Post #6- Crisis Caravan

Linda Polman’s book Crisis Caravan exposes the faults within humanitarian aid organizations, including NGOs.  

Her concerns begin with the dilemma expressed by some of the world’s first humanitarian workers: Henri Dunant and Florence Nightingale. The question they differ on is to what extent does one leave and ask “Is it worth it?” NGOs have been subjected to paying excessive amounts to rebel organizations, missing supplies, witnessing atrocities to other groups as well as not being allowed to treat others suffering.

Dunant believed it was a duty to help no matter what and he carried over the principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence while forming the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1863. Nightingale believed aid fails in purpose of warning parties use to their own advantage.

One must determine whether it is just to pick certain human rights to defend and to have others that are chosen from as NGOs have to provide funds to rebel causes, and remain witnesses to atrocities for the sake of neutrality. For example, in Goma, NGOs were at the mercy of the Hutu extremists.

 “In one attack, twenty-five private security guards at an aid supplies warehouse belonging to CARE Canada were shot dead by robbers. Their places at the gate were coolly taken by Hutu extremists, who then demanded-and apparently got-regular salaries from CARE,” (Polman 31).

Polman expresses her concern with aid organizations that have to pay or give supplies to enter a war zone. Warlords use the money to arm themselves, while the aid organizations are trying to help the people they are injuring. For example in Somalia, “the entrance fee charged by warlords to as much as 80 percent of the amount the aid supplies were worth,” (Polman 96). Polman has an issue with the fact that the people who the INGOs are negotiating with are the ones that are mainly the cause of the conflict. By paying to enter the area, they are facilitating the conflict that is ravaging the area. Ethics are not considered once in a war zone, but they should be on this matter. Polman stresses the weight of the benefits the aid organizations are providing with the fact that millions of dollars are entering the pockets of these violent regimes only to make them more powerful. Not only do the aid organizations have to pay, but their lives are pt at risk by working with the powerful leaders. In the Congo, six Red Cross workers were killed for helping the Lendus, whom they were not allowed to help based upon an earlier agreement.

FILE PHOTO OF THE THEN REBEL SOLDIERS OUTSIDE PRESIDENCY IN KINSHASA
The Hema soldiers in the eastern Congo region, who have been at war with the Lendu people.

Another concern Polman raises is that NGOs provide aid that is not needed. With the introduction of MONGOs (My Own NGO) which are “run by people who are convinced they can get things sorted out in a crisis zone more effectively, quickly, and cheaply than the “real” aid workers with- to MONGO eyes at least- self serving motives and cumbrous bureaucracy,” (Polman 50), the influx of problems in providing any kind of emergency relief has increased. In times of crisis, MONGO carriers unknowingly bring in broken supplies, just bringing in whatever donations received. They focus more on the quantity of goods they are providing rather than the quality in order to boost their statistics. I will address their business mindset later on.

“MONGOs have been known to ship frostbite medication to victims of tropical disasters, and starving Somalis have received laxatives, slimming cures and electric blankets,” (Polman 52).

Polman has issues with MONGOs like this because they are doing more harm than benefit in the areas they enter. They are often unorganized and led by people who feel they have a calling to do good, rather than true humanitarian aid experience. Bringing supplies, medical equipment and clothes that the people of that country either can’t use or don’t need defeats the purpose of the MONGOs existence. Polman argues that those living in a war zone “deserve protection from people that arrive unannounced and set about to work without the most basic qualifications,” (Polman 62). Another issue Polman has with MONGOs is the fact that larger aid organizations rarely critique the faulty MONGOs to avoid negative publicity for the entire industry, so their mistakes rarely go noticed by the general public.

Journalists, Public and Government Officials

This is something that journalists, the public, and government officials need to focus on to make humanitarian aid more successful. Since larger organizations won’t hold themselves or MONGOs accountable, it is up to these groups to ensure that these organizations are performing justly and efficiently. Journalists need to expose the fact that an MONGO performing an operation killed a young boy or another one delivered winter coats to refugees in the desert instead of tagging along with them to refugee camps. Journalists need to distance their relationships with the aid organizations to do an un-biased job reporting on them. By exposing these mistakes, the public, including those that donate money or supply, learn the faults that these organizations have. Public officials need to create some sort of regulation to make sure only legitimate organizations are entering the countries needing aid, instead of a random group with no experience. These regulations will protect those who need the aid, ensuring they receive only legitimate aid. All of these groups are lacking the urgency to investigate these aid organizations properly and are missing out on an important ongoing global issue.

“Businesses Dressed up like Mother Teresa”

Polman uses this term in the afterword of her book Crisis Caravan to define the business mindset of many NGOs. They operate like a business for contracts to travel to provide aid in these areas, a term Polman deems “contract fever”. NGOs are in competition with each other by how much money they raise, the number of countries they operated in a year or the number of patients they have treated. These statistics are put together in a report published to the public to have donations poor in. For many NGOs, the percentage of a donation that actually goes towards humanitarian aid is lower than most would think. The website, Charity Navigator, allows people to see how much of their donation goes towards what causes. However, the NGOs hide their business motivations by portraying a “Mother Teresa” front to make themselves appear more charitable in the public eye. By competing with each other to make themselves appear the most involved in global affairs, the NGOs are positioning themselves to receive the most aid, which helps get the better contracts, and powers the entire cycle.

 

 

 

 

Post #6

What are the principal concerns Linda Polman raises in Crisis Caravan?

Linda Polman, author of Crisis Caravan and journalist, examines an ethical dilemma on whether it is better for aid organizations to “leave or continue providing aid at any price?”(2). Polman devoted her life to submersing herself in real world conflicts so she could bring light both the positive and negative aspects aid organizations really do have.

She is not the first or only person to examine this question. In fact, she outlines in her introduction that this is a conflict deeply historically rooted.

It started with Henri Dunant and Florence Nightingale. Dunant believed in “Tutti fratelli” Image result for henri dunantmeaning we are all brothers. And Dunant was strongly convicted of that belief. He convinced volunteers to help all the wounded men in the Franco-Prussian War despite their nationality. Soon every house, church and place was turned into a clinic for miles and miles. However, volunteers became exhausted resulting in aid to fail. But this is where his idea for the Red Cross, many trained nurses who were qualified bringing help to all, began. From this point onward, the Red Cross serves as an aid organization to all — no matter their side or stance in the conflict.

Dunant believed that reducing the number of cripples would save the government money and thus be more beneficial to countries as a whole. However, this is where Florence Nightingale disagreed with him. She thought that the higher the war expenses, the sooner it would end and by saving the government money (Dunant’s philosophy) the war would be prolonged.

Nightingale’s belief in this was a result of her own experiences. Her hospital for war victims was disgusting and many died there, but she couldn’t get anyone to help better the conditions.The reason she couldn’t get help is because the government wouldn’t present her results of how dirty and gross care conditions were because then it’d be harder for them to recruit new soldiers. She then devoted her whole life to getting the government, the only people who she believed were able to, improve conditions. Nightingale disagreed with Dunant’s attempt to “lessen the government’s burdens” because she wanted them to be more responsible.

“Humanitarianism is based on a presumed duty to ease human suffering unconditionally. Aid organizations endorsing the humanitarian principles of the Red Cross promise neutrality (no cooperation with one side in preference to the other), impartiality (the giving of aid purely according to need), and independent (from geopolitical, military, or other interests). Humanitarian aid workers help wherever, whenever and whomever then can” (Crisis Caravan 7).

Nightingale was appalled by the beliefs stated by the quote above:Image result for florence nightingale she thought it was an incomplete and ignorant viewpoint to have. However, in present day 194 countries embrace and support the Red Cross. Though wars and humanitarian territories have changed, the Red Cross’ views have stayed the same. Polman writes, “Humanitarian aid workers still help wherever, whenever, and whomever they can, as a matter of principle, but by doing so they are at the mercy of the belligerents and become subject to their whims” (9). What Polman means by this quote is that by living up to this principle, humanitarian organizations are at risk of and do help the bad guys and hurt the victims.

Polman goes on to examine this question by traveling with readers alongside the fact that humanitarian “caravans” go to and from humanitarian territories without much thought. She asks the question that is the epicenter of her book: “If aid has become a strategic aspect of warfare, can the claim to neutrality made by humanitarian aid organizations still be justified?” (11). In other words, is neutral humanitarian aid effective in the real world today.

How does Polman answer this big question? 

I believe Polman answers her question of whether aid should be given at all costs and be given neutrally by saying, “Aid organizations are businesses dressed up like Mother Teresa” (177). Polman first went to Sierra Leone to examine humanitarian conflicts and thought that initially they were great: they claimed to be helping people while restaurants opened up again, gas (a resource lost at the time) was given to them, nice places were being rented out for aid workers, offices were opened, and even golf courses were opened for aid workers. She was enthusiastic about this growth until she realized that the aid organizations were finding a connection with the political elite (guilty of causing the war and prolonging it) and giving them the most money and the actual victims would receive none of the aid money. She thought this was wrong because she always thought that aid was going to poor, the “Mother Teresa” disguise many of us believe to be true of aid organizations. She wanted to know more so she went to a multitude of other countries experiencing conflict and humanitarian aid to see if the same thing was happening — and it was.

Image result for linda polman in sierra leone

Polman sums up this issue simply by saying aid is an industry. Amongst the 37,000 aid organizations that the UN have counted (they stopped counting at 37,000) they are not working together and this is where Polman finds a major issue. Since they aren’t working together, they can’t prevent the bad guys from getting the aid and instead are working for their own interior motives and connections.

The aid industry is a competitive, highly expensive industry. Polman says in her TedTalk,”What’s Wrong With Humanitarian Aid? A Journalist’s Journey,” that $130 billion dollars per year (not included private citizens’ money that they donate) is put into the aid industry. This is an ENORMOUS amount of money. Because there is so much money involved, aid organizations want their specific organization to rise to the top and have the most money, thus shutting other organizations down. Aid organizations don’t go in with a communal plan (looking at what’s best for the citizens) but rather a plan catered to their own personal motives of money and success which often results in connecting with the elites who can give them money. But the catch is, the elites are almost always the bad guys. But honestly, this is not entirely the aid organizations fault. There are no precautions taken to make sure that they do not fall victim to this tragedy.

Watch Polman’s full TedTalk here: 

Polman believes that for aid organizations to stop being a business or industry disguised as Mother Teresa they must work and cooperate together, to actually become an agency that gives help to those who need it most.

What do journalists, the public, governments have to do to make humanitarian aid successful?

So this is a pretty scary thought that something like the Red Cross, associated with so much good, can be prolonging or even fueling conflicts as a result of their competitive nature with one another. We must ask ourselves, what can we do?

Polman gives a few suggestions on this. First, in regards to journalism, they need to stop “automatically approving” (177) of aid organizations, supporting them wherever they go, and begin to question them. They must ask why aid is needed (and if it is in fact needed), how much money is being gained and who is gaining it, if aid workers have the right training to be giving aid, if they are paying the correct attention to the correct people/neighborhoods/environments, what post-care after their aid they are planning to provide, and whether the enemies would reap benefits. Polman claims that journalists not only should be asking these questions but have the responsibility to be asking them. Journalists see aid organizations as a good story but they must dig below the surface and get at the root of aid organizations in our world.

So what can we as human beings do? We must also ask questions. Polman suggests we must stop highlighting the principles of humanitarian groups and get at the effect of their consequences. We need to ask when their principles do not become ethical.

The government, and us as individual citizens, also must know that saying “no” to giving aid is an option. We need to ask if doing something is always better than doing nothing and find out who is truly receiving the aid.

Polman exposes a new identity of humanitarian groups that we must actively question and examine.

Take a look at the Red Cross in my blog’s focus country of Syria: 

Post #6 – When Aid Hurts

All over the world, people need help. There’s civil war in Syria, drought in Somalia, and  famine in South Sudan.

Luckily, all over the world, people willing to help. International Non-Govenmental Organizations, companies, and individuals each give their time, money, and belongings to help improve the lives of others.

We like the idea of supplying aid and assisting people in need, but what if it doesn’t help? What if it can actually make a situation worse?

The Crisis Caravan

Linda Polman is critical of the current humanitarian system in place. She doesn’t believe aid should never be given, but she does raise important questions of what our aid does and where it goes.

The title of her book, The Crisis Caravan, paints an image of the thousand aid organization that come in droves during some crisis. Throughout the book Polman argues a few things: that aid doesn’t always go to the right people, aid that is given is often not needed, and aid organizations aren’t held accountable enough.

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Linda Polman, author of The Crisis Caravan

Aid doesn’t always go to the right people

Most people view humanitarian groups as flawless, life-saving projects that bring peace and hope to every country they visit. NGOs do have the capability of saving lives, but they’re also bureaucracies that can also inadvertently prolong a conflict that puts lives in danger. Polman even describes aid organizations as “businesses dressed up like Mother Teresa.” This may seem harsh, but consider the following.

When a country is undergoing conflict, warlords, rebels, or even governments will often demand payment from humanitarian groups in exchange for access to war zones. This payment can be made in supplies or cash and can range from 15-80% of the overall worth of what you’re bringing into the country. Instead of going to the afflicted population, these large amounts on money and goods go to the “bad guys” which helps them fund and fuel further conflict.

Governments also create red-tape for organizations that won’t benefit them and sparks competition between the ones that will. With the free-market, if one government or donor says no, there will be others to say yes. Groups get “contract fever” and rush to obtain access to countries despite the potential conflicts that may arise.

NGOs aren’t proud of their potential conflicts of interests and inadvertent fundings to enemy groups because they affect the group’s image. Yet, as hard as they try to cover up their short-comings, people have caught on and are critical.

Aid given is often not needed

The people aware of the flaws in the NGO system have responded by creating their own aid organizations. MONGOs (“My Own NGO”) have become a way for the average citizen to handle a crisis in a more efficient, cost-effective way. While these groups mean well, they, like NGOs, have faults.

The biggest problems with MONGOs is that they’re often not fully aware of the needs of an area and that they’re not always qualified to help. Polman gives countless examples in her book.

Out-dated pharmaceuticals, used or unusable (winter coats in a dessert country) clothing, and expired food have not only sent, but have been sent in surplus. This is due in part to the fact that there are 150,000 registered, licensed MONGOs in the US alone and even more across the world that we have no idea about. When disaster strikes, there is almost always an army of groups ready to give: for better or worse.

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A city in the Ukraine declared a surplus of aid and asked convoys to stop sending goods

People and MONGOs that actually go out of their way and visit the afflicted location do just as much damage. Many countries don’t require documents to do work in a country; they can simply show up and get to work with a tourist visa. This can encourage unqualified work.

Most notorious is the frequent, unlicensed medical work performed by school nurses, retired hospital administrators, and med-school residents. Often times, these people go into countries thinking, “Unless we do something, no one will.” They view the little medical knowledge they have as a gift and a potential way out for those in crisis. If it goes well, great! If it doesn’t, they were probably going to die anyway, but at least we tried.

They also forget that they’re plenty of other people out there doing the exact same thing they are, and often with more professional experience. Visiting physicians might mis-diagnose a patient because they’re unfamiliar with local disease and in some regions, an afflicted individual could be seen by three separate “doctors,” each not knowing what the previous one had diagnosed or prescribed.

Overall, MONGOs mean well, but should we really assume that they’re better than establish organizations?

Aid organizations aren’t held accountable enough

NGOs and MONGOs each have their faults and we need to start pointing them out. Not to publicly shame, but to encourage progress. Journalists, the public, and governments need to be willing to ask the tough questions.

First, we much ask if aid is needed. That might sound harsh, but, in some situations, not intruding or giving aid might be the best option if it prevents becoming an involuntary collaborator to the wrong side.

If we decide aid is needed, we need to ask even more questions: what was done, why was it done, how much money was given and to whom, what is required of the workers, who’s being helped, what’s the maximum amount of missing aid an organization regards as acceptable, and what are they doing to follow up with the crisis.

Polman ends her book with a note of encouragement and a shift of focus:

If we don’t ask these questions for our own benefit, then we should ask them for the sake of the people who’ll see our next caravan move in.

 

Post #6

The world is a complex place. So complex, in fact, that most of us don’t even know exactly what our role in global society is. We don’t realize the extent of the cultural diversity between us and the people 10, 100, or 10,000 miles away from us. We like to live in our own bubbles of comfort and forget that not everyone thinks the way we do and wants the same things we do. I’m not just talking about corrupt political leaders or particularly self centered individuals, I’m talking about the humanitarians of the Western World. “But they do so much to help those in need!”, you may be thinking. Maybe they do, maybe they think they do, but the situation is more complicated than that. This video gives some examples of how not everyone who claims to have good intentions actually does, and when they do, they aren’t always enough.

How many times do you hear about individuals, aid organizations or even church groups going on mission trips to impoverished nations, and then coming back with stories about the relationships they made with the locals, and all the great things they accomplished? If you grew up in a particularly privileged or religious (or both) community, probably pretty often. But how many of those trips were really as impactful as claimed? Linda Polman would argue not very many.

To see why, let’s think through how a typical mission trip goes from the viewpoint of a local. First, a bunch of strange people come into your hometown, claiming they’re there to help you. Help would be cool. You’re starving, you have no choice but to give your kids water that will make them sick, and you don’t have adequate shelter. Maybe these people can work with you to get some water pumps set up, fix the hole in your wall that’s letting rainwater damage the inside of your home, and set up some jobs so that the people in your community can live comfortably. But that’s not they way these people see it. They want you to look up to them and see you as their savior. They think you want to be able to drive around in a shiny car and play on a computer in a memory foam bed with a Starbucks latte at your side. So what do they do? They give you that latte that will kill your stomach because you’re not used to caffeine, and then they take a picture to show all their friends what a great thing they did. Then, they interact with the people in your community for a few days. They keep treating you to first world luxuries because they feel guilty because they have things that you don’t. They fail to realize that what you want is to be able to provide a healthy life for your family. The worst part of it all is that a week later, they’re back to living their comfortable lives, talking about what a great thing they did for you, while you’re back to living exactly how you were before they came.

The idea of a ‘white savior’ coming and thinking they’re fixing the developing world’s problems is one of the issues Polman brings up. Another is the way charity organizations often run. Instead of working together to get everyone in the world what they need, people often waste money trying to get people to donate to THEIR specific charity so THEY can look good. This is what she meant by “Aid organizations are businesses dressed up as Mother Teresa.” These organizations often have incentives other than wanting to help. They give westerners jobs, compete with each other, and spend donated money on things other than the cause they were donated for, all while holding the image of helping the poor.

The media doesn’t help the cause. Journalists often report the great things that are done by charity organizations and fail to mention what is really needed, like long term help. Governments in the United Nation should work together long term to make sure everyone has the resources to live comfortably, rather than sending a few billion dollars to an impoverished nation and calling it good. But what needs to be done goes beyond the media and government. As humans, we can all make an effort to learn what our fellow human beings need, and to help them get it. We need to stop thinking it’s okay to look down on people who have less than us and work with them to find out how we can best help them. When you see a person who needs help, you help them. Not because it will make you look good, but because they are humans, they have rights, and they need help.

Post #5

Every planet in our solar system has a range of temperatures it generally reaches, and eight of them (Pluto will always be a planet to me) have climates that have remained relatively unchanged since the beginning of time. There is one planet, however, that has a climate that is beginning to grow warmer. This is the planet Earth—the one that virtually every living being calls home. It is also the planet that was placed in the exact position to have the climate needed for us to all thrive. We all have different ideas of how the Earth got here, but it is a universally accepted fact that it was placed exactly where it needs to be. This begs the question, what happens when we mess with the climate?

On the surface, we can see the problems that are arising. People are needing to be relocated due to flooding, plant and animal species are going extinct, and cultures are being lost. We often think that these losses for a few people come as the price for a more industrialized world for the rest of us, but we fail to realize that these people’s rights are being taken from them. As stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we all have the right to be welcomed and have a place to call home. We have the right to live without fear of the wellbeing of our descendants, yet so many people aren’t able to.

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Aside from countries situated right at sea level, Afghanistan is one of the countries that is considered most vulnerable to climate change. It may not be submerged in melted glacier water anytime soon, but they lack the resources necessary to react to any changes. The people have grown accustomed to the weather in the nation, and most of them simply cannot afford to cool their houses or artificially produce the temperatures needed for their agricultural activity. On top of this, water is becoming more of a scarcity in Afghanistan. The people are doing their best to conserve water and get more water to flow through the mountains, but droughts are still an issue. This threatens their rights to live comfortably without fear.

The fact that we live in a Eurocentric world does no justice for the recognition of Afghan’s human rights. How could they be expected to thrive in a world where Muslims are seen as terrorists more often than as humans and only the wealthy rise to world power? Middle Easterners are too often looked at suspiciously and as criminals by people in Europe and the Americas. They are more likely than white people to be ‘randomly selected’ for extensive body searches, and this is often humiliating and degrading to them.

While there is still much work to be done, steps are being taken towards a more equal world. Faris Noor explained that the rise of other nations is soon going to deplete the world domination of Europe and the United States. This is a very good thing, because domination often results in a feeling that you are better than everyone and lack of respect for other cultures. This has been seen over and over in our world. People have been enslaved by people who had power and dominance. There have been mass murders by people who wanted to show they have power. The sooner we can realize that we are all humans and all deserve our rights, the sooner we will be able to come together as a community and all do our part to prevent the climate from changing too much and to make sure everyone is given the resources they need to survive comfortably.

Post #5

Iran, while it may be one of the more progressive countries in the Middle East, still has many issues regarding human rights. Iranians were hoping for a change in human rights with the 2013 election of moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, but little progress has been made.

The most prominent issues regarding human rights in Iran are particularly over repressions by government officials as well as executions. Most of the executions are related to drug offenses. The number of executions was projected to decrease in 2016, but human rights groups, however, report that the number might be as high as 437, with most executions taking place in the second half of the year. While most executions are drug related, the extent of crimes that can be punishable by death is rather absurd. For example, adultery and homosexual acts can get people, especially women, killed. It should be noted that Iranian law is inherently biased and more brutal towards women.

This video displays the mistreatment of women political prisoners in Iran.

Iranians are also restricted with their speech. Social media websites like Facebook and Twitter that Americans use so freely, are blocked in Iran. In June of 2016, the country began implementing a political crime law which, while a step forward in granting fair trials, could still limit free speech. According to the law, insulting or defaming public officials, when “committed to achieve reforms and not intended to target the system, are considered political crimes.

Women are oppressed and are denied rights when it comes to travel, working and many other aspects of daily life. Iranian women are treated as second-class citizens, but authorities choose to ignore that women cannot enter stadiums and that there are gender barriers in the market. 

Environmentally, the Iranians are destroying their own people due to the extent of their pollution issues. According to city officials, some 270 people die each day from blood cancer, heart and respiratory diseases, and other pollution-related illnesses. The government needs to implement strict environmental regulations to make a drastic improvement in air quality, especially in the capital city of Tehran. The Iranian people have a right to have a safe, clean place to live and right now a majority of cities are not reaching these standards. Iran has recently made progress by restricting gasoline imports, however, there has been a massive increase in use of automobiles in recent years which increases pollution.

Climate Change and Human Rights

Climate change affects the way people can live their lives and the way governments can function. Dr. Elizabeth Lindsey’s TED Talk emphasizes the importance of connecting our deep-rooted traditions to our environment and the value we get from it. Earth is our home today and has been home to our ancestors hundreds of years ago, too. So, why destroy it? Why destroy the history of the human race by the search for the latest development, or to make the most money?

Islands will disappear if we do not reduce our carbon emissions, and gone with them will be the homes of people as well as the history of the lineages of the many families who resided there for decades. However, in the Western world, we tend to only focus on our own individual lives and the direct impact things like climate change have on our daily lives. We are very ethnocentric people.

Faris Noor’s paper on going beyond eurocentrism emphasizes on a general acceptance of other cultures from the Western world. Noor states that there are two alternatives for Europe. One is to “try to retain it’s socio-political and cultural leadership” and th other is “coming to terms with its existence in a multi centered world.” It is not a secret that Europe and North America are losing its dominance as the only superpowers in the world, especially with the rise of China.

Noor believes that cultures, instead of trying to adapt to Western ways for modernization and development, should instead solve their own problems by turning to their own cultures.

Westerners need to accept that today’s world is fragmented and there are many powers in the world, not just contained in Europe. With that acceptance, a mutual respect of other cultures should follow.

 

Post #5 – Handling Human Rights

Almost everyone has heard of “human rights” but few can define exactly what they are. When surveyed, students at the University of Missouri identified them as,

“Things that everyone is entitled to.”

“Something every single human being is entitled to at birth.”

“Rights that all humans should have.”

“The rights to be able to be happy in the life that you’re living.”

These responses, while lacking specifics, each identify the fundamental components of human rights: that everyone on earth is entitled to them and that nothing, not ethnicity, sex, or religion, can disqualify someone from having them. They’re a lovely concept and they’re nice to have, but who enforces them? According to the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner,

“Universal human rights are often expressed and guaranteed by law, in the forms of treaties, customary international law, general principles and other sources of international law. International human rights law lays down obligations of Governments to act in certain ways or to refrain from certain acts, in order to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups.”

If governments are in charge of upholding laws and treaties that protect human rights, what happens if a government fails to do so?

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Israel and Human Rights

Violations of

Israel’s biggest struggle with upholding human rights has to do with Palestinian relations.  As mentioned in a previous post, Israel’s government has done little to stop the building of settlements in the West Bank which the majority of the world views as Palestinian land. By supporting the construction of settlements, the Israeli government violates international law and multiple Palestinian rights including, but not limited to, the right to life, liberty, and personal security (Article 3), the right to own property (Article 17), and the freedom of belief and religion (Article 18). Because the government has not taken action against the settlements, other organizations continue to mistreat Palestinians. One of these groups are businesses. From real estate to utility suppliers, these businesses serve the settlements and contribute to the continued violation of Palestinian rights. See the Human Rights Watch video below to learn more about the relationship between businesses, Israeli settlements and the West Bank.

What about within Israel’s borders? Is there less discrimination in lands that Israel isn’t in conflict over? According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2015 Report of Human Rights Practices, Israel struggles with treating Arab citizens, women, refugees, and non-Orthodox  Jews equally. Some organizations argue that Israel is in denial of the way it treats certain groups of people living in and around its country. In fact, the Human Rights Watch issued a statement after one of their workers was denied a working permit. In the rejection letter, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that,

“[The Human Rights Watch’s] public activities and reports have engaged in politics in the service of Palestinian propaganda, while falsely raising the banner of “human rights”

A director at the Human Rights Watch responded by saying that Israel is either unwilling or unable to distinguish between political propaganda and justified criticism.

Defense for

Everything up to this point has made Israel seem like an evil country that robs fundamental rights away from anyone that disagrees with them. This, however, is not the case. In the same statement put out by Human Rights Watch, they stated that Israel officials frequently meet with members of the organization.

Israel also has laws that protect the rights of prisoners, the freedom of religion, and the freedom of speech and press. LGBT rights in Israel are also considered the most tolerant in the Middle East.

In general, Israel has laws in place to protect rights of citizens and other people living in the country. Yet, like many countries in the world, how well the laws are enforced and executed are a different story.

Going Beyond Eurocentrism

Farish Noor defines eurocentrism as a form of ethnocentrism, a form of cultural superiority. In our global network, the dominate culture is often Western: McDonald’s golden arches are on almost every continent, English is the main language used in international interactions, and many countries are now experimenting with democracy and capitalism.

Western culture isn’t inherently bad, but problems begin to occur when we view “European identity as good and all other forms as less good or less advanced” (51).

The title of Noor’s chapter, “Beyond Eurocentrism, the need for a multicultural understanding of human rights,” suggests that, to truly understand the world and what rights people are entitled to, we need to stop using European ideals and values as our standard for comparison.

Non-European countries may have different values and morals, but that doesn’t make them worse. By some scholar’s standards, they may even be better. For example, most Asian countries value community over self unlike the self-centered drive of Western countries. Noor argues that getting rid of our Eurocentric mindset will increase our understanding of why people do things, where each of us is coming from, and possible help us establish better, more inclusive, human rights.