14 Jun 2010

How we need to tackle dictatorship

A long while ago I was involved in some of the initial discussions at a Green party conference about the Index of Human Rights - to me it is potentially one of the most useful tools we could have in the international community to tackle a whole range of issues.

Photo: me at Green party conference last year

Well since then Green party member Richard Lawson (who founded the concept and was the first ever Green councillor to be elected - he beat John Marjoram by minutes!) has driven this forward. This blog has covered some previous items on this but for those who are unfamiliar with the Index read Peter Tatchell, who has contributed to the index, in The Guardian last year here - it gives an excellent overview. Below is a motion I have just added my name to, that will go to the next Green Party conference in September in Birmingham and take the idea further forward - but first a bit more re the Index.

The index concept is supported by the United Nations Association (UK) and a further eight international green and peace movement organisations. It makes the case for the UN to publish an annual Global Human Rights Index (GloHRI), detailing the human rights performance of each and every government on the planet, displayed in a league table form. This will then enable the relative human rights standing and trends of each country to be seen at a glance. It would add pressure on the worst ranked countries to improve their human rights record and provide impetus for action against the most serious offenders by the International Criminal Court and other human rights bodies.

Using a points system, the GloHRI index would measure every country, based on its compliance with a check-list of 52 human rights norms, such as whether or not it has the death penalty, torture, detention without trial, freedom of the media, the right to protest, equal rights for women and minorities and so on. This simple, accessible index would enable objective comparisons between the human rights records of different countries, and permit the identification of whether each individual country's human rights record was, year-on-year, improving or deteriorating. Published annually by the UN, the index would document where each state upholds or violates human rights; providing an incentive for all nations to improve their human rights record and ranking.
"The majority of human civilisations gave up making sacrifices to the gods in the Iron Age. Tragically, in 2008 we are still torturing and killing our fellow human beings on the sacrificial altar of 'state security'. One day this barbaric practice will pass into history. The direction. We hope that the Global Human Rights Index will prove to be another such step." Dr Richard Lawson
The Green Party's proposal has set out the human rights issues that would be covered by the index and how the index would work. It also examines other attempts to establish various related indexes, which demonstrate the practicality of the proposal.

The hope is that this would enable the UN to move from a reactive to a proactive stance in human rights. Most countries are conscious of their international image, and do not wish to be seen as human rights abusers and international pariahs....no doubt there will be appeals against their ratings and in response the UN could send in inspectors to review the conditions in the country. Even tyrannical government's are sensitive to public opinion - the success of Amnesty International's letter writing campaigns for the release of political prisoners is a good example.

The measurement and ranking of human rights abuses will also give clarity and a fairness to all citizens and governments - but at the end of the day there will be countries who may well not respond - as we've seen with Burma - see blog a couple of days ago - although with a more concerted and strong effort of condemnation I think things would have been better there. So what to do in those case?

Well when the Index is established, it could be used to bring specific legal action and targeted sanctions to bear on the very worst offenders. The International Criminal Court could play a role or other international legal bodies. Once this has happened consistently and without bias or exception on a few occasions, regimes near the bottom of the Index, knowing that they might be next in line for prosecution, may well decide to improve their human right record and seek international support to this effect.

It is not claimed that the Index will once and for all abolish all HR abuses, but it is p[art of the answer.
"I hope that I will live to see the United Nations adopt the Global Human Rights Index, which is an important step towards the long term goal of a global civilisation where human rights are universally respected, and state sponsored torture and killing is consigned to the dustbin of history where they belong". Dr Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party
The index is gaining support from various quarters - there have been many discussions and some of these have led to this motion below which looks at how to deal with dictators - as noted above I've signed the motion and hope to be able to support it in Birmingham in September.

Motion on Dealing with Dictators

*Synopsis: *

While the Global Index of Human Rights will add a steady, continuous pressure for all countries to improve their human rights, unfolding world events frequently demonstrate the immediate need to restrain dictators who are acting against the interests of their citizens. At present the international response to dictators is /ad-hoc, /politically driven and inconsistent, depending on whether major powers regard the dictators in question as useful allies or trading partners. The UN needs to set up a fair, open and pro-active approach to would-be dictators, aimed to dissuade them from progressing towards absolute dictatorship, and rewarding steps taken towards a more democratic and open regime.

This is based on sound psychology. It is well established that the best way to modify unwanted behaviour is to set a consistent and fair framework of punishments for unwanted behaviour and rewards for appropriate behaviour.


Insert new IP 336 and re-number:

IP 336

The Green Party will press for the UN to set up a framework of international rules of governance that will help all rulers to learn that certain courses of actions will certainly lead to unwanted effects on their freedom to act to the detriment of their citizens. Specified forms of conduct that indicates a tendency towards dictatorship, evidenced by progressive erosion of human rights, will be matched with a tariff of targeted sanctions which designed to affect the regime, not the people, and are applied in a measured, stepwise and consistent basis.

There are a number of identifiable steps on the road to dictatorship. The following examples are advanced as indicators of such a tendency:

1. Electoral fraud

2. Intimidation at the polling booths

3. Ignoring the result of a democratic election

4. Banning critical newspapers and media

5. Banning non-violent opposition parties

6. Imprisoning people for their beliefs

7. Use of torture

8. Violent suppression of peaceful demonstrators

9. Lavish expenditure on palaces for the dictator

10. Disproportionate spending on arms

11. Oppression of minorities

Each of these steps will be legally defined, and the question of whether the regime in question has committed them will be tested in a timely way in an international court.

IP338 Each step, or constellation of steps, will have a specific targeted sanction attached to it. The targeted sanctions applied will be designed to affect the ruling class and not the ordinary people. The sanctions will be appropriate to the specific case, will be recommended by the international court of law, and may be subject to ratification by the UNSC.

Examples of the tariff of sanctions are:

1. At the mildest level, increased intensity and frequency of inspections by UN rapporteurs will take place, and the regime will be offered education in the ways and advantages of democracy.

2. Tightening up of border controls.

3. Disproportionate spending on arms will result in a total ban on arms sales.

4. Banning opposition parties could lead to financial support to non-violent opposition parties whose aims are judged to be helpful to the welfare of the people of the country.

5. Ignoring the result of a democratic election could result in a ban in foreign travel for members of the regime.

6. Use of political imprisonment and torture could result in the regime being denied eligibility to serve on appropriate UN councils, for example, the Human Rights Council .

7. Lavish expenditure on palaces for the dictator could result in sanctions against the import of luxury goods.

8. Violent suppression of minorities and peaceful demonstrations will result in freezing of financial assets of the regime.

9. Ban on foreign travel for members of the regime, with possibility of arrest of such people if they do travel abroad.

The sanctions will be cumulative and progressive, and will be withdrawn promptly, in reverse order, if the regime takes action to retrace its steps.

Proposer: Richard Lawson. North Somerset Green Party.

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