The G8 is all talk on human rights and development

As G8 foreign ministers met in London last month, two issues dominated discussions – Syria and North Korea. Much was spoken about both, but not a whole lot agreed about either.

Much too was spoken about human rights. The post-meet communiqué is littered with joint commitments about bolstering human rights from Africa to Asia, and the shared belief that greater protections must form a basis for stable, sustainable development.

In principle, this is a welcome and necessary development. In reality, however, it betrays the G8’s inherent weakness, which must be overcome if the gathering of the world’s wealthiest countries is to retain its prominence.  

A day after the joint meeting, two G8 members Russia and the US began a tit for tat spat over human rights. The US first enacted personal sanctions on believed Russian human rights offenders, but Moscow responded by issuing its own blacklist against alleged US human rights abuser. For more info go to:

The ease with which this was done indicates how readily the guise of human rights can be betrayed for political purposes. Yet a real commitment to the ideal, and in particular the role it has in promoting development, has the potential to resuscitate the G8’s flailing fortunes.

Since the financial crisis hit, the world’s richest countries and the market-driven systems that govern their economies have suffered a bruising. Even Russia, with its vast oil and gas reserves has not been left unscathed.

Instead, power has been passing to the G20, which includes Brazil, India and China. While this is a democratising global shift, the G8 still has a vital role to play.

The wealthier donor countries have decades-worth of invaluable developmental experience and have realised that without a simultaneous political push for change and democratization, assistance can all too often be counterproductive.

Without a system of accountability and transparency, and a shared respect for free expression, female and minority equality, it is difficult to create a stable environment for development or ensure funds are not misspent. It is no coincidence that some of the world’s most systemic human rights abusers headlines discussions last month.

But, while it may be more effective, the human rights-based approach to development is an even more difficult sell to the G20, which includes both China and Saudi Arabia.

By leading the way in promoting human rights-based development and ensuring it becomes a global norm, the G8 has a chance to build a more sustainable global regime.

The blatant abuse and misuse of human rights for political ends, however, is only working to discredit the G8. A firm commitment to cooperate on shared rights issues is needed, even if political sacrifices must be made to lure Russian support.

While this will be difficult given internal divisions, the UK – which holds the G8 presidency this year – has an opportunity to ensure that this approach is prioritised.

Labour, which has a strong history of promoting human rights, is a crucial player and must pressurise the sitting government to do more.

This can start by ensuring the UK stops assassinating the EU Convention on human rights, but it goes further. Labour’s unfailing commitment to greater gender equality and minority rights, as well as entrenched belief in greater socio-economic rights in developed and developing countries alike, is crucial.

With these goals placed centre stage, at least the big G8 meet in June will have a shot at being more than just more empty promises.

Simona Sikimic is a member of LCID


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