With conflict and political turmoil raging all over the world, this is certainly not going to be a year void of humanitarian issues
The world always appears to be falling apart. Socially, politically, historically: those in charge seem to care little for the people without the power, the weakest always left in the rubble to piece their lives back together. In 2015 we saw Isis on a path of destruction, Syrian refugees displaced and dehumanised by mainstream media, the West African ebola outbreak killing thousands, as well as many other manmade disasters.
In an attempt to understand what’s coming for the world in 2016, here are a few of the biggest issues you need to know about:
Although a demographic rather than an easily definable country or place, refugees have been singled out by humanitarian groups as an area of grave concern for 2016. While our collective focus tends to rest on people fleeing war-torn Syria, many others are trying to escape conflict in Africa, as well as economic hardships in South East Asia.
According to a recent report from the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), some 20.2 million humans are currently seeking asylum in countries that are not their own. In total, some 60 million humans – almost the UK’s entire population – have been either externally or internally displaced. That equates to roughly one in every 122 people on earth. Want some context? Look at the number of Facebook friends, or Twitter or Instagram followers you have and think how big a number that is.
Some help is on the way, though. Next year the human rights charity, Amnesty International, is launching a new initiative to help protect people on the move, keeping them safe and speeding up asylum seeking processes.
QATAR AND MIGRANT WORKERS
While much has been discussed about how Qatar managed to nab the 2022 FIFA World Cup (like many mysteries – including the Bermuda triangle – we may never know the truth), the far greater concern is how the Middle Eastern state treats the migrant workforce that is tasked with building the stadiums.
Qatar’s Kafala system means that, five years after winning the event, migrant workers still face late pay; being housed in cramped and squalid conditions, and have to ask their employers’ permission before changing jobs or leaving the country. If that were not enough, the workers have limited access to legal assistance and are forbidden to form unions.
In 2015 it was reported by multiple news sources, including the BBC, that 1,200 migrant workers had died in Qatar as a result of their working conditions. With even limited meaningful reform yet to take place, this death toll is expected to rise right up until the building projects are completed.
The conflict in the small African republic of Burundi, caused by political unrest, has been building over the last 12 months and is now internationally regarded as something of a cluster-fuck. With 2016 approaching, global governments and news sources must now watch as the situation degenerates into something that is starting to resemble genocide.
In a recent statement the UN High Commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said the country was on the verge of civil war and confirmed that since April 2015, 400 people had been killed in the country. Of these, up to 68 could be the victims of extra-judicial executions. With almost 4,000 arrested in relation to the political crisis, the UN estimates that 220,000 people are now seeking asylum in neighbouring countries, or have been internally displaced.
Moving into 2016, the situation looks set to worsen. Tensions have been dramatically increased following a decision by the African Union (AU) to send a coalition of 5,000 troops to stabilise the country. While this should be a force for good, the Burundian government – which has not requested international intervention – said it would consider the move “an attack” on the country.
Despite a ground-breaking election, which resulted in a landslide victory for the National League for Democracy, Myanmar will not be slipping off of rights defenders’ list of concerns anytime soon. Not only is the country still ruled in part by the military, it continues to face problems in areas that include free speech, employment abuse and a refugee crisis.
Myanmar’s refugee crisis centres on longstanding human problems involving the Royhingya people, an ethnic group who live in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. The victims of systemic racial abuse, the Islamic Royhingya were declared stateless by Myanmar’s former dictatorship and have been previously recognised as the most oppressed people on the planet. Although the military’s 50 year rule is now over, the progressive leader of the NLD – Aung San Suu Kyi – has remained disappointingly silent on Royhingya rights.
Elsewhere, free speech remains a big problem for the country. Going into 2016, up to 62 students remain in jail for peacefully protesting laws that made restrictions to academic freedoms. Even more recently, journalist Shwe Hmone was sentenced to jail for protesting without a permit.
Just before Christmas passed the five-year anniversary of when Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest mistreatment, an act that subsequently kick-started the Arab Spring.
Following a series of uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East, conflict seemed to rest in Syria in the form of a civil war that looks set to continue well into 2016. However, while the international community is transfixed by the situation in Damascus (as well as the rise of Isis), another, less reported, civil war has raged in Yemen.
The war is being fought by many factions but, explained simply, is divided between forces loyal to the government and those fighting for Shia rebels, known as Houthis. As in wars all over the world, Yemeni citizens are caught in the middle and are routinely the victims of bombing raids carried out by a Saudi Arabian led coalition. That coalition is being sold weapons by the United States and the UK, which brings us on to our next point…
HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE UK
Human rights in the UK are not as safe and secure as you might believe. The government is currently consulting on how best to replace the Human Rights Act, a law enforced by the European Court of Human Rights with a British Bill of Rights.
Rights groups that include Amnesty and the Human Rights Watch rightly suggest that such a reform is tinkering with a system that already works, and works well. The Human Rights Act protects 15 fundamental freedoms, including the right to family life and the right to a fair trial. There is simply no knowing what a new bill would – and would not – protect.
The UK government has also been pushed to stop selling weapons to regimes that include Saudi Arabia and other countries that have terrible records on human rights.