blog action day: thinking about poverty

sip?“really, though,” I thought to myself while jotting down notes about blog action day’s chosen topic of poverty, “what am i doing sitting here, sipping on a milkshake, when the three dollars I paid for it could have paid for a meal for a hungry child?” I still don’t have an answer. But it did get me thinking—thinking hard enough to put together a few thoughts on a topic I admittedly don’t think much about. thinking about wealth, family, and social position, and how I tend to take them for granted, just because that’s the way things are. thinking about what poverty means in Canada, one of the more affluent nations of the world—where, according to my own employer, the Conference Board of Canada, and to OECD statistics, one out of every seven children lives in poverty. thinking, and wondering what in the world one person could do to stem the tide of what has been and continues to be a global epidemic that afflicts billions of people.

In 2001, the United Nations set eight overarching goals for development, the “Millennium Development Goals” (side note: I’ve gotten real tired of things being named “Millennium”. they named a bus stop near my old high school “Millennium” for pete’s sake). The first of these goals—which also touched on topics such as education, gender equality, and the environment—concerned the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger. Specific targets? halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day; achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people; and halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. That’s no small task, I pondered to myself as I looked for a way to tackle this issue from my own perspective. How in the world are they supposed to do that, especially given the repeated failures of aid programs through corruption, misappropriation of funds, the creation of dependency in the receiving nations that elicits cries of “neocolonialist pigs!” in the radical West? Sure, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, there’s enough food in the world to feed everybody, but aren’t there still 780 million people who are still chronically hungry? What are they going to do, air-drop hamburgers?

Thankfully, through the agency of some good-natured spirit, I happened to find out about a study session on the Baha’i International Community’s recent statement, Eradicating Poverty: Moving Forward as One that happened tonight. After attending and taking a bunch of notes, I put together a few highlights in typical dan-jones style that I’d like to share with you.
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human rights

I missed out on posting something on the United Nations Human Rights Day (Dec. 10th), but figured I’d give at least a peep to show that a) I’m not dead and b) I care about human rights issues. I have at least one other human rights post in draft, but it’s not done yet 😛

I’ve been listening to some talks by Member of the Universal House of Justice Paul Lample lately, in which he speaks about the degeneration of language—and how, instead of representing or describing reality, language has come to be used to manipulate reality. He used the term “human rights” as an example. For example (to paraphrase), one nation (Nation A) may speak out in a global forum, decrying the violation of human rights in a certain other nation, and demanding redress or international condemnation. Said other nation (Nation B) could very well snap back and, instead of addressing the allegations leveled against it, decry the human rights abuses occurring in the accusing nation—since there are generally some form of human rights abuses occurring in every nation on earth at any given time—and demand that international condemnation be focused on the accuser rather than the accused. Remind you of anyone?

Human rights are not subjective; they’re very clearly and specifically laid out in such documents as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The problem in the above case would seem to be that, since there are human rights violations occurring at some level in all parts of the world at any given time, Nation B may feel entitled to reframe Nation A’s allegations of Nation B’s human rights abuses as hypocritical and unjust. In debating terms, this is known as ad hominem tu quoque, or the “you too” fallacy—changing the subject of debate by accusing one’s opponent of hypocrisy, thereby ignoring the original question.

Human rights is a question of justice, and goodness knows there’s not much of that to go around nowadays—although I feel we can safely say that some places have a little more to go around than others. Let’s just say that a nation whose government goes around today bulldozing cemeteries and systematically targeting the members of particular sections of its population for arbitrary arrest, detainment, property seizure, unwarranted expulsion from employment and from educational institutions, denial of pensions, harrassment and execution, isn’t a place you would go to find shining examples of the respect of human rights. and it’s always informative—and sobering—to read up on what human rights groups worldwide have to say about such places. If only we could put ad hominems aside for a day or two and face reality…

un’s third committee expresses “very serious concern” at human rights in iran

After a “nail-bitingly tense” vote on a no-action motion (NAM) tabled by Iran—which failed by 1 vote—the UN’s Third Committee finally approved a resolution condemning the human rights situation in Iran. Thanks to Barney for the heads up and for some insightful commentary on the issue.

NEW YORK—A committee of the United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution today expressing “deep concern” about “ongoing systematic violations of human rights” in Iran.

Put forward by Canada and co-sponsored by 41 other countries, the resolution took note of repression and persecution aimed by the Iranian government at groups ranging from women and women’s rights defenders to the news media and labor groups, as well as various ethnic and religious minorities, including Iranian Baha’is.

The resolution passed the General Assembly’s Third Committee by a vote of 72 to 50 with 55 abstentions on 20 November 2007. The vote essentially assures passage of the resolution in a final vote by the entire Assembly scheduled for December.

Its passage followed a call by Iran for “no action” on the motion, a vote that itself failed by 78 to 79, with 24 abstentions. That vote, also taken today, was seen as an important test of the General Assembly’s will to examine human rights issues in specific countries when warranted.

“We are pleased that the General Assembly did not shy away from its responsibility to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, as identified in the U.N. Charter,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.

Read the whole story.

united nations day

On October 24th, 1945, the Charter of the United Nations entered into effect after being signed in San Francisco during the summer of 1945, creating the international organization we know today. The Baha’i International Community has been accredited as an international nongovernmental organization at the UN since 1948, and was granted special consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council in 1970. Even now, in this time of reform within the UN, the BIC continues to make positive contributions—perhaps most notable of late was its statement, The Search for Values in an Age of Transition (PDF), on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the United Nations in 2005.

ahmadinejad: “baha’i” is a bad word

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s visit to America was newsworthy enough to make the front page of local, national and international news everywhere. You may have heard about his remarks to the American National Press Corps—in which he completely ignored a question posed to him about Iran’s Baha’is— or his talk at Columbia University and “public skewering” by Columbia president Lee Bollinger. Then, in a galling display of duplicity, Ahmadinejad delivered the following non-answer to a direct question about the persecution of Iran’s Baha’is at a United Nations press conference on September 25:

I doubt Ahmadinejad would ever read this blog, but just for the record:

  1. The name of the religion mentioned is the Baha’i Faith.
  2. The name of its divine prophet is Baha’u’llah.
  3. He first revealed His mission to mankind in 1863.
  4. You’re welcome.

Also blogged at Baha’i Faith in Egypt and Barnabas Quotidianus.

human rights in egypt: the drama continues

Egypt, a country with a long and glorious history dating back to the beginnings of civilization, has been in a very poor state of late, especially with respect to the treatment of its own citizens. Remember last December, when the Egyptian Supreme Court denied Egyptian Baha’is their fundamental citizenship rights by refusing to allow them official ID cards with the mandatory “Religion” field correctly filled out? Well, things just went downhill from there. Hard-hitting Baha’i blog Baha’i Faith in Egypt reports on an Egyptian newspaper interview with Dr. Basma Moussa, an Egyptian Baha’i, who, among other things, discussed the fact that Egyptian Baha’is must pay taxes like any other Egyptian citizen—but are nevertheless deprived of the civil rights granted to other tax-paying citizens. From the blog post:

There must be separation between citizenship and belief—they cannot be interconnected. Each Egyptian citizen must be entitled to ALL citizenship rights. Presently, all Egyptian Bahá’ís are deprived of their citizenship rights simply because of their belief. They are denied government-issued ID cards which are a necessity in order to continue to live in Egypt as a human being. Nothing in normal daily living can be accomplished without these ID cards. […]

In Egypt, it appears to be perfectly acceptable for the government to force the Bahá’ís to pay taxes like all other citizens, but seems to have no hesitation in depriving them of all their civil rights and all services due to them. The authorities cannot demand taxation from Bahá’ís with nothing in return. Is there any justice in this? This fact alone raises a very big question! One would expect that ID cards (and the national ID number) must be used in order to pay taxes!

This atrocious (not to mention ridiculous) treatment of Egypt’s own law-abiding citizens is all the more poignant in light of the news that appeared today about Egypt’s election to the United Nations Human Rights Council. From the Toronto Star:

Despite abuse, Egypt joins rights council: History of torture in African nation makes a mockery of UN, critics say
Olivia Ward, Foreign Affairs Writer

In Egypt, Canadian bank teller Mohamed el-Attar is facing 15 years in jail on spy charges he says he confessed to under torture. Human rights groups say prisoner abuse is routine in the North African country.

In New York yesterday, Egypt won an uncontested seat on the 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council, which is meant to defend the rights of the vulnerable worldwide.

What part of this equation doesn’t compute?

“Things like this leave one worried that all the fine things said last year when the council was created aren’t being played out in practice,” says Alex Neve, who heads Amnesty International’s Canadian office.

More than a dozen human rights groups asked the 192-country General Assembly not to vote for Egypt in yesterday’s election to fill 14 seats on the Geneva-based council, charging that the country’s record “is full of serious human rights violations that have been practised widely for long years.”

They named torture, arbitrary detention, election rigging and the use of military courts for trying civilians as reasons not to back Cairo’s bid.

Critics cite Egypt’s win—along with Qatar and Angola, with similarly dubious human rights records—as a sign that the council, created last year to replace the politically charged UN Human Rights Commission which had become known as “the abuser’s club,” is already irrelevant.

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