|Wednesday, 4 February 2004|
Independence Day Reflection on human rights protection :
Ensuring people's dignity and well-being
by Afreeha Jawad
Parasitic tendencies among the affluent and powerful threaten the existence of children, women, environment and the underclass. If one segment should be at the helm, the subjugation, furthermore the weakening of some other is 'deemed essential'.
Constantly we see majoritarianism that sidelines minorities and elitism that fosters class - with the scales being tipped more in favour of those that wield power not to forget the discreet operation of caste itself regrettably - a social displacement mechanism. As a result, human rights violations are increasingly evident.
Facilitating the affluent and the powerful be they businessmen and politician are the underworld and sections of the police. Interpersonal links among all of such is not uncommon. The emergence of a highly politicized administrative set up where public officers are prevented from using their own discretion in decision-making have also accentuated deprivation of human rights.
India relatively is on the right track with her efforts directed towards right to life.
Kalyananda Tiranagama of Lawyers for Human Rights and Development drawing attention to human dignity and its denial in Sri Lanka cited as example the women migrant workers. Subject to various hazzles, these women risk even their lives in going to work out there. However, in 2002 it was they who brought in over Rupees 12 million revenue - nearly one fifth of the total budget. Regardless, they unlike the doctors and engineers are compelled to paying monies depending on their salaries on leaving the country.
According to Tiranagama these women suffer harassment not only in the houses they work but are pawns in the hands of some Sri Lankan embassy staff as well. Apart from trading in them, some of the staff take them through sexual abuse as well.
Sri Lankan women migrant workers in houses are the only one of their kind, according to Tiranagama, while India and Bangladesh have put an end to sending their women to foreign homes. "Indian women now work in factories or are into business. Some even work as emigration officers - never ever in houses", he said emphatically.
Bemoaning the lack of government's concern for them, he said, "They who bring in the most of remittances enjoy no privileges nor concessions".
Others subject to human rights violations are children who despite legal safeguards are even now employed in houses, boutiques, in shops and on estates; with over 500 schools closing down islandwide these numbers are believed to rise in the coming years. Colombo itself has 30-40 schools - all closed.
The law and order breakdown too has kept human rights violation figures high. Arrested people put through torture and custodial deaths are frequent occurrences. Politicians' interference makes police duty dysfunctional while some police officers are reputedly corrupt.
Water privatization is a potential human rights violation area. This matter was challenged in the Supreme Court which held that the Water Services Reform Bill was presented in Parliament without complying with constitutional requirements. Water services a subject under Provincial Council purview needs Provincial Council approval, which decided the Supreme Court's ruling. Should privatization be enforced, the poor will be the worst off in the absence of wayside taps.
Water - man's most basic need - is now increasingly a worldwide monopoly of multi-nationalists, needless to say what lucrative business it makes. Global water in trade is currently estimated to be US $ 800 billion (SL Rupees 76,800 billion) and is one third larger than the global pharmaceutical trade. In the US alone private water corporations generate revenues of more than 80 billion dollars - four times the annual sales of Microsoft. Currently about 6 percent of the world's population receive water services from corporations. By 2015 it is believed that a multi million dollar water industry when privatised will expand to serve nearly 17 percent of the world's population.
Ten giant corporations are presently vying for world water control, the top three being French, one US, one German and five from UK. French owned Suez Lyonnaise is the world's largest water and water waste business operating in 130 countries serving 125 million people. Also French owned Vivendi Environment operates in 100 countries through 3,371 companies with a 110 million customer base. Bouygues - SAUR, Bechtel - United Utilities, Enron - Azurix, Seven Trent, Anglian Water and Kelda Group are British origin. Bouygues is in 80 countries through its subsidiary SAUR.
Thames Water - a British company was acquired by the German Electrical Company RWE for 9.8 billion US dollars in 1999. Thames Water - the third largest water firm provides 70 million worldwide. American Water Works Company is also into big business.
That the multinational corporations provide safe water is a myth. The contamination of some cool drinks with pesticides in India is sufficient proof. In Canada some people died of e-coli contamination after water privatization.
Suez was forced to leave Argentina on it's failure to deliver clean and affordable water. In South Africa SAUR increased water rates by 140 percent leading to disconnection of the poor. According to government figures, nearly 120,000 were cholera victims with 250 deaths in 2002.
In 2000 martial law war declared in Cochabamba - Bolivia due to water riots coming off high prices. Countries also face costly legal risks of rescinding a privatization contract with a wealthy multinational even in the face of unsatisfactory performance. Argentina, Hungary and Bolivia currently face this problem.
Divert Ganges In Delhi, India, Suez - Degriment was contracted to divert Ganges water to Delhi. Suez was laying a pipeline to divert this water from Murad Nagara to Sonia Vihar. Suez was allowed full recovery cost on the basis of its Rs. 200 crore investment. The Tehri Dam construction has cost nearly Rs. 10,582 crores, the Upper Ganga canal construction Rs. 14,745 crores and pipeline laying Rs. 111.31 crores. Besides the guaranteed 10 year period of Suez contract, farmer losses read Rs. 70,425 crores while the total cost to the public is Rs. 95,863 crores.
All this despite the UN's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) declaring access to water as a human right. In Philippines, Vietnam, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh and India, water privatization is currently operative with Indians expressing growing concern over it. Water - an economic right of the people is now the rich tycoon's privilege.
In Sri Lanka we see the gradual privatization of recreational areas. Galle Face is one such. To commercialize such geographical places of relaxation is by and large a deprivation of man's social rights.
Sigiriya targeted as a future tourist resort with an electric train running round it coupled with high brow illumination is believed to affect the frescoes. The cultural rights of a people will be no more.
What struck this writer most was that governments that ratified the two international conventions - first of civil and political rights followed by social, economic and cultural rights, themselves resort to such rights denial of their own people. Perhaps 'decency' is a facade for crudity.
Produced by Lake House