This section seeks to highlight some of the modern challenges facing the universal realization of all human rights, first by looking at the issues that are pressing concerns globally, then by looking at issues that are a major concern in South Korea.
Despite continuing improvements in many countries since the adoption of the International Bill of Rights, discrimination on the basis of race, colour, descent, national origin, ethnic origin, religion or language persists due to the deep-rooted, underlying causes and institutionalization of these forms of intolerance. This discrimination is most often directed towards minorities, and with increasing globalization and movements of large populations to new regions and new countries, protection of minorities has become much more important.
Related to this are the concerns surrounding the treatment and living conditions of indigenous groups. The UN notes that there are approximately 370 million indigenous peoples around the world in roughly 70 countries, a high percentage of whom live below the poverty line in their respective countries. Bringing health, education and development to these often remote communities must be a priority for each country.
Children continue to be the victims of rights violations of many forms, the worst of which include their use in human trafficking, sexual practices and armed conflict. Other illegal activities such as the drug industry often involve the use of children as well. These practices and any that are likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children are prohibited.
One difficulty in addressing rights violations against youths in particular is that the age limit for determining who is or is not a child is stated differently across UN rights instruments, some saying that a child is anyone under 15 while others say under 18.
The pursuit for gender equality faces many obstacles, perhaps the most significant being that mistreatment of women has often been deeply ingrained in societies, from being permitted in law or a part of religious practices to being a long standing cultural feature at the level of the community or the family. These practices do not receive the necessary attention at the local, national or even international levels as they are generally viewed as cultural practices that deserve tolerance and respect.
Traditional discrimination against women comes in many forms, from unequal access to food, healthcare, education and employment to unequal opportunities to participate in public life and politics. Young or forced marriages and domestic violence historically have been found in many cultures as well. More extreme and sometimes violent practices are not hard to find, with women continuing to be subjected to cultural practices such as honour killings, sati, female genital mutilation, witch hunts, pledging of young girls to settle social disputes or to please deceased spirits (see one example of this here), abuse stemming from caste practices, and practices that violate women’s reproductive rights.
New challenges facing human rights agencies include the trafficking or sale of women and girls, most often connected to sexual slavery or forced prostitution; the changing nature of armed conflict which in some parts of the world often involves sexual violence or enforced pregnancies; and the lack of “socially responsible macroeconomics”, or the tendency of governments not take social concerns into account when trying to foster economic growth. Broadly speaking, violence and poverty continue to be major barriers in the advancement of worldwide gender equality.
As the reach and influence of transnational corporations grow, the UN has recognized the increasing role that these companies play in ensuring the realization of the rights of those impacted by the companies’ business practices. Accordingly, a series of treaties have been adopted that seek to clarify the role of TNCs within the ‘protect, respect, remedy’ framework, namely the role of the companies in respecting human rights by exercising due diligence and the role of the state in providing access to methods for resolving disputes related to these corporations.
Globalization has led to increases in global capital along with wealth and well-being for some, but it has been accompanied by increasing poverty, inequality and exclusion for many countries, groups and individuals. It is important to ensure that each person and group receives fair compensation for the work they do and that through this work they are able to achieve an adequate standard of living for themselves and their dependents. This relates to the notion of ‘socially responsible macroeconomics’ mentioned earlier, but as of yet has still not been well addressed by economic policies internationally. National and international economic policies have thus far focused on increasing wealth with little regard for welfare and well-being.
The ILO has pointed out that one of the negative side effects of globalization and the breakdown of trade barriers (with policies such as free trade agreements) is the lowering of domestic guidelines with respect to labour standards, safety standards, and wages. For instance, in order to stay competitive, businesses are motivated to cut costs by lowering their standards or outsourcing labour to countries with lower standards, and countries are motivated to relax their regulations to attract businesses.
The Declaration on the Right to Development states, “development is a comprehensive economic, social, cultural and political process, which aims at the constant improvement of the well-being of the entire population and of all individuals on the basis of their active, free and meaningful participation in development and in the fair distribution of benefits resulting therefrom.”
The importance of stressing that all individuals have a right to development is critical because quite often the benefits of development apply selectively to privileged groups, or marginalized groups are routinely excluded from improvements that other groups in a society receive. Indigenous populations for instance are often overlooked in this regard, as discussed above.
The historical notions of slavery, such as the buying and selling of bound humans on the open market, have long since been eliminated and are illegal in every country in the world, but this does not mean that slavery itself has disappeared. Newer forms have been found, such as debt bondage, serfdom, human trafficking, forced prostitution (often linked to trafficking), forced or servile forms of marriage, and others. While all forms of slavery are abhorrent, child labour is perhaps one of the most egregious types, which includes forced labour, the trafficking of children, debt bondage (from debt passed down by one’s parents), forced recruitment for armed conflict or the drug trade, and pornography and prostitution.
Further reading: Anti-Slavery International – What is Modern Slavery?; Wikipedia – Contemporary Slavery
Torture is defined in the Convention against Torture as, “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from them or a third person information or a confession…” Torture, which is sometimes officially endorsed, continues to be commonplace in many law enforcement agencies and militaries around the world.
Further reading: Wikipedia – Torture
The freedom to seek and impart information and ideas through any medium requires that a country’s media be free and independent, to criticize the government and to stimulate debate on policy. Authoritarian governments in particular, however, seek to repress and silence any form of criticism, particularly that coming from large media outlets. As covered earlier, this freedom of expression is not absolute, as the media has a responsibility to provide accurate information and to respect the rights and reputations of others (e.g. by not needlessly defaming someone). A state may need to impose certain restrictions on expression, particularly with regard to propaganda for war or anything that seeks to incite discrimination, hostility or violence, however any limitations on freedom of expression for individuals and the press must be within reason and subject to public debate and judicial review.