Restricting Abortion Abroad
In her article “Gagging Democracy,” Marianne Mollmann is right to consider the Global Gag Rule a human rights violation. As I have observed through my experience working with the feminist group Flora Tristan in Peru, the Global Gag Rule sharply impacts our societies and democracies, affecting not just the NGOs that receive financial assistance from the United States, but entire populations.
The Global Gag Rule contaminates the essence of solidarity and international assistance because it forces the receiving countries—particularly the women within them—to pay an intolerable price in terms of autonomy, freedom, and the rights to citizenship, health, life, and development.
In Peru, it profoundly affects the development of our health and legislative systems, as it impedes the very research and advocacy that could serve to modernize them. In countries like Peru the government has not traditionally been very concerned about generating the information and knowledge necessary for advocacy. Therefore, our achievements and knowledge to date about the effects and treatment of unsafe abortion and the mechanisms and resources involved in reproductive and sexual decision-making exist largely thanks to the efforts of the women’s movement, the academic and scientific community, health organizations, and international donors, rather than the state.
While we criticize our legislature for its indifference with respect to these subjects, on those occasions when the government has listened to our recommendations, we have obtained positive results in the form of reduction of death and disease, particularly among women.
But despite these occasional victories, no one in the Third World can ignore the fact that we live in weak democracies and have to continue to fight for freedom and personal autonomy. The Global Gag Rule handicaps vital actors in these societies such as NGOs by imposing disproportionate and non-negociable rules. Lamentably, the abuse does not stop there: among other restrictions, it prohibits organizations that adhere to the rule from criticizing its content. Thus, the Global Gag Rule also undermines the most elementary right of expression and freedom of thought and thereby contributes to an atmosphere of impunity.
Flora Tristan Women’s Center, Peru
The Resource Curse
Abu Brima and Corene Crossin’s insightful essays on conflict diamonds in the Spring 2003 issue of Human Rights Dialogue bring up, respectively, two problems at the heart of current efforts to promote pro-poor, pro-human rights globalization: the need for increased transparency and participation in minerals-based economies, and the dubious value of voluntary “regulation” mechanisms.
Like Sierra Leone, many of the world’s poorest countries depend on primary commodity exports—particularly oil, natural gas, and minerals like gold and copper—to sustain their economies. Some economists argue that globalization has in fact intensified this natural resource dependence, as poor countries have been forced to drop barriers to foreign investment in their resource sectors but rich countries have not reciprocated by reducing barriers to poor countries’ agricultural and manufactured exports. Resource dependence is problematic from a poverty-reduction standpoint as modern oil and mining operations generate little employment, thus creating few opportunities for the poor to raise their incomes. Additionally, the distribution of oil and mining-derived revenues is frequently an unaccountable and nonparticipatory process. Thus the work of Brima and the Campaign for Just Mining in Sierra Leone to promote greater transparency, accountability, and participation in diamond revenue distribution is vitally important; similar efforts should be supported in every resource-dependent poor country. The World Bank, which has played a key role in promoting natural resource investment in developing countries, should make participation and transparency requirements of its support for these sectors.
The establishment of the Kimberly Process was an important breakthrough for addressing the link between diamond revenues and conflict. Crossin is quite right, however, to point out that Kimberly is voluntary, meaning enforcement will depend largely on the good faith of the diamond industry and the countries involved. As such, the long-term effectiveness of the scheme is questionable. Unfortunately, this situation is emblematic of the anti-regulatory ethic that currently pervades globalization, in which voluntary rather than mandatory approaches are favored. Developed country governments, however, could do much to change this by, for example, adopting enforceable regulations requiring their corporations to disclose information on revenues and on the human rights and environmental impacts of their foreign operations. Kimberly is an important step, but until there are stronger mechanisms for holding corporations and other global economic actors accountable for their actions, unaccountable corporate-driven globalization will continue to pose a significant threat to human rights.