IG’s Peace Blog

Peace and its many aspects

Financial crisis, Human Rights and Conflict

One of the best predictors of violent conflict is extensive human rights abuse.  This only makes sense really, because injustice (or at least a sense of injustice) is almost always a factor in social conflict, and human rights, among other things, provide a widely accepted standard of social justice.   OK… now consider this document from the United Nations Office in Geneva (brought to my attention by Tahirih Danesh).

Basically, the U.N. Human Rights Council is concerned that human rights might suffer, or are already suffering, during the current financial crisis.

“The Council, in the resolution, stressed that the global economic and financial crises did not diminish the responsibility of national authorities in the realization of human rights. It called upon States, notwithstanding any possible impact of the global economic and financial crises, to respect their human rights obligations and to continue their efforts towards the universal realization and effective enjoyment of all human rights, particularly by assisting the most vulnerable, and in this context urged the international community to support national efforts to, inter alia, establish and preserve social safety nets for the protection of the most vulnerable segments of their societies. The Council reaffirmed that an open, equitable, predictable and non-discriminatory multilateral trading system could substantially stimulate development worldwide, benefiting all countries, particularly developing countries, and thereby contributing to the universal realization and effective enjoyment of all human rights.”

It follows, though this document does not go into the subject, that if, as the Council fears, human rights suffer, this may well increase various social tensions that lead to conflict; and overall, peace will suffer.  As I wrote over ten years ago:

“…it should be acknowledged that, as Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter argued, capitalism inevitably involves a process of “creative destruction.” Competition stimulates firms to innovate, both in products and in production, in order to outdo their rivals. However, entire industries and regions can be “destroyed,” or at least marginalized, as more innovative competitors take the lead in a given sector. This is demonstrated, for instance, by the change from the horse and cart to the automobile, or from canals to railways. The liberal argument has always been that, despite the rather Darwinian way this process produces “winners” and “losers,” society as a whole benefits from constant improvement in the quality and range of goods and services available to consumers. In this sense economic globalization is viewed as the logical extension of this process to an increasingly unified global market.

However, as MacEwan has forcefully stated:

Losers… are not simply impersonal firms or abstract inefficient technologies. In the real world, losers are people, sometimes capitalists, but always workers, individually and as communities. Creative destruction means the unemployment of real workers, the destitution of real communities, devastation of the environment, and disempowerment of the populace (MacEwan, Arthur. 1994. “Globalization and Stagnation.” Monthly Review, Vol. 45, April, p. 3.)”

Once again we find that (nearly) everything is related to everything else, and that social justice and human rights (broadly understood) are the great challenge for contemporary global governance.

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February 25, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] crisis and human rights, redux A few months ago I wrote about the concern that the financial crisis might have a negative impact on human rights, and […]

    Pingback by Financial crisis and human rights, redux « IG’s Peace Blog | May 31, 2009 | Reply


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