Home / Feature / Global Human Rights Crisis

Global Human Rights Crisis

Rayhan Ahmed Topader:

The 2018 index, published by the World Justice Project (WJP), gathers data from more than 110,000 households and 3,000 experts to compare their experiences of legal systems worldwide, by calculating weighted scores across eight separate categories. While Venezuela retains its unwanted position at the bottom of the index just behind Cambodia and Afghanistan the Philippines is this year’s biggest faller, dropping 18 places to 88th in the table, on top of a slump of nine places in the 2016 survey.The WJP’s findings provide worrying confirmation that we live in very dangerous times for the rule of law and human rights, said Murray Hunt, director of the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law.The worldwide resurgence of populism, authoritarian nationalism and the general retreat from international legal obligations are trends which, if not checked, pose an existential threat to the rule of law. Preventing violations of the rule of law and human rights is always better than curing them after the event,Hunt said.One in three people with legal problems in UK develop health issues report.Around the world, criminal justice systems have again performed poorly. Few countries were considered to have a penal system that is effective in reducing criminal behaviour, with only four scoring 0.80 or above in this category (on the rating scale of 0–1).An equal number scored below 0.10.We are witnessing a global deterioration in fundamental aspects of the rule of law, said William H Neukom, the WJP’s founder.

Fundamental human rights are reported to have diminished in almost two-thirds of the 113 countries surveyed for the 2018 Rule of Law Index, amid concerns over a worldwide surge in authoritarian nationalism and a retreat from international legal obligations.

All signs point to a crisis not just for human rights, but for the human rights movement, said Professor Samuel Moyn of Yale University. Within many nations, these fundamental rights are falling prey to the backlash against a globalising economy in which the rich are winning. But human rights movements have not historically set out to name or shame inequality.President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration has put a “palpable strain upon established countervailing institutions of society”, according to Jose Luis Martin Gascon, chairman of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights. He said there had been a “chilling effect” on the country’s opposition in the wake of attacks against personalities who have criticised Duterte’s policies.Non-discrimination, freedom of expression and religion, the right to privacy and workers’ rights were all taken into account in calculating observance of people’s fundamental rights across the world. Respondents’ belief in the protections afforded by such rights has dropped in 71 of the 113 countries surveyed for the latest index.While the Nordic trio of Denmark, Norway and Finland again rank first to third in the index, the United Kingdom has dropped out of the top 10 to 11th place overall. In all, 38 countries have seen their overall Rule of Law score diminish since the last index.

Of the 35 countries classified as “high-income” in the report, the United States ranks 19th, just ahead of Korea and behind France. But in the fundamental rights category, the US falls five places to 26th, with worsening levels of discrimination and due process of law plus decreased guarantees of the right to life all contributing to this downward trajectory. Despite the government’s iron fist, street crime continued to grow in what is the most homicidal country in Latin America and the Caribbean. While the interior ministry reported 53 people a day were killed last year, the independent Venezuelan Observatory for Violence estimated that 26,616 murders occurred (a daily average of 73).The capital, Caracas, was again named the most violent city in the world last year, with an estimated homicide rate of 130 per 100,000 inhabitants. Venezuela’s prison system is also one of the most violent in the world, with 6,472 murders registered between 1999 and 2014.

According to Transparency International, it is also the most corrupt country in Latin America: military leaders have long used their powers over food imports for personal enrichment, skimming millions in public funds. State jobs and benefits were used to pressure public workers to support the government during elections; according to human rights advocates, those who didn’t vote in favour of President Nicolás Maduro’s new congress were barred from public employment.This part of the world apparently has little need for crusading investigative reporters, depressive policemen or detectives in chunky sweaters, with Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland jostling for top spot in each of the eight categories which together assess the ease with which countries’ justice systems tackle iniquity and wrongdoing.

Denmark again heads the overall ranking, thanks to its strong constraints on ruling politicians, the absence of corruption, strong fundamental freedoms and low civil strife. The country gets a perfect score for protecting its people from armed conflict and terrorism but ranks least well (significantly below its Nordic neighbours) in the effectiveness of its correctional system.To score high on this measure, as Sweden does, prisons and probation services need to be secure, respect prisoners’ rights, and be effective in preventing reoffending, the WJP says.Denmark is closely followed by Norway, Finland and Sweden. Iceland, the other member of the Nordic quintet, does not feature in the survey which is perhaps a pity; the revelation in the Panama Papers two years ago that the country’s president was sheltering money offshore might offer some support for the myths of Nordic noir.Grenada, an independent Caribbean country consisting of Grenada and six smaller islands, has seen the largest overall drop (by a score of–0.05) of the 113 countries in this year’s index, with particularly sharp declines in the areas of criminal justice, open government and fundamental rights.This may be the downside of a recent referendum on constitutional reform which proposed transformative amendments on human rights and access to justice, said Lady Anande Trotman-Joseph, president of the Grenada Bar Association.It failed to pass, in part because the process got mired in anti-gender orientation and administrative distraction.

Last November, Grenadians voted by an almost three-to-one margin against constitutional reform legislation that included a “promotion of gay marriage” bill. As in the vast majority of Caribbean countries, male homosexuality is illegal here (punishable by up to 10 years in prison) and gay marriage is not recognised. There has also been an uptick in reported cases of drug activity,” said Joseph, “while the state of older records kept at court registries may be another issue that impacted on the responses.Grenada has at least made significant strides in its integrity and corruption efforts. Its Integrity Commission  one of the more active ones in the Caribbean region, according to Joseph has implemented the Anti-Corruption Roundtable: a national mechanism tasked with monitoring white collar and financial crimes, procurement and the performance and discipline of public officers.It’s no surprise that the Philippines recorded the biggest year-on-year fall in the index dropping 18 places given the notoriety of President Rodrigo Duterte and his brutal anti-drug campaign, which has so far killed thousands of Filipinos.Last year was especially bloody because of months-long clashes between the military and Islamic State-linked armed groups. Martial law was declared in the island of Mindanao as the military repelled attempts to establish an Islamic caliphate in Marawi City; at the height of the clashes, nearly 400,000 civilians were displaced.

The UK fell out of the top 10 in this year’s index, with its score for the accessibility and affordability of civil justice notably lower than comparable countries such as Denmark and Germany, and much closer to the United States.The UK’s biggest decline is in the effectiveness of its correctional system, recorded at 0.53 a figure lower than in the US (0.58). This may not come as a surprise given the ongoing prisons crisis and a series of highly critical inspection reports, such as the recent report on HMP Liverpool which highlighted “the worst conditions inspectors had ever seen”.The index also records reductions in the UK’s right to information and effectiveness of complaint mechanisms ratings, compared to 2016, and a worsening in the govern ment’s respect for private property rights.A high point is the UK’s open government ranking (eighth overall), while all scores in the regulatory enforcement category exceed the average for high-income countries.Will Bordell.The checks and balances on the American government have faced stern tests over the past year, with all aspects of the index’s constraints on government powers category showing a downward trend for the US.The biggest fall was for the integrity of electoral process and whether government officials are appointed using the correct rules and procedures. The US’s score of 0.76 in this category compares very unfavourably with 0.95 in Germany.The report also suggests Americans generally believe they are not going to be treated fairly where crime is concerned, with the US performing poorly on due process of law and, in particular, protection of the rights of the accused.

Equal treatment and the absence of discrimination was a particular problem for the US in the fundamental rights category; its score of 0.50 is well below the average for high-income countries, with France and the UK scoring 0.61 and 0.71 respective ly.But perhaps a surprising high point came in the absence of corruption category, where the index suggests a decreasing number of officials use public office for private gain.Will Bordell.In Poland, concerns centre on the ruling Law and Justice party’s rapid capture of democratic institutions in recent years in particular, the overt attempt by politicians to assert direct control over the judiciary.By giving itself the power to appoint a majority of members on the National Judiciary Council (KRS), combined with its reforms to the supreme and ordinary courts, Law and Justice now effectively has the power to appoint, promote, incentivise and discipline judges from top to bottom and at all stages.of their careers.

Writer and Columnist