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Irene Khan: The economic crisis has only exacerbated human rights abuses

Underlying the economic crisis is an explosive human rights crisis. The economic downturn has aggravated abuses, distracted attention from them and created new problems. In the name of security, human rights were trampled on. Now, in the name of economic recovery, they are being relegated to the back seat. The world needs a new global deal on human rights – not paper promises but commitment and concrete action from governments.

This crisis is about shortages of food, jobs, clean water, land and housing, and also about deprivation and discrimination, growing inequality, xenophobia and racism, violence and repression across the world. Billions of people are suffering from insecurity, injustice and indignity.

China and Russia are proof that open markets have not led to open societies. Human rights activists, journalists, lawyers, trade union representatives and other civil society leaders were harassed, attacked, or killed with impunity in every world region last year. From Gaza to Darfur and from eastern DRC to northern Sri Lanka, the human toll of conflict has been horrendous, and the lukewarm response of the international community shocking.

Huge resources are being dedicated to fight piracy off the coast of Somalia but not to stop the flow of arms that kill civilians in that country. Military action is being stepped up in Afghanistan and Pakistan but the human rights and humanitarian implications of the conflicts are being underplayed.

Ignoring one crisis to focus on another is a recipe for aggravating both. Economic recovery will be neither sustainable nor equitable if governments fail to tackle abuses that drive and deepen poverty, or armed conflicts that generate new violations.

Our first demand in our new campaign is to the USA and China. The US does not accept the notion of economic, cultural and social rights while China does not respect civil and political rights. Both governments must sign up to all human rights for all. Solutions to global problems must be underpinned by global values of human rights – and those at the top table of world leadership must begin by setting an example.

Taken from a foreword by Amnesty International's secretary-general to its new report, 'Underlying the Economic Crisis is a Human Rights Time Bomb'