Human rights just as important as IMF

Published: Thursday | January 10, 2013 Comments 0

By Jaevion Nelson

The entire nation is panicking that there is no agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). One would think the loan, and green light to other multilateral lenders, are the oxygen for our economy.

However, have we asked ourselves how much life have previous agreements given to GDP? Over the last two decades, GDP per capita has been less than 0.7 per cent annually. Between 1992 and 1995, while under a previous IMF agreement, average growth was a little over one per cent annually, with the highest being 1.9 per cent in 1992.

Why are we so focused on an IMF deal while seemingly ignoring important aspects of our lives? Late last year, the Government, despite our poor human rights record, announced crime and economy will take precedence (in terms of laws passed).

This is quite myopic. The pursuit of our rights should not be dependent on economic stability. If anything, there should be a greater imperative to safeguarding the rights of disenfranchised and vulnerable groups who are disproportionately affected by a broken economy. Can someone wake me up when we realise the IMF is not the panacea to our problems?

Understandably, close to half a million of us are living in poverty and more than 170,000 unemployed, but we still want our economic needs balanced with human rights. We don't need to wait until the Government negotiates IMF conditionalities to be treated with respect and dignity.

An IMF agreement will not remove children from adult prisons, reduce police killings and sexual abuse against women and children, nor will it make us more fiscally prudent and less corrupt, unless we decide to divorce the paradigm of rhetoric and marry action.

Seemingly, we have forgotten that the high rate of sexual violence is partly because of a disregard for the rights of women, girls and children. The abuse of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is also a pressing concern.

OUTRAGEOUS RIGHTS BREACHES

The situation of children in adult lock-ups, with anecdotal evidence suggesting many become sex workers and members of criminal gangs, is also a matter of rights. Underdevelopment in rural Jamaica, the state of schools in poor communities, and alleged police killings, are also outrageous demonstrations of the contravention of our rights.

Furthermore, UNICEF Jamaica (2006) highlights less than 15 per cent of children who are disabled are enrolled in government schools. Therefore, people with one or more forms of disability are more likely than the average Jamaican to be illiterate, unemployable and, of course, living in poverty. This is compounded by the fact that child poverty is significantly higher in rural areas is a matter that requires urgent government attention.

What will it take for us to understand that breaches of human rights do undermine human development and can cost us millions, even billions, of dollars?

Worldwide, identity-based discrimination continues to undermine governments' efforts to achieve peace and security and improve citizens' well-being. Consequently, prejudices against people of a particular gender, socio-economic status, sexual orientation or other identity, are not harmless. In addition to affecting the victims of discrimination, they negatively affect our development.

Not surprisingly, the need to combat injustice now features prominently in discourse on development. Rights help to facilitate our participation in democracy and the economy. People who enjoy their full human rights are more likely to seek out and benefit from development programmes such as JEEP, PATH, and the HEART/Trust NTA. Evidently, breaches of human rights stymie efforts to reduce poverty and conflict, and obstruct the promotion of peace and the pursuit of justice.

If Jamaica is to become a developed country by 2030, we must appreciate calls for sustainable development in order to achieve the fullest reconciliation of human rights for all. It is imperative that we recognise the failure of the State to respond to human-rights abuses, such as breaching someone's right to privacy, to non-discrimination, and to protection against violence which will no doubt hinder our development.

Finally, when we design development plans, we should ensure they include social justice and equity for all Jamaicans, regardless of their identification with a minority or vulnerable group. A more integrated approach to human development can bring significant rewards, and facilitate in practical ways the shared attempts to advance the dignity, well-being and freedom of all Jamaicans.

Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.



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