Posts Tagged ‘UN’

I attended the UN Global Voices film festival last evening, and they held a panel discussion on human rights and cultural heritage.  During the panel, I wondered at what point does human rights take precedence over cultural heritage. And when that happens, I wondered how we could help eradicate the practice without sounding like an imperialistic world power trying to impose our values and morals onto other cultures.

The example I gave was female circumcision or genital mutilation.  Here’s one paper on the practice.

Prevalence of female circumcision in Africa

Prevelance of Female Circumcision in Africa, Demographic and Health Surveys and Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys

It is a heinous practice that seems to be part of rite of passage into adulthood for sub-Saharan African females.  I picked this example because this seems to be a clear human rights violation.

Should the international community or even foreigners living in these countries stand up to voice their outrage on this practice or should they respect the native’s right to pass their tradition down to another generation.  For instance, should a Peace Corps volunteer working in Kenya refuse to go to a female circumcision ceremony or should that person respect her hosts and do as the Romans do?

One could ask the same question about the practice of extending women’s necks with the addition of rings in Burma and Thailand or the caste system and the untouchables in India.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be an easy answer.  I feel that the only way that this practice can be changed is from within the community themselves so that the people can feel that they have ownership of their decision.  However, that could take a long time to do.

Education is the key, and the developing world needs to properly educate its female populace.  The right to education is a human right that was declared by the United Nations in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The UN should restrict voting privileges of any country in violation of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  However, we know this won’t happen because of politics.

Should we respect a country’s cultural heritage or should we trumpet human rights and denounce their practice?  What are your thoughts?

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This is the first of my (intended) weekly posts on resources that encourage readers of this blog to stay abreast of human rights news as well as become aware of interesting sites and articles that assist in activist capacity building and personal enrichment.

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Increasingly, satellite technology is coming into use as a tool to monitor human rights crises and provide infallible evidence of injustices and crime in real time.  I first heard of satellite imagery being used in this manner several years ago when the Zimbabwe government denied razing nearly 5,000 buildings and farms and internally displacing nearly 700,000 of its own country’s people in Operation Murambatsvina (meaning “drive out rubbish”).  

Amnesty International found the following, very clear before and after shots of the forced demolition and evictions:

Amnesty/Digital Globe

Satellite images from 2002 and 2006 showing the destruction of the Porta Farms settlement outside Harare. Photo: Amnesty/Digital Globe

AI also embarked on a satellite imagery project to document the ongoing crisis in Darfur, called “Eyes on Darfur.”  Increasingly, these types of tools and situation reporting, (including social media), seem to foster a greater sense of connection, deepened understanding and impassioned action among activists, journalists, students and others.  Pictures often can drive action more powerfully than words.

Outside the scope of Amnesty’s work with satellite technology, I recently learned that the UN Institute for Training and Research has an Operational Satellite Applications Program (UNOSAT)  that uses geographical information systems, field workers, satellite imagery experts and more to deliver “satellite solutions to relief and development organisations within and outside the UN system to help make a difference in the life of communities exposed to poverty, hazards and risk, or affected by humanitarian and other crises. ”

I came across Gaza Strip Damage Maps when searching for some of the latest information regarding the Israeli bombing of the UN compound

UNOSAT as you’ll see has maps for many other countries and regions and for various events ranging from train collisions in North Korea to population distributions in Mexico. 

I think we’ll be seeing more and more satellite technology make its way into how humanitarian crises and other human rights news are reported and also digested by readers – perhaps it will be the one extra push some might need toward pursuing action.

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Debris flies up as a bomb explodes after an Israeli air strike in the northern Gaza Strip January 3, 2009. (REUTERS/Nikola Solic (GAZA)

Debris flies up as a bomb explodes after an Israeli air strike in the northern Gaza Strip January 3, 2009. (REUTERS/Nikola Solic (GAZA)

There has been calls by the UN to end the Israeli ground assault into the Gaza Strip.  The humanitarian situation is critical in the Gaza Strip ever since Israeli forces started targeting Hamas with air strikes 18 days ago.  There was international uproar when a UN school was hit by an Israeli rocket that killed 40 Palestinians.

Israel defends her actions by saying that they want to prevent the constant rocket attacks by Hamas that shatters any sense of normalcy for their people.  How does one feel raising a child where there is a distinct possibility that a Hamas rocket could land in your child’s classroom on any given day? Israeli bomb squads deactivate potential bombs at least 8 times a day according to Morgan Spurlock’s film, Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?

An Israeli boy walks into a bomb shelter in the southern city of Ashkelon, Israel on January 4, 2009. (REUTERS/Amir Cohen)

An Israeli boy walks into a bomb shelter in the southern city of Ashkelon, Israel on January 4, 2009. (REUTERS/Amir Cohen)

Meanwhile, Hamas wants to take back its land from the Israeli people that was seized illegally after the 1967 War through the building of settlements.  They win the hearts of the Gazan people by providing services (hospitals, policing) that the PLO and now Fatah did not do.  The Palestinian people has to go through countless checkpoints adding hours to their commute to work if they are lucky enough to have a job.  Unemployment is approaching 50% in the Gaza Strip leaving the men there with very few options to provide for their families.  Basic supplies are in short supply because Israel closed the borders citing rocket attacks as its reason.

The situation in Israel is disheartening.  Somehow they must realize that it is mutually beneficial to have a two state system because their respective economies would be able to thrive if there was peace. One major hurdle is the fact that the Palestinians are split amongst themselves between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.  Israel can’t talk to Fatah because it doesn’t speak for all of its people, and Hamas doesn’t recognize Israel so Israel doesn’t want to legitimize them.

All people need is to believe that their children can have a better life and that they have ownership of their own destiny.  That’s not the case in the Palestinian territories.  This has to change for the region to move forward.

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