A Multi-Dimensional Approach to the Climate Crisis

A Multi-Dimensional Approach to the Climate Crisis

ENVIRONMENT

A Multi-Dimensional Approach to the Climate Crisis

Black and white photograph of yemeni children

Elizabeth Quinn

2nd July 2020

 

Human rights are a powerful tool and provide strong language to tackle the climate crisis. This can be seen in climate case Ireland. Our constitutional rights and the European convention on human rights are being used in this case to challenge Ireland’s national mitigation plan 2017. Climate cases worldwide have had symbolic value and created developments and clarifications in their own countries in several jurisdictions. Although national litigation has a role to play, it is limited in scope. In order to have a strategy effective overall to climate change, a multi-dimensional approach is also needed. We need to examine the limitations that human rights law has in its current formulation. Without being aware of these limitations we are in murky waters where the results of our efforts could be futile in the long term.

 

There are several criticisms of the human rights approach to the climate crisis. I will outline two: the limitations are useful in creative thinking of how else climate change can be dealt with, while complementing the human rights paradigm.

 

The first criticism is that there is an anthropocentric bias in climate strategies. This means that international human rights law is too focused on the individual. Climate cases argue that people’s rights will be affected if the climate is to degrade. This does not take the whole eco-system degradation into account. Thus the approach does not take into account the vulnerability of the eco-systems as a whole and the dependence that we have on the earth. Thus it is argued that human rights cannot respond efficiently to the demands and reality of the earth itself. 

 

Academics such as Kotzé have argued for a re-imagining of vulnerability theory in order to protect not only the individual but the environment itself. The author takes Fineman’s vulnerability theory which seeks to re-imagine the vulnerable subject as one who is universally created by social and political decisions. Kotzé argues that vulnerability should not be detached from environmental factors as our dependence on the earth makes us vulnerable. He states that using this theory will open space, much more than the current human rights paradigm, for a focus on the earth’s eco-system in a more comprehensive manner.

 

“The first criticism is that there is an anthropocentric bias in climate strategies. This means that international human rights law is too focused on the individual”

There is also a movement of giving legal personality to nature. Legal personality means to be capable of having rights and obligations. This provides rights for the resource itself. The idea of nature having legal personality was first written about in 1972 in the book “Should trees have standing”. In the book Stone argues that environmental interests should be recognized separately from human interests and thus nature should have legal standing. It is important to remember here that many other non-human entities have standing. For example, Companies have legal personality, so why shouldn’t nature? 

 

One recent example of this is the Whanganui River in New Zealand which has been declared to be a legal person. The river is one of New Zealand’s most important natural resources and the Maori tribe had been fighting for more than 140 years to get legal protection for the river. Based on this precedent other areas of New Zealand have also been declared to be legal persons. The river has rights and obligations. Two guardians have been appointed to act on behalf of the river- one from the crown and one from the tribe which traditionally use the river. This creates space for the river to be protected as an entity in itself, rather than being protected only when individuals are affected. 

 

This approach creates an alternative to the assumption that people have sovereignty over nature. The Paris agreement recognizes ecosystem integrity and has been argued to have a faint acknowledgement of this discourse. This argument creates an alternative to the individual-centric nature of the human rights approach.

 

The second criticism is the state-centric focus of international human rights law. Corporations have been left out of the equation. International human rights law is not directly applicable to corporations. This is problematic when fossil fuel corporations have accounted for 91% of the global industrial greenhouse emissions and 70% of all human-made emissions. An upheaval of the economic system is needed. There is a lack of political will to do so at this moment in time.

 

One asks- is there an international legal framework for business and human rights? The UN guiding principles on business and human rights are the core instrument at the international level. Although the instrument is powerful is is soft law and thus not binding. This means that corporations are not bound by it. Corporations themselves have begun initiatives, however many of them include self-reporting and are voluntary. Some of the biggest players in industries can opt-out of these initiatives. Thus there is a lack of direct obligations placed on corporations. There is a discussion now about a treaty on business and human rights, however, if it is an overarching treaty I believe it will not be supported by states and businesses alike due to their economic interests. 

 

The human rights approach does not seem to be capable of tackling the way in which the global economy operates. Without confronting this, it may not be possible to bring about the system change required. However, in tackling this, specific treaties for particular industries should be focused on. This would allow one to focus and regulate the industries which cause the most emissions and damage. It is doubtful, especially in this economy that this will happen.

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by ANGELA BENITO

 

 

The Yemen Crisis: What is the Human Cost?

The Yemen Crisis: What is the Human Cost?

HUMANITARIAN

The Yemen Crisis: What is the Human Cost?

Black and white photograph of yemeni children

Emily Murphy

1st July 2020

 

The Yemenis humanitarian crisis began in 2011 when revolutionary forces saw Ali Abdullah Saleh resign as president after 33 years in power. The transition of leadership from the former authoritarian president to his deputy was supposed to signal a turning point and the new era, in the country’s history, and it did, just not in the way anyone expected.

 

When Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi became president, it was expected that he would bring stability to a country that was still recovering from the Arab Spring uprising. Yet as food insecurity, mass unemployment, and jihadists attacks were an ever-present reality, it quickly became apparent that the issues which plagued Yemen were beyond Hadi’s control. Mr Hadi was subsequently exiled from Yemen in 2014 after Houthi Shia Muslim rebels took control of Saada and later the capital city. As the conflict raged on, the citizens of Yemen paid the price and continue to suffer as the crisis worsened.

 

While mainstream media outlets have scarcely reported on the crisis over the past few years, Yemen has become a global talking point in recent weeks. As the COVID-19 virus continues to claim hundreds of lives, respecting no borders and leaving no one untouched, it seems even Yemen must share in the global tragedy. The Yemenis people have among the lowest coronavirus immunity levels, but why is that?

 

While international governments continue to try forcibly destroy and disband the rebels and form a government in the country, Yemen slips further into disarray. Since fighting broke out in 2014, more than one million people have become internally displaced. While this has some notable and immediate effects such as increased homelessness, the erection of shantytowns and mass migration to cities less impacted by the war, it is the less obvious and slightly more delayed consequences that pose the greatest danger. As slum cities grow, they quickly begin draining the resources of the local area: poor sanitation and lack of adequate drainage increase the prevalence of waterborne diseases like cholera. As medical resources and treatments are rapidly used up, widespread illness becomes inevitable. The sudden arrival of large numbers of people strains food supply chains. As food becomes more scarce and immune systems weaken, sickness escalates. It is a vicious cycle, heart-wrenching to watch, and without the help of international emergency aid, it is almost impossible to solve. These are a tiny sample of the issues facing the Yemenis people, while the UN describes the crisis as” the worst in the world”, the question of what can be done hangs heavy.

 

“The UN suggests that 20 million people are food insecure, with 250,000 at risk of starving to death”

In 2019 the UN released the’ 2019 Humanitarian Needs Overview for Yemen report’. Among other things, the paper estimated 3.2 million people were suffering from acute malnutrition. 360,000 of those are thought to be children under 5, and 1 million pregnant or lactating women. Data from the UN also suggests that 20 million people are food insecure, with 250,000 at risk of starving to death.

 

During such catastrophic times, it is effortless to see rights violations of those who have been displaced or who are starving. However, the violation of some children’s rights is often less visible. According to Human Rights Watch and a 2019 report from the’ UN Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen’, all parties involved in the conflict have used child soldiers at some point since September 2014, some of whom were under the age of 15. The secretary-general has put the number of recruited child soldiers at 3034. In 2018 the’ list of shame’ for violations against children in the armed conflict put the death toll 1185 children. While the conflict continues, this figure is unfortunately destined to rise.

 

As the rest of the world has put most of the time, money and resources into fighting COVID-19 in their home countries, donations to UN agencies are becoming scarce. As a result, it is becoming more difficult to carry out relief work. Yemen reported its first coronavirus case on 10 April. According to Abdul Rahman Al-Azraqi, a physician in Taiz,” many people are going about their lives unaware of danger”. Aid workers have had to turn people away, as they lack sufficient medical oxygen or even personal protective equipment. Reports continue to spread, suggesting that the Yemenis health system has all but collapsed, under the strain of the war and now the virus. While some figures of infections and deaths have been released, they remain on the low end of the spectrum and are not predicted to be very reliable, especially considering the reports that many mass graves have been dug.

 

The past decade has marked enormous change and turbulence for the Yemenis people. Homes and villages have been abandoned, and many in the country can barely remember a time before the conflict. The humanitarian crisis has altered the country in a way that will never be forgotten. However, as we progress into the future, new struggles face us all, those less fortunate will continue to need the help and compassion of those who are lucky enough to escape relatively unscathed. 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Rod Waddington

 

 

Pride in Ireland: Continuing the Fight for Equality

Pride in Ireland: Continuing the Fight for Equality

BUSINESS AND POLITICS
Pride in Ireland: Continuing the Fight for Equality
Lydia Howard Chevalier
27th June 2020
 

As we celebrate Pride Month, it is important to honour the pioneering achievements of early LGBT+ activists in Ireland. During the late 1970s and early 80s, a dark period marred by poverty, unemployment and the criminalisation of same-sex activity in Ireland, members of the LBGT+ community carried out several acts of resistance and defiance which would forever alter the social and political fabric of our nation.

 

Ireland’s first Pride Week was held in 1979, the same year the Hirschfield Centre in Dublin was officially opened, providing a much-needed safe space for LGBT+ individuals. During the 1979 Pride Week celebrations, two significant events took place; a political forum on homosexuality was held at Hirschfield, with several top politicians in attendance and an open night, welcoming members of the public to engage with LGBT+ issues which helped to dispel fears and stereotypes while furthering public discourse on LGBT+ rights. These powerful initiatives represented a huge step forward in the fight for equality, particularly through engaging with the wider community and the political sphere. This ensured that an issue which was not typically a political priority at the time remained fresh in people’s minds.

 

The criminalisation of same-sex activity, an unpleasant lingering after-effect of colonialism, served to marginalise the LGBT+ community in several, all-encompassing ways; many gay and lesbian individuals were forced to hide their sexuality for fear of prosecution, but also to avoid becoming social outcasts. Being openly gay at that time meant social isolation, the possibility of losing one’s job and a generally poor quality of life in a country heavily influenced and controlled by the Catholic Church’s teachings. Even our constitution casts a distinctly Christian shadow on the laws of our republic. In 1977, David Norris, a lecturer at Trinity College and founder of the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform, began a legal challenge against the Irish State to decriminalise homosexuality. In 1980, his legal challenge was defeated, as was the appeal, with counter-arguments relying heavily on “natural law” and Christian tradition. However, this did not stop him, and he proceeded to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. He was rewarded for his perseverance when the Court ruled in his favour, paving the way for future changes to the discriminatory laws of the time. This was the case five years later when, during Pride Month in 1993, the Dáil passed legislation decriminalising homosexuality in Ireland.

 

“Despite the revolution in Irish laws and social attitudes in recent decades, as well as the provision for marriage equality in our constitution, it is vital that we do not become complacent”

With decriminalisation came a new wave of political and social engagement. The National Gay Federation saw the advantage of being media savvy and were decades ahead of their time with social media and campaigning. Their use of leafleting campaigns, public picnics and the publication of their own in-house magazine were pivotal to their success. Today, social media plays an equally important role; for the first time in an Irish poll, social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook were as influential in the 2015 same-sex marriage referendum campaign as traditional media, with high levels of engagement among young people. These platforms provide a useful means of motivating people of all ages to vote. The utilisation of social media proved effective when, during that same year, Ireland became the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote – a truly monumental day in the history of Pride in Ireland.

 

Black Pride is a very relevant global movement in the current context of the Black Lives Matter protests. It started in the 1990s as a way to provide black LGBT+ people with an alternative to the mainly white mainstream LGBT+ movement. This is a sad example of the compounded discrimination and isolation described by Russian asylum seeker and activist, Evgeny Shtorn, in a June 2019 article for the Irish Examiner. He describes the intolerable conditions that LGBT+ asylum seekers are forced to navigate on a daily basis. Regardless of the goodwill of the management in some Direct Provision centres, this type of closed environment is unsuitable for such a vulnerable minority. Many live with the fear of being humiliated, raped or attacked, and they are forced to police their behaviour, an exhausting daily routine. Many feel unable to speak about their struggles due to the fear of deportation. The fact that Ireland now has a Taoiseach who identifies as both gay and mixed-race is proof of the kind of progress Ireland is capable of making – if we can have an LGBT+ leader, then we should be capable of ensuring other LGBT+ individuals are more equally represented in all areas of our society so that they can not only survive, but thrive.

 

Despite the revolution in Irish laws and social attitudes in recent decades, as well as the provision for marriage equality in our constitution, it is vital that we do not become complacent. We have come a long way on our journey, but it is dangerous to think that we have reached our destination. The LGBT+ community still face discrimination in this country and many others. It is still illegal to be gay in 80 countries. LGBT+ people still face prison, homelessness, unemployment and even the death penalty in many places around the world, and this discrimination needs to end now.

 

A recent survey of young people in the Irish education system, conducted by Belong To youth services and Columbia University, found that as many as ¾ of gay or transgender teenagers feel unsafe in school, with many receiving homophobic remarks from both students and teachers. They see school as an unwelcoming environment for them, and they are made to feel excluded. This provides us with an opportunity for change. An important step forward is to instil a sense of fairness, justice and equality in our children and adolescents. This can be achieved through high quality, inclusive and holistic education which encompasses the discussion and normalisation of LGBT+ issues, thus creating a new generation of LGBT+ rights defenders.

 

This year’s Pride Celebrations have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic; however, according to the organisers, “Pride isn’t cancelled, we’re just bringing it home!”. Modern technology is enabling a wide range of virtual workshops, tutorials and book readings to go ahead this month, bringing the celebrations straight to people’s homes. Not even a pandemic will get in the way of determined activists!

 

 

Featured photo by Brand New Retro

 

 

A Disability Inclusive Response to Covid-19

A Disability Inclusive Response to Covid-19

DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION

A Disability-Inclusive Response to Covid-19

Elizabeth Quinn

26th June 2020

 

Persons with disabilities have been one of the most affected groups in the Covid-19 crisis. The question now is how to rebuild in order to recover from the crisis in an inclusive way.

 

Covid-19 has thrown into the spotlight the inequalities which persist in today’s world. It has, in particular, highlighted the inequalities faced by persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities are both directly and indirectly impacted by lockdown measures, which have been implemented across the globe. Beyond these challenges, there is a fear that measures may become long term for persons with disabilities and prevent them from accessing and participating in society on equal footing as others. How we rebuild and allow for an inclusive society is a question which must be answered. The future is uncertain; plans for the future must have human rights at their core.

 

The UN has highlighted that a global response which is inclusive of persons with disabilities is needed. The most authoritative text on disability rights is the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This convention takes a human rights approach and aligns with the social model of disability. Under this model, the person’s disability is not what disables them but rather the barriers, structures and attitudes present in society. For example, in the Covid-19 response, some countries did not provide access to information in a manner which would be accessible to persons with disabilities. This is society, rather than the impairment itself providing barriers. Ireland ratified the CRPD in 2018; therefore our responses and plans should align with the human rights approach.

 

In order to create an inclusive response for persons with disabilities, a twin-track approach is needed. This means that persons with disabilities should be included in mainstream policies and specific policies where required. Ireland has one of the lowest rate of employment for people with disabilities in the EU. Latest figures showed that 71% of adults of working age with a disability are not in work in Ireland. Although it is acknowledged that some people cannot work due to the nature of their disability there are social barriers in place also such as lack of government support.

 

“Persons with disabilities have been one of the most affected groups in the Covid-19 crisis. The question now is how to rebuild in order to recover from the crisis in an inclusive way.” 

Covid-19 has also thrown into light the dangers that institutionalisation causes. We are all aware of the disproportionate deaths in elderly care facilities and residential homes for persons with disabilities worldwide. Although the focus in Ireland has been on elderly care facilities this ignores the fact that worldwide an estimated 46% of older people aged 60 years and over are persons with disabilities. Thus the intersection of age and disability should be accounted for and borne in mind in recovery efforts. The regrettable stark death rate in facilities should encourage a conversation discussing the way forward of deinstitutionalisation and moving together in redefining how long term care is provided. A.19 of the CRPD states that persons with disabilities should be able to live in the community on an equal basis with others and supports need to be in place to enable them to live independently. In Ireland, these supports are not currently in place now and need to be improved upon. 

 

Accountability mechanisms are needed in order to hold governments to account and to improve future responses. These future responses should align more clearly and robustly with the CRPD.  This includes gathering data and consulting persons with disabilities on the approaches the government has taken. With the lack of data at present, it is very difficult to gauge the precise effects of Covid-19 on persons with disabilities. In the absence of government monitoring, a coalition of seven leading organisations promoting human rights of persons of disabilities has set up an independent monitoring mechanism concerning persons with disabilities in the context of the pandemic. The Covid-19 DRM Dashboard allows people to fill in a survey on how their country has dealt with the pandemic and whether it has been in an inclusive manner. It also allows persons with disabilities to have a voice on the way in which their country is dealing with the pandemic. This resource will allow countries to look at where they failed and how to improve and create an inclusive policy for the future.

 

The response to Covid-19 will shape our future and must include persons with disabilities voices. In Ireland, the programme for government must take into an account an inclusive recovery and support persons with disabilities. These commitments must not just be words on paper and need also to have financial commitments. Economics cannot and should not outweigh human rights. A financial crisis must not be used as a tool by the government to roll back on rights for persons with disabilities which have been fought hard for. A disability-inclusive recovery is needed for everyone to make our systems more agile and better functioning for all.

 

 

Featured photo by Ben Allan

 
 

 

 

Racial Profiling and the Pandemic – Two Public Health Emergencies

Racial Profiling and the Pandemic – Two Public Health Emergencies

OPINION

Racial Profiling and the Pandemic – Two Public Health Emergencies

Alice Forbes

25th June 2020

 

To help slow the spread of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have advocated for the wearing of face coverings in public spaces; a minor inconvenience that we should all be willing to endure for the benefit of those around us. In the United States, however, this has not been so easy a sacrifice for many within the Black community, who have expressed fear that covering their face in public could exacerbate racial profiling.

 

This is a concern that has been further intensified by the CDP’s recommendation of DIY face coverings as a substitution for professional-grade surgical masks, which, in the US especially, are worryingly scarce. A tweet by Aaron Thomas, a teacher living in Ohio, went viral in April shortly after these guidelines came into force. Thomas expressed unease at the idea of wearing anything that isn’t “CLEARLY a protective mask”, owing to the fact that he is a Black man.

 

 

For many Black Americans, wearing a face mask could be equivalent to putting their life at risk, due to the reality of racially prejudiced targeting, and this is something that even official authorities are forced to recognize. A document entitled “COVID-19 General Guidance on Wearing Face Masks for African Americans and Communities of Color ” was subsequently published by Franklin County Public Health, and instantly slammed as offensive by many Americans. In it, a section dedicated to homemade masks recommended the avoidance of “bandanas that are red or blue, as these are typically associated with gang symbolism”. The guidelines continued: “It is not recommended to wear a scarf just simply tied around the head as this can indicate unsavoury behaviour, although not intended”. Although Franklin County Public Health was quick to issue an apology, acknowledging that their language came across as “blaming the victims”, the mere fact that the document was released in the first place is indicative of the prevalence of racial profiling, andits potentially dangerous consequences.

 

It is not just makeshift face coverings which appear to incite this racial bias. In March, two Black men in Illinois filmed themselves being escorted out of a Walmart for wearing what were evidently surgical masks. In the video, which has since been viewed nearly 30,000 times on YouTube, a police officer is seen walking behind the pair as they exit the shop. One of the men narrates: “He just followed us from outside, told us that we can’t wear masks. This police officer just put us out for wearing masks and trying to stay safe.” Amid a global pandemic, trying to stay safe is everyone’s top priority. However, while wearing a mask may offer protection against the coronavirus, it clearly cannot protect against racism.

 

“However, while wearing a mask may offer protection against the coronavirus, it clearly cannot protect against racism”

Furthermore, recent cases of police brutality in the US, such as the murder of George Floyd, have evidenced the urgency with which racially targeted bias against the Black community must be combated. For this reason, large-scale public demonstrations have erupted, which by their very nature may cause a spike in COVID-19 cases. Factors such as a shortage of masks and the viral spread of droplets from protestors chanting could contribute to this. However, police tactics also share a responsibility in threatening to accelerate the spread of the virus. Violent retaliation against demonstrators further impedes their ability to social distance. At the same time, the spraying of tear gas is known to cause recipients to cough, salivate and shed tears, all things we have been told to refrain from while in public. However, despite existing medical guidelines urging people to stay indoors, many health professionals are endorsing the demonstrations. Eleanor Murray, a Boston University epidemiologist is quoted in an article by Vox as saying: “It’s always been ‘stay at home as much as possible, except for essential activities.’ […] Protesting police violence is an essential activity for a lot of people.”

 

The risk of transmitting the virus is complicated by pressing moral stakes. If in doubt about the urgency with which the systemic discrimination against Black Americans must be tackled, you need only look at how disproportionately the pandemic is currently affecting their community. Recent figures relating to COVID-19 compiled by the APM Research Lab reveal that the mortality rate for Black Americans is 2.3 times higher than the rate for Whites. Longstanding structural inequalities mean that the Black community are overrepresented among the lower-paid workforce who are unable to work remotely during the pandemic. This reality, that Black Americans earn disproportionately less than their white counterparts, additionally makes them less likely to be able to afford health insurance and, therefore, more likely to suffer pre-existing health conditions.

 

The wearing of face coverings and the avoidance of large gatherings are two of the principle guidelines recommended by medical experts to protect yourself and others against the coronavirus. However, for Black Americans, abiding by these guidelines carries added risks. Wearing face coverings may exacerbate racially biased discrimination and violence while abstaining from large gatherings limits the degree to which one can protest against this same discrimination and violence. The cruelly ironic result is that the community who have long been most likely to experience the potentially life-threatening consequences of racial profiling additionally now hold the highest COVID-19-related mortality rate. The coronavirus is an emergency that has suddenly given rise to global collective action. Racial profiling is an emergency in itself and now, more than ever, it requires the same degree of action.

 

 

 

Featured photo by Wikimedia

 
 

 

 

STAND News: The Digital Dublin Pride Week 2020

STAND News: The Digital Dublin Pride Week 2020

VIDEO

STAND News: The Digital Dublin’s Pride Week 2020

Cedric Fuchs

24th June 2020