Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Global Health Governance and 2011 World Health Assembly

From May 16th to the 24th the World Health Assembly (WHA) met in Geneva to review proposals by the WHO Executive Board (EB). The WHA is composed of delegations from the WHO member states and is the highest decision-making body in the organization. It choses the Director General, decides on the budget, and supervises the management of the organization.

This year was marked by a particularly controversial proposal by the WHO’s Director General to create a new World Health Forum. The forum would serve as a consultative body and – among other members – would include representatives of private industry. Many see this one more in the process of privatizing the WHO. Already most of WHO’s funding comes from private sources and it has been argued that WHO has fallen too much under corporate influences.

Read more at http://www.socialmedicine.org/2011/05/29/globalization-and-health/2011-world-health-assembly-global-health-governance/

Friday, 20 May 2011

Don't trade off bednets and body armour

Don't trade off bednets and body armour
by Richard Darlington

Labour List - 17 May 2011

Letters from Liam Fox to David Cameron have an uncanny habit of leaking. Last time, the leaked letter was about cuts to the defence budget at the time of the Strategic Defence Review. This time, the letter is about an increase in the international aid budget (£) or rather, as the Defence Secretary’s spokesman told reporters when the news broke last night, ‘how best to reflect the 0.7% target in law’.

In his last letter, Fox told Cameron that if the SDR ‘continues on its current trajectory it is likely to have grave political consequences for us, destroying much of the reputation and capital you, and we, have built up in recent years’. For a politician so concerned with his leader’s reputation and political capital, he must realise that adopting the 0.7% target was a key element of Cameron’s detoxification strategy in opposition and the winning of support from NGOs like Save the Children. Given the reputation of the ‘nasty party’, Labour constantly challenged the Tories to prove this commitment. Douglas Alexander’s 2009 DFID white paper confirmed that Labour would legislate to enshrine the commitment in law in an announcement made by Gordon Brown in his last party conference speech as Prime Minister. The Lib Dems had no problem welcoming the move but for their detoxification strategy to hold, the Conservatives had to match Labour in their manifesto.

Looking back at page 117 of the Conservative manifesto, the commitment is clear:

‘A new Conservative government will be fully committed to achieving, by 2013, the UN target of spending 0.7% of national income as aid. We will stick to the rules laid down by the OECD about what spending counts as aid. We will legislate in the first session of a new Parliament to lock in this level of spending for every year from 2013.’

Liam Fox obviously missed the meeting about this because now he says that his ‘preferred way ahead’ is to put ‘into statute recognition of the target and a commitment to an annual report against it’. Almost as worrying, he also claims that the OECD rules defining what spending counts as ODA (overseas development aid) will prevent his department raiding the ‘conflict pool’ (the fund for peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction). He wants to legislate for an annual report (the budget maybe?) in which the government can report that they can’t meet their international commitment to the world’s poorest people and they can’t keep their promise to the voters of Britain.

The last time they were in office, the Conservatives halved the aid budget. Labour trebled it. Aid spending is now 0.59%. In cash terms, the amount at issue here is a rise of £3.9bn, to meet the 0.7% commitment by 2013. Consider this against the core defence budget for 2009/10 of £35.4bn and of £36.9 bn for 2010/11, remembering that this does not include operational commitments in Afghanistan or the no-fly zone over Libya.

As well as lifting 3 million people out of poverty every year, building schools and saving the lives of women and children in the poorest countries in the world, much of the international aid budget is spent on upstream conflict prevention. The aid budget is not British taxpayers' money that is given away, it is an investment in a safer and more stable world.

Fox’s position will not be unpopular with Tory MPs, as just 4% of them told Conservative Home before the election that international development should be immune from cuts. Perhaps these are the political consequences he is most concerned with. To dog whistle a trade-off between bednets and body armour is not just immoral but also ignores the work that the aid budget does in protecting Britain’s national interests.

Richard Darlington is Head of News at IPPR.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Soc Sci Med article: Understanding the conviction of Binayak Sen: Neocolonialism, political violence and the political economy of health...

Understanding the conviction of Binayak Sen: Neocolonialism, political violence and the political economy of health in the central Indian tribal belt

Jonathan J. KennedyCorresponding Author Contact Information, a, E-mail The Corresponding Author and Lawrence P. Kinga

a Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge CB2 3RQ, United Kingdom

Available online 14 April 2011.


The health of adivasis’ (Scheduled Tribes or indigenous peoples) is far worse than the general Indian population. Binayak Sen, a renowned Indian public health practitioner, has worked with adivasis in central India for over thirty years. On Christmas Eve 2010 Sen was convicted of involvement with Maoist insurgents and sentenced to life in prison. Sen’s conviction has been condemned by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and medical journals such as The Lancet and the British Medical Journal are campaigning for his release. This short report addresses the apparently vexing question of how such a miscarriage of justice could happen to a well-reputed physician in a country that is widely referred to as ‘the world’s largest democracy’. Both Sen’s conviction and the health crisis among adivasis in central India are symptoms of what Paul Farmer (2005) refers to as ‘deeper pathologies of power’; specifically, the neocolonial political economy in which the state is very active in dispossessing adivasis but inactive in providing benevolent functions. Thus, the case demonstrates the manner in which public health is intimately related to social, economic and political processes.

Keywords: India; Binayak Sen; Public health; Indigenous peoples; Insurgency; Naxalites; Political economy

Thursday, 12 May 2011

farmer suicides in India and human rights analysis


CHRGJ Urges Indian Government to Respect and Protect Farmers’ Human Rights

(NEW YORK, May 11, 2011)—The Indian government must uphold its human rights obligations by responding immediately to its farmer suicide crisis, said the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) in a new report released today. The report, Every Thirty Minutes: Farmer Suicides, Human Rights, and the Agrarian Crisis in India, looks critically at India’s farmer suicide epidemic—which has been claimed the lives of an estimated 250,000 farmers since 1995—and proposes steps that the government should take toward upholding the human rights of this vulnerable population.

“On average, one farmer commits suicide every 30 minutes in India,” said CHRGJ Faculty Director and report co-author Smita Narula. “It’s simply unacceptable to ignore a tragedy of such epic proportions and go on with business as usual. The Indian government’s limited interventions have failed to adequately assess or address this deepening crisis.”

Over the past two decades, economic reforms—which included the removal of agricultural subsidies and the opening of Indian agriculture to an increasingly volatile global market—have increased costs, while reducing yields and profits for many farmers, creating widespread financial distress. As a result, smallholder farmers are often trapped in a cycle of insurmountable debt, leading many to take their lives.

The report focuses on the impact of the agrarian crisis on the human rights of cotton farmers in India. The cotton industry, like other cash crop industries in India, has increasingly come under the control of foreign multinational corporations that promote genetically modified Bt cottonseed and often wield considerable influence over the cost, quality, and availability of other agricultural inputs. Bt cottonseed, which now dominates the Indian cotton sector, requires an abundance of two resources that are already scarce for many smallholder farmers: money and water. Farmers take out loans to purchase the seeds, but when the crop fails due to lack of access to water, they often fall into debt. Many kill themselves by consuming the very pesticide they went into debt to purchase.

Farmer suicides also have a ripple effect, spreading both debt and despair. Often, as the farmer’s family inherits the debt, children drop out of school to become farmhands, and surviving family members’ may themselves commit suicide out of the same desperation.

The Indian government has failed to adequately assess the crisis and farmer suicide statistics—high as they already are—grossly under-estimate the problem. In fact, women, Dalit (so-called untouchables) and Adivasi (tribal community members) farmers who commit suicide are often not counted because they do not have formal title to land.

The Indian government has also failed to provide immediate or long-term relief. Limited debt relief and compensation programs reach few farmers and do not sufficiently repair financial harms. The Indian government has also done little to address underlying factors that have contributed to the crisis, such as lack of access to irrigation and rural credit. Crucially, it has also failed to regulate the conduct of multinational corporations who have enjoyed free reign to conduct business in the country without proper regulatory oversight or accountability mechanisms.

“It’s not uncommon these days for Indian farmers to address their suicide notes to the Indian Prime Minister and President,” added Narula. “This is a direct plea to the government to step in and take decisive action to save the plight of small-holder farmers in India. The Indian government must act now to regulate multinational activity and put farmers’ rights at the center of its agricultural policies.”

The report culminates with a human rights-based analysis of the crisis concluding that the crisis deeply affects a number of human rights of farmers and their families. These include the rights to: life, food, water, health, an adequate standard of living, non-discrimination and equality, and the right to an effective remedy when rights violations take place.

In the report’s conclusion, CHRGJ calls on the Indian government to uphold its human rights obligations by implementing effective preventive and compensation programs, undertaking necessary structural reforms, gathering more information on the suicide crisis and agrarian disaster, and regulating the activity of agribusiness firms. Agribusinesses must also, as a baseline, respect human rights by ensuring that their products and services do not infringe on the human rights of Indian farmers.

For more about CHRGJ’s work on business and human rights, and on economic, social and cultural rights, see: http://www.chrgj.org/publications/reports.html#escr For CHRGJ’s work on caste discrimination in South Asia see: http://www.chrgj.org/projects/discrimination.html

About the Center

The Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) at New York University School of Law was established in 2002 to bring together the law school’s teaching, research, clinical, internship, and publishing activities around issues of international human rights law. Through its litigation, advocacy, and research work, CHRGJ plays a critical role in identifying, denouncing, and fighting human rights abuses in several key areas of focus, including: Business and Human Rights; Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Caste Discrimination; Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism; Extrajudicial Executions; and Transitional Justice. Philip Alston and Ryan Goodman are the Center’s Faculty Chairs; Smita Narula and Margaret Satterthwaite are Faculty Directors; Jayne Huckerby is Research Director; and Veerle Opgenhaffen is Senior Program Director.

The International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC)—a project of the Center—is directed by Professor Smita Narula. Amna Akbar is Senior Research Scholar and Advocacy Fellow and Susan Hodges is Clinical Administror. Every Thirty Minutes was researched and authored by IHRC 2010-11 members Lauren DeMartini, Colin Gillespie, Jimmy Pan, and Sylwia Wewiora, as well as by Faculty Director Smita Narula.