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This Week in PubHub: International Affairs/Development: Civil and Human Rights

July 14, 2011

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her previous post, she looked at four reports that explore issues of college access and success, with a focus on affordability, academic supports, and employment outcomes.)

During the month of July, PubHub is highlighting foundation-sponsored reports on a range of topics related to international affairs and development. This week we're featuring four reports that examine the challenges of implementing human rights protections and rights-based interventions.

Human Rights and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (80 pages, PDF), a recent report from the Open Society Institute and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, examines the impact of the Global Fund's policy of emphasizing both the rights of people with HIV/AIDS and country-driven processes, which often involve policies and laws at cross purposes with those rights. The report finds that while the fund's grantmaking processes, grants, and advocacy efforts have helped strengthen human rights protections in many countries, in others it has inadvertently reinforced institutions and activities (e.g., detention centers and compulsory drug dependency treatment) that weaken those protections. Noting that a truly rights-based HIV/AIDS response can be difficult, as it entails directly confronting sexism, homophobia, unjust criminalization, and entrenched cultural norms, the authors suggest ways to further integrate human rights into the fund's grantmaking processes, including boosting civil society participation and representation of marginalized groups through the strengthening and dual-track financing of community systems.

The global campaign to enforce human rights protections through supranational institutions and arrangements continues to be challenged, and if judicial decisions are not implemented effectively, the very legitimacy of the international court system could fall into question, argues From Judgment to Justice: Implementing International and Regional Human Rights Decisions (204 pages, PDF), a 2010 report from the Open Society Institute. In examining how well the decisions of the United Nations and European, Inter-American, and African human rights systems are implemented and monitored, the report finds that rulings on human rights violations are routinely ignored or undermined by national governments, even as caseloads increase. The authors offer a number of recommendations designed to strengthen the implementation, enforcement authority, and legitimacy of each system.

As in the case of Burma, one option the United States has used in dealing with governments that routinely violate human rights is to impose sanctions. The 2010 report Current Realities and Future Possibilities in Burma/Myanmar: Options for U.S. Policy (68 pages, PDF) analyzes that Southeast Asian country's political and economic conditions, the potential consequences of lifting longstanding trade and investment sanctions, and the links between economic welfare and human rights. Funded by the Asia Society and the Open Society Institute, the report calls for broader engagement with Burmese elites beyond the military junta; international coordination and collaboration; linking the lifting of sanctions to the release of political prisoners and democratic reform; and continued outreach to the Burmese people through direct assistance programs.

What is the role of civil society when violence breaks out against a minority group and human rights violations are committed by the majority? South African Civil Society and Xenophobia: Synthesis (259 pages, PDF), a report from the Atlantic Philanthropies, examines how structural social, economic, and spatial inequalities; housing shortages; racism; a history of using violence to advance sectarian interests; and a traumatically scarred national psyche -- combined with economic and political turmoil -- triggered the May 2008 violence against African migrants that left sixty-two people dead, nearly seven hundred injured, and thousands displaced. In response, civil society groups formed coalitions to provide shelter, food, and assistance; mobilized volunteers; put pressure on the state to intervene; and hosted community dialogues. To prevent a recurrence of violence, the authors argue, civil society groups must advocate for the state to address long-term structural problems while also incorporating migrant and refugee issues into organizational agendas, minimize fragmentation among the urban poor, and build more sustainable coalitions and networks.

The enforcement of human rights protections is a complex and fraught endeavor. Indeed, regular PhilanTopic contributor Kathryn Pyle has written eloquently on the topic in a number of posts. Do you know of an initiative or intervention that has successfully promoted human rights? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

And be sure to visit PubHub, where you can browse more than four hundred reports about international affairs/development.

-- Kyoko Uchida

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