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  5. Globalization and Human Rights

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FOCUS June 1998 Volume 12

Globalization and Human Rights

Kamol Kamoltrakul - Forum-Asia

This year is the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since that day 50 years have passed and the world is still faced with human rights violations in many forms. And our greatest challenge is to fight all forms of these human rights violations and dig out the root cause that perpetuates them.

There is no doubt as to the interrelatedness of economics and human rights; the Asian Financial Crisis caused the economic recession which has thrown millions of women and men out of work through no fault of their own. The rise in social unrest such as in Indonesia led to the victimization of migrant workers and ethnic minorities in several countries.

The recent ILO report pointed out that in Indonesia the unemployment rate is expected to climb to 10% or 9 million people unemployed by the end of this year compared to 5% in 1996. Economic growth is expected to be 0 to minus 5%. Amnesty International reported that the social movement to end the dictatorial regime of Suharto was faced with human rights abuses including arbitrary arrests, torture, killings and disappearances of students, workers, journalists and activists every week. The government has been accused of kidnapping vocal activists.

According to the leading legal aid organization in Indonesia, fifty persons have disappeared over the past three months including the student activist Andi Arief. In response to these human rights abuses the U.S. should end its military training of Indonesian forces and the United Nations should send representatives to witness and record the human rights violations in Indonesia.

In Korea, unemployment rose from 450,000 in October 1997 to 1.2 million in February 1998. Thousands of small businesses have been closing down each month. Testifying to how deeply the economic crisis has hit home are 2,300 cases of suicide that were reported in the first 3 months of 1998.

In Thailand, after the financial crisis began, ten thousand well paid white-collar workers were laid off right away and unemployment figures of 2 million people are expected by the end of 1998. From owners of the small shops, to small and medium factory workers, to taxi drivers, all were hit by this crisis. The fundamental rights of those who are lucky enough to retain their jobs were gradually taken away; their salaries were reduced or unpaid, and their bonus and overtime pay were cut off. The right to organize was confronted and suppressed by the police such as the case in Bang Na in late November 1997. The economic growth rate is expected to be minus 3.5% and the inflation rate 15%.

Globalization strategy, the development policy at the heart of GATT and later the WTO, forced Thailand to lift capital controls in 1990 so funds could flow freely in and out of the country. In 1993, the Bangkok International Banking Facilities (BIBF) were established allowing both the local and foreign commercial banks in Thailand to borrow or take deposits in foreign currencies from abroad, and lend them to local business or invest in the stocks or security markets of Thailand. The Thai government fell into the trap of keeping the interest rate high and pegging the value of the baht at 25 to the dollar in order to bring in foreign funds. As a result, massive amounts of currency flowed into the country. Additionally, large private firms in Thailand began to borrow from abroad to finance various projects. Banks and financial institutions also took the opportunity to borrow funds from abroad to lend them to local borrowers. The easy money from abroad was channeled to low productivity sectors such as property development and the stock market. This is the road to the financial crisis that hit Thailand and required the IMF to step in.

The IMF mandated Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) in Thailand, required the governments to cut spending to achieve a budget surplus. Twenty percent of public health services and education that the poor depended upon were cut. Further, inflation decreases the food intake of both women and infants resulting in the deterioration of the health of family members. The education cuts combined with poverty in the family have sent more school age children to live on the street. Each month thousands of young women either have to leave schools or closed down factories to become prostitutes to save their families or themselves. Children's basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, primary health care, basic education, and protection from violence and abuse, have become secondary issues on the government agenda. According to one of the conditions of the IMF, the budget was squeezed to pay the foreign debt which, in fact, the poor have nothing to do with.

Thailand has at least 970,000 undocumented labor immigrants from Burma, Laos, and Cambodia and these unfortunate people have become the scapegoat of the economic crisis. Though the migrant workers have often borne the brunt of deteriorating working conditions and low wages at jobs the local people do not want, the Thai and Malaysian governments have started to send them home to prevent them from stealing jobs from the local people. Many of them are political refugees who may face life imprisonment or even the death penalty upon returning to their home countries. Many of them have been arrested, tortured and some women workers have been raped. The prisons and refugee camps of those who were arrested have been crowded and unhealthy.

The root cause of the human right violation mentioned above is the globalization strategy of the international financial institutions and the multinational corporations (MNCs). In order to penetrate and dominate both the economics and politics of the developing countries these MNCs use liberalization, privatization, and deregulation of which the IMF and WTO are the enforcers.

It is important for the developing countries in general and Asia in particular to work together to form a union against globalization. The NGOs must work together to raise our voices, the peoples' voices, against globalization and call for an equal and sustainable world which respects the fundamental human rights of all, particularly the workers, women, children, migrants and the indigenous people. The NGOs must call for the promotion of environmentally, socially and economically sustainable patterns of development and for the strengthening of open and participatory democracy. This is the only way to build a new and universal world society of friendly nations.