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Economic, Food Crises Worsen Human Rights Abuses

Amnesty International has released its annual report on the state of the world's human rights and it warns the global economic and food crises are contributing to billions of people suffering from insecurity, injustice and indignity.

Erwin van der Borght, director of amnesty's Africa Program, says when the food crisis began last year it set the stage for rights abuses.

"Thousands of people moved into the streets to demonstrate against the increased cost of living, against the high price of food. And reaction we have seen from authorities was often to repress those demonstrations and to arrest people arbitrarily," he says.

Some people were killed during such protests in Cameroon and Mozambique.

While saying Amnesty understands authorities must maintain order if demonstrations turn violent, van der Borght adds, "We saw across many countries in Africa a very repressive reaction from the authorities when people came to the street to demand their right for an adequate standard of living."

The report states, "It is also clear that not only have governments abdicated economic and financial regulation to market forces, they have failed to protect human rights, lives and livelihoods."

Money ahead of human Rights?

"We are certainly concerned that that's what we're seeing exactly now," he says.

Following the food crisis in 2008 in Africa, the economic crisis then began to unfold. "We're very concerned that certainly those who are already vulnerable, including the poor, those who are marginalized, will be disproportionally affected," he says.

Amnesty says while nations move to end the global economic crisis they may pay less attention to eradicating poverty.

"They will focus on re-fixing the financial system, but they will not necessarily address the underlying causes and they will not address the poverty issues, which are happening," van der Borght says.

Poverty and human rights violations linked

"People living in urban slums and informal settlements, who are affected, have no access to essential services. They have no voice to decide on what happens to them. They are often as risk for forced evictions, which drive them even more into poverty because they lose their meager belongings," says van der Borght.

Shortages of food and the economic downturn helped fuel xenophobia and racism.

In 2008, South Africa experienced xenophobic violence against foreigners. Amnesty says 60 people were killed, 600 injured and tens of thousands displaced.

"They reacted against foreigners because they feel it was a competition in regarding to housing and land," he says.

Fast growth, fragile growth

The Amnesty International report says, "Human rights were too often relegated to the backseat as the juggernaut of unregulated globalization swept the world into a frenzy of growth in recent years."

While admitting globalization and economic growth have their positive aspects, van der Borght says it's clear that economic growth was very fragile. "The slightest disbalance (sic) or crisis brings people back into poverty." He says.

Governments, he says, have failed to get communities involved in problem-solving.

"People should be much more involved in decisions that affect their day to day lives. They should be part of the solution and we're concerned that that attitude has not changed," he says.

Somalia, Darfur, DRC

The human rights report state, "The conflicts in Darfur and Somalia are playing out in areas with fragile ecosystems where increased pressure on water and the ability to provide food to sustain the population are both a cause and consequence of the continuing wars."

As for the eastern DRC, it says, "Greed, corruption and economic interests have vied with regional power politics to impoverish the people and entrap them in a persistent cycle of violence."

Call for new leadership

"It's clear there is still an immense gap between the rhetoric we hear - including in Africa in terms of commitment of respecting and promoting human rights - and the reality on the ground," he says.

African leaders are being called on to make greater investment in basic social services, such as health, education, water and sanitation.

"We're calling on them to be accountable to their people, to respect the rule of law, to end corruption practices, which directly lead to human rights violations. So, there has to be a shift in mentality," he says.

The Amnesty report says, "Global poverty – exacerbated by the economic situation – has created a burning platform for human rights change. At the same time, the economic crisis has triggered a paradigm shift that opens up opportunities for systemic change."