Protecting Those at Risk
The 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees provides protection for people forcibly displaced by threats of persecution and violence. The convention defines these people as refugees, those who are “unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.” However, while the 1951 Convention put in place important protections for vulnerable groups around the world, it did not provide protection for all populations experiencing forced displacement. This conversation will focus on people forcibly displaced by violence and conflict. Due to the definition’s emphasis on personal discrimination, many people whose safety is threatened by the violence around them but not necessarily directed at them are excluded from the same protection given to refugees. Internally displaced people (IDPs) are also excluded from the refugee definition because they have not left the borders of their country, even though they may be experiencing similar hardships as refugees. Finally, stateless populations’ lack of citizenship can make it difficult for them to access refugee status.
Following natural disasters or humanitarian crises, aid organization and well-meaning volunteers rush to the help of hurting communities. The large influx of people trying to deliver aid in a struggling region poses coordination and logistical challenges that make it difficult to effectively deliver aid in a comprehensive way. Furthermore, rural communities who bear the hardships of humanitarian crisis the most, often go overlooked or are physically located in areas that make aid delivery challenging. This conversation discusses obstacles to effective aid delivery and seeks to explore the ways NGOs have gone about improving the delivery of short and long-term aid.
The environment, development, and inequality have always been linked—for years, industrialization has contributed to rising levels of carbon dioxide and environmental damages that have caused inequality and hardship across societal and racial lines. Now, with the emergence of green technology, the potential for revolutionary changes in the energy sector have the capacity to not only heal environmental wounds but also promote social justice. When considering environmental sustainability, two central considerations emerge. One is the mitigation of environmental disasters that are caused by mankind. Another is the implementation of these strategies in a way that uplifts individuals and communities rather than contributing to injustice. In this conversation, experts examine the interplay of development, the environment, and justice as they explore how environmental solutions can further human rights.
In September of 2016, a high-level summit on large movements of refugees and migrants was called, a first at the Heads of State and Government level, by the UN General Assembly. The goal was to seek a better international response to the growing refugee situation. As local conflicts and global tensions between countries have been exasperated in recent years, more than 65.3 million people are currently facing years of displacement after fleeing violence in their own homelands. Numerous issues have been raised, particularly focusing on the responsibility of host countries (countries that receive refugees) to protect, assist, and resettle.
Across the world, women are abused, trafficked, raped and killed. Violence against women is a grave violation of human rights, negatively affecting women’s well-being and precluding women from fully participating in society. It not only leads to severe physical, sexual and mental consequences to each individual victim, but tears their families, community and society apart.
There are estimated to be 370 million indigenous people in the world, from 5,000 different ethnic groups, living in 90 countries. James Anaya, former Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People, has defined indigenous people as "living descendants of pre-invasion inhabitants of lands now dominated by others. They are culturally distinct groups that find themselves engulfed by other settler societies born of forces of empire and conquest." Despite the United Nations having issued a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples including land rights, the land rights of indigenous people have increasingly come under threat.
Protecting survivors and witnesses of human rights violations is crucial to effective human rights work. Protection is important because when survivors and witnesses fear further persecution, they are unlikely to report their experiences, making redress and accountability much more difficult. The state is formally responsible for providing protection, but it is the state that is often the greatest source of perceived risk amongst witnesses and survivors. In this conversation, participants together with New Tactics in Human Rights and DIGNITY (Danish Institute Against Torture) discussed the various strategies to protect witnesses and survivors of human rights violations, the challenges faced and the role of civil society.
Since the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in 1998, there has been considerable effort to recognize and protect the rights of people to defend their own and others’ human rights. Over time, an international protection regime for human rights defenders has emerged, aimed at protecting and supporting defenders in the face of threats and risks. Based upon the international human rights framework, this protection regime focuses on human security, and consists of a variety of actors and mechanisms operating at national, regional, and international levels.
In 2012, the International Labor Organization estimated that nearly 21 million people were victims of human trafficking, including approximately 5.5 million children, trafficked primarily into forced labor and sexual exploitation. The need for victim related services is great and, sadly, growing. Victim services range from legal assistance to safe havens; employment training to mental health rehabilitation.
In this conversation summary, resources, approaches and examples were shared to assist practitioners fighting against human trafficking. Conversation leaders discussed communication and institutional barriers to providing services to trafficked persons.