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C. Raj Kumar on Contemporary Issues in Human Rights Law

Kumar: Well, in my view, the greatest challenge relating to human rights today is poverty. Now, the reason I choose to, you know, say that is that poverty is one of those issues which is in direct denial of all the human rights which one wants to protect, be it the civil and political rights or the economic, social and cultural rights, and, unfortunately, people… for many years, we have neglected this area of human rights law where our emphasis was far too much on civil and political rights and rather, in some ways, ignoring the importance of economic, social, and cultural rights. And, of course, the second aspect of poverty is that it’s one of disempowerment of people. So if people are, in some ways, poor and are not able to, in fact, fulfill their basic needs, they obviously are not in a position to exercise, in full respect, the benefits of other human rights. So, in my view, poverty is one of the greatest challenges of human rights. Of course, we do have today, in more recent times, we have seen the problem of terrorism and how it affects the human rights of people. In fact, ironically, terrorism is one of the greatest challenges of human rights, but also our responses to terrorism can also violate human rights in causing discrimination or other forms of biases against human rights, and including undermining of civil liberties. In fact, a number of countries all over the world, including the US, have, in response to 9/11 in the US but also other terrorist acts in other countries, including India, my country, for example, there have been laws that have been passed to sort of fight terrorism, but many of these laws are, in many ways, undermining the human rights and civil liberties which took many years for the international community to evolve. So that’s, in my view, the sort of second serious challenge relating to human rights. And the third one, I would increasingly recognize in developing countries, is corruption. Now this is an area which, again, very little work has been done. My own research work has focused on the implications of corruption for human rights. In fact, I would argue that corruption, as it is prevalent in a large number of developing countries in the developing world, so to say, has direct implication for human rights, be it civil and political rights, whereby [torture] has come in to the, against people who are not in a position to pay a bribe or they are, in some ways, engaging with the criminal justice system or law enforcement machinery, or, for that matter, your development funds, the money that is allocated for, say, poverty alleviation programs or money that is allocated for building hospitals or schools, this money is swindled by the politicians or bureaucrats. This, in some ways, in many ways, directly affects the enforcement of economic, social and cultural rights. More recently, the earthquakes in China has also demonstrated how corruption in the construction industry has even resulted in people losing life, because these buildings were not properly built. So this is an area which is an evolving area and, increasingly, it’s important for us to recognize that corruption is not only just a law enforcement issue, that a particular law is violated and a few people are becoming richer, but there is also a huge rule-of-law issue which affects the fundamental fabric of any society, and that’s why I would look at corruption to be one of the very serious human rights issues. Of course, we still have issues relating to discrimination of all kind. In my country, there continues to be discrimination against people belonging to lower caste. People, women are also put in a disadvantage in many societies. This is an area we have to work on. In the US, obviously, there are issues relating to racial discrimination, and in some other countries there are issues relating to how human rights defenders are constantly under threat. So these are some of the broad human rights challenges for the future.

C. Raj Kumar discusses the importance of economic, social and cultural rights.

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