the Human Rights Project Officer for the Consortium’s new projects.  As well as starting the Journal of Human Rights in the Commonwealth – first issue coming soon in May! – I was tasked with building a research and communications website for the Extreme Energy Initiative (EEI).  You can see our new website here: www.extremeenergy.org.

The Extreme Energy Initiative was set up by the new Director of the Human Rights Consortium (and lecturer of the MA’s Understanding Human Rights module), Dr Damien Short.  Damien is a genocide scholar and a dedicated environmentalist.

The Extreme Energy Initiative is a unique academic forum that concentrates specifically on the effects of unconventional fossil fuel extraction on society and the environment.  By ‘unconventional fossil fuel extraction’ we mean tar sands open-cast mining (pictured here in Alberta, Canada), shale gas extracted by hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’, coal seam gas extraction (popular in Australia), mountaintop removal and deepwater drilling (the type which turned disastrous for the Gulf of Mexico in 2010).  Biofuel farming also fits into the ‘extreme’ category as it belies our desperation for fuel – even at the expense of land to grow food.  Many indigenous peoples, for example, have lost out due to ‘land grabbing’ from biofuel companies, and this trend is only set to get worse.

Extreme energy is a complex concept, well summarised by one of our collaborators:

Extreme Energy is the process whereby energy extraction methods grow more intense over time, as easier to extract resources are depleted. The process is driven by unsustainable energy consumption and is important because extraction effort is strongly correlated with damage to both society and the environment. 

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Extraction site

The initiative focuses particularly on this ‘damage to society’ – which human rights students will understand as violations of universal human rights.  It looks at the role of extreme energy production in driving violations of rights to land, water, food, health, life, indigenous peoples’ rights and freedom of assembly and expression.

The best part of working on the Extreme Energy Initiative is that it is clearly a timely project!  Even in the first months of 2013 the relevance of the EEI to current trends in energy policy has been clear.

In the UK, ‘fracking’ is now being given the go-ahead within George Osborne’s budget, with the usual glut of subsidies and tax breaks (which arguably we can ill afford to provide to such destructive corporations).  Those of us researching the impacts of extreme energy can see this is not a prudent move for a number of reasons:

Luckily, communities and individuals are fighting back against corporations that believe they can use gagging orders and corporate secrecy acts to withhold the names of chemicals they are pumping into the water table, for example; or indeed against governments who grant drilling licences now and ask questions later.

We would like to think that in creating this research and communications hub on the impacts of these processes on human rights specifically, that we are contributing to a growing movement where people from all over the world declare ‘enough is enough!’ to unconventional fossil fuel extraction which violates the human right to a healthy environment.

Helle Abelvik-Lawson

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The Road to Rio- Brazil’s Forced Removals

The Road to Rio- Brazil’s Forced Removals was made by Institute of Commonwealth Studies’ 2011-12 students Helle Abelvik-Lawson, David Langle and Rose Leifer (HRBA Productions). This short film explores the infrastructure development plans for the Rio de Janeiro’s 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. Plans for these upcoming events are threatening and destroying favela communities with forced evictions.

Find out more from Catalytic Communities- http://www.catcomm.org- whose footage featured in this film. Catalytic Communities is a favela resident empowerment organisation in Rio. They have a program called Rio on Watch which monitors evictions and trains community journalists to report on housing rights violations in Rio ahead of these two major events.

Do you agree that human right are both an element of globalisation and a curb on its excesses?

Both human rights and globalisation have been subject to a huge amount of scrutiny and debate, and as terms they are often misused and their meaning obscured.  This essay will separate human rights into three components; a philosophical concept, an international legal system and a moral discourse.  As a concept, the universal rhetoric, wide dissemination and international recognition of human rights must be noted for their significance to be properly understood. The legal framework of human rights created to codify the Universal Declaration, will be examined as an ‘ex post’ curb on the excesses of globalisation (International Council on Human Rights Policy (ICHRP), 2010, p.15), inferring that rather than acting as a preventative by attacking the causes of violations or ‘excesses’, human rights legislation retroactively addresses symptoms.  As it is assumed we live in a ‘globalised’ society today, it is apt to question whether the existing philosophical and legal framework of human rights serves to limit activities that the process of globalisation has created and whether it is indeed sufficient to protect those rights it articulates.  Hypothesising over whether human rights as a discourse will ever be able to influence globalisation leads to questions focusing on evolving global economic policy, the changing nature of international power relations, and perhaps the need to amend or at least adapt the existing human rights framework to ensure it can fulfil its mandate.

Globalisation has been defined as an ‘economic tidal wave’ (Chernomas and Sepehri, 2004, p.29), ‘the end of geography’ (Bauman, 1998, p.12), ‘an avalanche of social dislocation’ (Polanyi, 1957, p.40), and a ‘process that embodies transformations in the spatial organisation of social relations’ (Held and McGrew, 1999, p.16).  None of these definitions seem to grasp the full complexities of the term, however, the hyperbole they all express demonstrates two things, the expanse of issues and factors globalisation seeks to encompass, and the confusion over what globalisation actually represents.  In order to avoid clumsy use of the term, this essay will evaluate globalisation as a movement and a social, political and economic process.  As a movement, globalisation spans events and activities from the first European explorations of the Americas to now.  In this respect globalisation is credited with the creation of the ‘borderless community’ we now live in (Chernomas and Sepehri, p.30), where information is freely shared and cultures from across the globe are apparently homogenised.  As a social process, the ways in which society has developed in terms of technology and communication must be noted, along with the changing nature of the global social structure.  As a political process, the allegations that globalisation has caused the ‘erosion of monocentric governments’ (Clapham, 2006, p.1), and the transformation of the State-based order (Cerny, 2000, p.21), must be considered to determine the how global politics have been redefined.

These three components can be united under ‘cultural globalisation’, a term encapsulating the paradigm shift that has allowed information and cultures to transcend national borders.  Human rights as a philosophical concept prides itself on its universal rhetoric which transcends cultural variety, implying that in order to qualify for certain freedoms, one must just be human.  This universal outlook can definitely be described as an element of cultural globalisation as, on an abstract level, removing the ‘constraints of geography’ (Waters, 1995, p.1) means that social theories and values can be transported across the world and applied internationally.  The success of the dissemination of human rights rhetoric can be measured by the amount of ratifications of key UN human rights treaties.  Although this doesn’t necessarily correlate to the protection of human rights on the ground, the sheer acceptance of a common language transcending geographical locations and cultures is a decisive feat (Picciotto, 1999, p.43).  Describing globalisation as a social process, scholars have emphasised its ability to ‘speed up’ the idea of access to rights and encourage movements that inspire social change (Howard-Hassmann, 2005, p.11).  In this respect the tenets of modernity, equality and non-discrimination, that human rights as a concept and legal framework are built upon, are elements of cultural globalisation which is transforming the socio-political climate of the world.  An excess of cultural globalisation will be defined as an activity or practice that is facilitated by the way in which the world has been changed through the process defined above, and causes gross violation of human rights.

If we take the beginning of cultural globalisation to be the initial European colonial explorations, evidence of curbing a morally abhorrent ‘excess’ can be seen through the abolition of slavery.  Slavery was a widely practiced system, facilitated by states looking beyond their borders, expanding their global vision.  Although the human rights legal framework cannot be credited for the abolition of slavery, as an ‘ex post’ mechanism, it has codified anti-slavery and given it jus cogens status, as an entrenched norm in international society.  The legal framework of human rights thus plays a crucial role in the institutionalisation of norms (Finnemore and Sikkink, 1998, p. 910), which in themselves create international standards to ensure excessive activities caused by globalisation are minimised.

Of course, it is easy to be distracted by legislation, assuming that the rights States consent to uphold through the treaties they ratify are effectuated in reality.  It is worth noting that human rights legislation and the legal framework within which they operate, do not necessarily correlate with the enjoyment of rights on the ground.  Atrocities facilitated by cultural globalisation still happen today in the form of exploitation, human trafficking, the arms trade and many more.  This analysis does not infer that the legal framework of human rights is entirely successful at curbing these excesses of globalisation.  However, the nature of human rights as a legal framework is such that it retroactively addresses the symptoms of a violation by seeking accountability and compensation.  This in itself initiates, or at least encourages, a process by which the violation is condemned, minimising its proliferation.  Therefore as a legal framework, human rights have the potential to curb excesses of cultural globalisation by the creation of legally binding international norms (Chodkiewicz and Wiest, 2004, p.73).

Economic globalisation has been described as ‘survival of the meanest’ (Olka-Onyango and Tamale, 1999), characterised by ‘liberalisation, privatisation, minimising economic regulation’ (Falk, 1999 p.4).  Although this interpretation is widely acknowledged, it ignores some of the nuance of the relationship between human rights and economic globalisation, and thus makes for a simplistic and narrow conclusion as to how the two interact.  Economic globalisation is a force championing deregulation, privatisation and free trade, creating in its wake new power structures, such as corporate entities (Santishree, 2000, p.87).  Economic globalisation has triggered a process of ‘systmeatic convergence’ in which states are economically dependent on the policies and activities of other States (Hamdani, 1997, p.3).  It has opened the world for Foreign Direct Investment and initiated the quest for the cheapest resources and production sites for business to maximise their profit margins (Chernomas and Sepehri, 2004, p.41).  However, this process has been subject to no regulation and has thus occurred extremely unequally.

Through this definition it is difficult to reconcile the force of economic globalisation which focuses on trade-offs and sacrifices in the name of growth and profit, with the framework of human rights, grounded in universal principles emphasising the indivisibility of all rights (ICHRP, 2010, p.9).  The neo-liberal model that economic globalisation adopts emphasises the need for efficiency in market structures, enhancing the private spheres, while human rights rhetoric favours the public domain, emphasising the roles of governments and States (ICHRP, 2010, p.10).  Economic globalisation has occurred, and continues to develop, as an unequal and discriminatory process that is driven by its thirst for excess (Freemam, 2002, p.156).  In this respect human rights cannot be seen as an element of economic globalisation.

The process of political reorganisation that both cultural and economic globalisation has ensued, has drastically altered the location of power within international society, calling for a re-examination of institutions and systems that attempt to regulate global transactions.  Globalisation as a political process has transformed the State-based order of global society (Cerny, 2000, p.21), limiting the roles of States in international trade and political decision making, and altering the context within which they communicate.  Given that respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights is a duty given to states under international human rights law, this poses a problem for the potential of the legal framework of human rights, in its current form, to limit in any way the progress of globalisation.  With the reduction in political importance of the State, the current human rights framework is inadequate to curb the process of globalisation.

With the demise of the State, economic globalisation has significantly altered global power relationships and increased the influence of non-state actors in international trade systems.  The movement has caused a disconnection of power from obligations, a symbol of which is the multinational corporation (Bauman, 1998).  Multinational corporations (MNCs) are entities that exploit the globalised world and capitalise on the unequal nature of wealth distribution.  MNCs owe their existence to economic globalisation and profit from the deregulation of the financial system, championed by neo-liberalism.  They are major players in the globalised economy, and yet are regulated by ‘soft law’, meaning they bear no duties or obligations under international human rights law.  Under corporate law, the MNC is obligated to maximise profit for its shareholders at whatever cost, meaning threats to the enjoyment of human rights now come from these non-state entities rather than directly from State agents (Clapham, 2006, p. 23).

As a movement, globalisation has been distinctly unregulated.  In this world of political instability and questionable nuclei of authority, it is difficult to identify the difference between an element of globalisation and an excess.  There are more malnourished people in the world today than ever before, 1.3 billion people live on less than a dollar a day, the environment is being devastated and populations are being attacked by infectious disease (Robbins, 2004, p. 47).  Are these excesses of a process which aims to raise global standards of living or just symptoms of a movement whose goal is unclear?  Similarly, economic globalisation cannot have ‘excesses’, as the deregulation it champions, in order to increase corporate entrepreneurial freedom, means it gathers a momentum of its own, as can be seen by the creation of corporate entities whose thirst for profit has dislocated them from acknowledgment of their impacts on a human level (Robbins, 2001, p.51).  Human rights either as a concept, a legal framework or as a discourse have no power to limit corporate activity.

The complexities of the relationship between globalisation and human rights have only been touched on in this essay, however, in analysing the two concepts it is clear that one cannot make generalised conclusions about globalisation as an umbrella term.  Indeed as a cultural movement, the dissemination of the concept of human rights and adoption of its legal framework can be seen as part of globalisation, and can even have the capacity to curb elements of it retroactively.  However, as an economic process, human rights and globalisation are not easily reconciled as they have different priorities and goals.  The visible socio-political changes that the process of globalisation has ensued further complicate its relationship with human rights.  As the power of States diminishes and new corporate powers rule the international economy, it is unclear who the duty bearers for the protection of human rights are.  This essay therefore concludes that the incompatibility of the human rights legal framework, in which States are prime duty-bearers, with the fast paced, unregulated and unequal process of economic globalisation, means the former is inadequate to curb any part of the latter.  If human rights are to be enforced and violations incurred by the process of globalisation prevented ‘ex ante’, the framework needs to be reconsidered and amended.

Hannah Matthews

This article is a shortened version of an academic paper by fellow ICWS student, Hannah Matthews, on the relationship between human rights and globalisation. If you would like to contribute academic research relating to human rights issues, please email blogforgood10@gmail.com. Submissions are always welcome!