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Friday, November 16, 2007

A question of accountability

The Bangladeshi chief adviser said in a statement this week that women must be given “equal rights considering them equivalent to man in family, social and state systems.” He further claimed that “If inequality and injustice persist within the family, all our achievements at national level would go in vain.”

I should cheer this acknowledgement, of course. This statement is basically identical to the conclusion I made in a report on rapes in Bangladesh. However, in this report I also raised the question of accountability. One of the reasons that I find it difficult to applaud the chief adviser’s recognition is that it is difficult to hold him accountable if this promised change will remain beautiful words with little action taken.

Accountability is a delicate problem for human rights defenders.

The State has traditionally been considered the main protector of its citizens, a world view that was brutally overthrown with the horrors of World War II. The United Nations was created to control suppressing regimes and prevent States from further attempts of ethnic cleansing and genocide. However, in reality it remains difficult to hold states responsible for human rights atrocities.

No state seems willing to take responsibility for a sustainable solution for the hundred thousands of Kashmiri pandits and as many Bhutanese that have been forced into exile and a hopeless life as refugees. Minority groups world wide are persecuted despite all conventions that are prohibiting discrimination and proclaiming universal rights. Some states, like Bhutan, simply choose not to ratify the UN treaties, which are based on a voluntary commitment from the state. What to do when states choose not to ratify the conventions? Or, when they ratify but not implement its provisions?

The creation of the International Criminal Court provided a unique opportunity to hold individuals internationally responsible for human rights atrocities and gave rise to much optimism. But what to do when the most abusing states are the ones that choose not to ratify the statute and thus not acknowledge the Court?

I recall how my university professor emphasized that Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are playing an import role in this process, since they have the ability to ‘blame and shame’ the suppressing states and thus hold them accountable for human rights abuse. But what to do when the state is ignorant to critique?

Promoting universal human rights can surely give rise to a lot of frustration, especially for someone that wants to see immediate result of their endeavor. And then, sustainable change takes time. Surely, the international human rights regime has seen a major improvement the past decades and grass root movements and NGOs have a great part of this. So we will continue our reporting of today, hoping for a better tomorrow.

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