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Human Rights 2012: Year in Review

Human Rights 2012: Year in Review

The year 2012 witnessed leaps of progress in human rights protections internationally, many in fields or subjects that tend to fly under the radar or appear tertiary to traditional human rights concerns. At the same time, these developments tend to be more intangible than the creation of hard law or clear, ground level victories for human rights causes. Some of these momentous events such as the revolutions categorized under the umbrella of the “Arab Spring” were highly visible, and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s 2012 track record is an apt exemplar. Her momentum appears to have captured the international political star power enjoyed by preceding and contemporary oppressed leaders such as Nelson Mandela or the fourteenth Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso.

Following her release from house arrest in 2010 that was prompted by international attention, Suu Kyi quickly reentered the political arena in Myanmar, or Burma per Suu Kyi, and was meeting with foreign heads of state by the end of 2011. During the calendar year of 2012, Suu Kyi formally received accolades awarded to her during her house arrest, including her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize and her 2007 U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, as well as other awards and honorary degrees. Suu Kyi continued meeting with foreign diplomats and heads of state throughout 2012, both in Myanmar and in the nations of the respective leaders. The importance of these meetings is evidenced by the apparent willingness of Myanma president Thein Sein, who has also met with many of the same government officials and leaders, to move forward, perhaps with all deliberate speed, with the types of reforms Suu Kyi has advocated for.

Suu Kyi’s focus in Myanmar is on the demilitarization of the Junta government, the democratization of the country, and on promoting human rights. Her election following her tireless efforts toward these goals demonstrates the force that continued, non-violent pressure on government has on achieving social justice and human rights. Though many abuses continue in Myanmar due in large part to the military’s retained power influence despite the dissolution of the Junta in 2011, Myanmar appears poised to move forward with democratic reform and greater international investment and engagement.

Less visibly, much progress has been made in securing human rights and the rule of law in the world’s oceans in 2012. The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC) received the final necessary ratification for the convention to enter into force.

The MLC has been ratified by most of the world’s major seafaring states, whether port states (e.g. Singapore, Spain, Panama, and the Netherlands), flag states (e.g. Antigua & Barbuda, the Bahamas, and the Marshall Islands), or labor-supplying states (e.g. the Philippines, Norway, and the Russian Federation). Subsuming almost all earlier ILO maritime-specific conventions, the MLC’s innovative enforcement mechanisms that place duties on flag, port, and labor-supplying states will encourage international observance of a higher standard of living and working standards for seafarers. The MLC will enter into force on August 20, 2013.

Similarly, the work and publicity Sea Shepherd has carried on through 2012 through its “Zero Tolerance” campaign, “Operation Requiem” and “Operation Infinite Patience” has and will continue to do more to promote international human rights culture than is evident at first glance.

Sea Shepherd is an internationally based and constituted organization that works to legally and peacefully prevent the violation or perversion of international laws protecting the world’s ocean life despite constant outcry that their actions are controversial and suspect. As the freedom and isolation of the high seas severely increases the cost of and hinders the ability to enforce international law governing those spaces, Sea Shepherd does everything within their capacity as non-state actors to enforce those laws. Sea Shepherd also operates under principles of environmental and ethical veganism in conformity with their mission and message. Such acts of compassion and morality will do much to foster the expansion of human rights culture, observance of the rule of law, and the dismantling of cultures of domination and self-interested tunnel vision.

Prominent thinkers and leaders such as Tolstoy and Gandhi advocated the promotion of ethical veganism or vegetarianism as a means to reach the end goal of tolerance, affinity, nonviolence, and justice for humankind. Not merely concerned with animal rights and welfare anymore, ethical veganism has enjoyed much success in 2012 both in its acceptance as a palatable and healthy dietary option (e.g. the rise of “Meatless Mondays,” etc.) and as a hub and catalyst for community support and betterment. The award-winning New Jersey and New York based food truck The Cinnamon Snail has used the medium of mobile cuisine to innovatively promote veganism to areas underserved and underexposed to nonviolent cuisine. At the same time, through the generous contributions of its staff and patrons, the Cinnamon Snail provided relief services to those affected by Hurricane Sandy and Nor’easter Athena. These acts of compassion have spurred other vegan and non-vegan businesses and organizations alike across the U.S. to follow suit.

Finally, another often overlooked niche area of human rights concern that enjoyed much success that was not highly publicized was in tribal and indigenous rights. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples continues to garner support from its subject right-holders and states alike.

In the United States, a country with an oscillating track record of respecting the rights of its native populations as well as its own treaties and corpus of federal Indian law, has been moving toward a greater inclusionary and rights-respecting position. President Obama has appointed Jodi Gillette as Native American Advisor in the White House, has held tribal conferences, instituted a strengthen federal consultation policy with tribes, and inaugurated a commemorative month and day. Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Sonia Sotomayor has taken the initiative to read up on federal Indian law under her correct understanding that that court decides three or four cases of grave concern to the federal-state-tribal relationship and to American Indian rights each year.

The significance of these developments in U.S. federal Indian policy worldwide cannot be understated. Despite history, no other nation possesses such a developed set of laws, legal cases, policies, and governmental interaction with tribes. U.S. Indian law cases are by far some of the most cited cases in tribal and indigenous legal and political struggles worldwide. Should the U.S. steer the course of relations in a more positive direction, the effects will be imported elsewhere.

These aforementioned positive developments cannot overshadow the continuing human rights abuses and injustices suffered by all of the world’s people at the hands of all of the world’s governments, without exception. Too numerous to mention and too typical to experience surprise over, violations of human rights will continue to occur across the entire spectrum of severity. What is so positive about developments in human rights of 2012 are the various ways in which the mindset and will necessary to establish rights-respecting states and cultures have gained much ground, which in many ways is more important and practical than the act of law-making or treaty-promulgation. How far these commitments and developments will expand in 2013 is much anticipated.




Marc Gorrie

Marc C. Gorrie holds a BA from Sarah Lawrence College, a JD from Indiana University Maurer School of Law – Bloomington, and an LLM in international human rights law with a specialization in international labor rights law from Lund University (Sweden). He is a port welfare worker and ship visitor for the Seamen's Church Institute in Ports Newark and Elizabeth, NJ, where he also collaborates on an educational program on the Maritime Labour Convention directed at port chaplains and welfare workers. He recently contributed to an EU project on legal education and law school curricula in the Gambia, and has held a research fellowship in legal ethics, lectured on federal Indian law and American legal ethics, and worked as a disability advocate.