Tag Archives: human rights

Property Rights are Human Rights: How Land Titles Support Self-Determination for Indigenous People

(Photo: Darryl Dyck, The Canadian Press)

(Photo: Darryl Dyck, The Canadian Press)

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Okanagan Aboriginal Leader and President of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, was photographed with a broad smile on his face the day of the unanimous Canadian Supreme Court ruling granting the Tsilhqot’in First Nation in Canada title to 1,700-square-kilometer area of their traditional land. To the Grand Chief, the decision enables his community to “participate in the economic future of this province as equal partners.” Chief Roger William of the Xeni Gwet’in, one of the six groups of the Tsilhqot’in, echoed Steward’s enthusiasm, saying “This case is about us regaining our independence to be able to govern our own nation and rely on the natural resources of our land.”

The Canadian Supreme Court gives the Tsilhqot’in full rights to negotiate land use with corporations interested in mining, logging or developing their traditional territory.  Although the impetus for the Tsilhqot’in bringing the court case was a logging license issued by the government, the community is amenable to negotiating with business and developing portions of the Tsilhqot’in land. “The goal is to have proponents actually come through the door of the Tsilhqot’in Nation,” Chief Russell Myers-Ross of Yunesit’in said.

The Tsilihgot’in are among the few indigenous peoples that have full control over the use and development of their traditional land. Partially because of the Tsilihgot’in Nation’s unique history of never having signed land treaties with European settlers, two decades of court cases have paved the way for this land entitlement victory.

Although indigenous people around the world are granted rights to occupy land, these rights rarely extend to ability to manage the economic development of their land, which is generally managed by the government. This means that when businesses are interested in developing these territories they are legally obligated to negotiate use of the land with the government and not the local population.

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Venezuela: Crisis Heightened


Youth taking part in anti-government protests. Photo: Reuters

CIPE’s partner CEDICE Libertad joins many other organizations in Venezuela and throughout the world in denouncing the Venezuelan government’s violations against human rights, extending from individual freedoms all the way to citizens’ property rights.

In the past, CEDICE warned in much of its analysis that a crisis might be inevitable if the country continued to implement its radical economic policies. CEDICE mentioned this in the following cost-benefit analyses: utility of popular power laws, the limitations of government profits and the government’s true incentives, public policies pertaining to the education sector, and the law project for territory management in Spanish, which clearly foreshadow the current situation.

On February 17, CEDICE published a press release denouncing the Venezuelan government’s violations of human rights and individual freedoms. Below you can find the English version of this document.

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The Private Sector’s Vested Interest in Citizen Security

Armed security at a Walmart store in Costa Rica, (Photo: La Nacion)

Armed security at a Walmart store in Costa Rica, (Photo: La Nacion)

Security is a fact of life that many of us in the developed world take for granted. I feel fairly confident that I can go about my life on a daily basis with nearly zero contact with crime or violence. Thanks to that security, I feel confident enough to shop, go out to eat, and generally spend time outside of my home and workplace, adding to the local economy. Thanks to this security, my city is growing and developing and life is generally getting better for most people, despite the recent economic recession. Imagine if that were not the case.

At the second level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs lies safety – the security of body, employment, resources, morality, family, health and property. Intuitively we know that our basic needs must be met before we can endeavor to improve our self, our livelihood, our families, or our communities. Without the feeling of safety, people are less able to act freely in a market – to buy products, start businesses, or invest – limiting a country’s potential for development.

It is with this logic that a recent United Nations Human Development Report argues in favor of increasing measures in citizen security in the Latin America region. In this region more than 100,000 homicides are registered per year. The World Health Organization considers these levels epidemic and they are much higher than most other regions of the world today. The report’s authors state, “The level of insecurity many experience impedes human development.”

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The EU’s Failure to Bring Change in Belarus


Maksim Karliuk is a CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS  Fellow serving at the Cato Institute.

Belarus has in certain respects a special position in Europe. Compared to most of its neighboring countries, Belarus has never committed itself to closer integration with the European Union (EU). The history of the EU-Belarus relations since the dissolution of the USSR has had a number of highs and lows and could be described as the most hectic in the region. Moreover, Belarus has been an eager proponent of closer integration with Russia. Hence, the question arises whether the EU has efficient influence on the domestic situation in Belarus.

One way to look at it is through EU initiatives in the region. The EU has launched a number of them but the two main ones are the 2004 European Neighbourhood Programme (ENP) and the 2008 Eastern Partnership (EaP). Belarus participates in both, however in a somewhat limited capacity, which was intentionally envisaged by the EU.

Within the ENP, the EU has formulated its long-term goal for Belarus to become a “democratic, stable, reliable, and increasingly prosperous partner with which the enlarged EU will share not only common borders, but also a common agenda driven by shared values.” The condition is that only upon implementation of fundamental political and economic reforms will Belarus be able to make full use of the ENP (such as access to more funds and participation in more projects).

Because there were no sustainable signs of progress from Belarus in this respect, when the ENP was reviewed in 2011, the EU imposed stricter conditionality and introduced the “more for more” principle under which the EU will only develop stronger partnerships with neighbor countries that make more progress towards democratic reform. In addition, the ENP now seeks broader support for civil society and an improved financing mechanism. The effective implementation of these new policies is yet to be seen.

Belarus has also been included in the Eastern Partnership (EaP) from the very launch of the initiative. The initiative’s objective is enhancing the EU’s relationships with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, and Belarus. It also aims to promote democracy and good governance, strengthen energy security, promote sector reform and environment protection, encourage people to people contacts, support economic and social development and offer additional funding for projects to reduce socio-economic imbalances and increase stability.

However, Belarus’ participation has been limited because the level of participation depends on the overall development of EU-Belarus relations. In addition, Belarus is the only EaP country not entitled to conclude an association agreement with the EU due to the lack of previous agreements (not to mention the absence of WTO membership). A sufficient level of progress in democracy, the rule of law and human rights, and in particular, evidence that the electoral legislative framework and practice are in compliance with international standards, and full cooperation with the Council of Europe, OSCE/ODIHR and UN human rights bodies are preconditions for starting negotiations for agreements and for deepening relations with the EU. To date the EU does not consider Belarus to comply with any of these conditions.

Therefore, out of two modes of cooperation within the EaP, the limited characteristic of Belarus’ participation allows it to take advantage of only one of them – the multilateral track – and not the bilateral one. Arguably, the bilateral part of the EaP creates the biggest opportunities for the partners.

There are limitations for the multilateral cooperation part as well. The Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, being a parliamentary forum for the EaP states and the EU, was launched on 3 May 2011 without the participation of the Belarusian side as long as the European Parliament does not consider Belarusian parliament legitimate. This means that the Civil Society Forum, a platform to promote contacts among civil society organizations within EaP and facilitate their dialogue with public authorities, is the only place Belarus has the right to participate in fully. The Belarusian civil society actively takes advantage of it and is considered to be the most prolific participant.

The limited participation of Belarus in the EaP has negative implications for the country including the limited financial support from the EU.  However, Belarus has been generally enthusiastic about the EaP and it took active part in ministerial and sectorial meetings in the multilateral track. This is especially true for platforms on economic integration and convergence with EU policies as well as energy security and further policy dialogue on customs, integrated border management, law enforcement, and cooperation for fighting smuggling and illegal migration issues. Belarusian authorities have picked what they found satisfactory out of the EaP possibilities, leaving the rest aside.

Belarus’ main interest in cooperating with the EU is mostly based on economic and security reasons. It seems that the latter, meaning border control, illegal migration, trafficking and other issues, is the common ground. It is therefore the point where Belarus can assert influence, as this has become one of the reasons why Belarus decided to lower the outbound border control as a response to EU sanctions.

The economic part is of lesser interest to the EU (mainly, except for transit from Russia), while it is vital for Belarus. The authorities perceive Belarus as a transit country, or an “integrating link”.  Therefore, they aim to foster Belarus’ transit potential which motivates the willingness to co-operate. However, the unwillingness to compromise on the main points of the EU demands – democratization and human rights – makes direct convergence in other fields far less probable and makes the Belarusian authorities find economic interest in other places.

Thus, the EU’s conditionality approaches have failed to bring a change and the Belarusian authorities continue to actively and more deeply pursue integration with Russia (now in the form of the Eurasian Economic Union which is planned to be launched in 2015 together with Kazakhstan). The conclusion is that EU’s engagement with Belarus is currently set on unrealistic terms. In our view it should rather be based on more realistic short- and long-term goals, it should move away from the ultimatum strategies and seek solutions which are beneficial for all parties, and establish permanent open dialogue between pragmatic and reform-oriented segments of the authorities and civil society.

CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS Fellowship brings talented young professionals with strong research backgrounds to shadow researchers and experts at leading U.S. think tanks for six months. Maksim Karliuk is part of the inaugural class, serving at the Cato Institute.

Should Corruption be a Human Rights Issue?

Graffiti in Tunisia. (Photo: Foreign Policy)

The link between corruption and human rights abuses seems to many to be self-evident: when laws are up for sale and justice has a price tag, a citizen’s treatment by the government is determined more by the ability to pay than by fundamental principles of fairness and respect for the rule of law. But can systemic corruption be considered a violation of human rights on its own? In Tunisia, the country where endemic economic injustice set off a wave of revolutions in the Arab world, activists are making exactly that case.

A commission established soon after the January 2011 revolution to investigate the economic dealings of ousted Tunisian dictator Zine el Abidine ben Ali uncovered a pervasive and highly structured network of corruption. The most lucrative parts of the economy were doled out to favored relatives and associates, while the machinery of government – banks, tax authorities, and the justice system – became tools to reward cronies and punish dissenters, part of what writer Sarah Chayes calls a “diabolically intrusive system of state corruption” and Tunisian activists call “economic crimes.”

Perhaps most importantly, average citizens were locked out of most economic opportunities altogether. Indeed, it was the 2011 self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi, a Tunisian fruit vendor worn down by the petty indignities of everyday corruption, that kicked off the Tunisian revolution and the whole Arab Spring that followed.

Now, Chayes writes, Tunisian anti-corruption campaigners want to expand the definition of gross violations of human rights to include “systemic economic crimes” like those perpetrated by the Ben Ali regime. If they are successful, their campaign could have enormous implications for how other countries fight against corruption.

Most academics and policymakers already agree that pervasive corruption can undermine various human rights, or lead indirectly to human rights violations. But the idea that systemic corruption is a human rights violation in itself would immediately raise its profile as an international issue, as well as potentially bringing the machinery of international human rights law to bear on fighting it.

This could mean that states have an obligation to fight corruption, and that failure to do so would also be considered a human rights violation. It would provide certain legal remedies outside of national legislative and enforcement mechanisms, which, in places affected by systemic corruption, will often be a part of that corruption.

The approach is not without risks. For one, the international community might not embrace a new human rights obligation built around a concept like “corruption” that can take many forms, and is difficult to define or prove to be happening. More importantly, it could also obligate the international community to act when a country fails to fight corruption effectively enough – a task that many governments around the world struggle with.

However, such a dramatic change in human rights doctrine may not be necessary. The Tunisian activists themselves are simply hoping for a public national reconciliation process similar to those in South Africa or Rwanda, not a major shift in international law. And human rights campaigners are already beginning to focus more on the role that corruption plays in facilitating human rights abuses.

Still, it is important to stress that corruption – especially the systemic, all-encompassing kind found in Tunisia, Egypt, and too many other countries around the world – is more than just a nuisance. Left unchecked, it can spark a revolution.

“New Castro, Same Cuba” Report Issued by Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch released a new report on the current Castro regime in Cuba. This 123 page report, entitled “New Castro, Same Cuba” exposes Raul Castro to be just as repressive as Fidel while attempting to strengthen rather than dismantle the current system. Despite a lack of government cooperation, and citizens living in fear of telling their stories, HRW was able to gather 60 interviews from 7 of the 14 provinces in Cuba. This report shines a light on some of the biggest challenges to freedom in Cuba today.

Perhaps the most disturbing facet of this report is the more than 40 cases cited where people have been sentenced for “dangerousness” – a law that allows individuals to be arrested before they commit or plan a crime. The individuals targeted by the enforcement of this law come from a range of different professions and backgrounds. It is also considered “dangerous” to run or work for a private business that is not specifically recognized by the state, or to choose not to work for official government employment. This means that despite meager government wages, individuals do not have the opportunity to generate their own income any other way.

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Cuba Solidarity Day

On Wednesday, May 20, people around the globe will celebrate Cuba Solidarity Day.  All during the month of May inside Cuba, peaceful demonstrations have been taking place by democratic opposition leaders who are wearing white bracelets with the word “CAMBIO”  (“change”) inscribed and promoting the “Yo No Copero” (“I Will Not Cooperate”) campaign to speak out against the violation of human rights in Cuba.
Last week, I had the opportunity to view a new documentary film by Yesenia E. Alvarez Temoche, President of the Instituto Político para la Libertad in Peru, entitled “Cuba and the Elephants.” The film provides a harsh look at the realities of the Castro regime’s public policies and their impact on the Cuban people. Particularly jarring are the sad states of Cuban health care and education that had always been flaunted as the successes of the regime.

There is an increasing trend of opinion that opening up Cuba to trade is the right way to go. After all, decades of isolation have not worked and the regimes of the brothers Castro have found ways to coopt the embargo to extend their grip on power. In other countries like China, trade has certainly helped to bring at least some economic democracy to people in the country.

Still, we can only expect trade to work so far with a regime that has proven its brutality repeatedly over fifty years. The Associated Press recently reported that the European Union had seen no progress toward getting the Cuban government to improve its human rights record through a lifting of economic sanctions. This is a sobering realization, but one that can only demand continued resolve to figure out ways in which the Cuban people can achieve democracy.