At this stage in history, migrations, human rights and development are common topics in the cultural, social and political debate, especially due to the events that bring to Europe a large number of migrants and applicants for international protection, coming from conflict areas or situations of poverty in the Middle East, in Africa and Asia. These topics are widely discussed, but the interrelation among these phenomena and subjects is rarely analysed.
Before considering how these three subjects interact with each other, it is appropriate to try and give a general definition of them and to show some data:
migrations: migrations are a multiform and complex phenomenon which has characterised the life of the homo sapiens species since it first appeared in Africa (about two hundred thousand years ago), and which led to the diffusion of the species all over the world. Migrations can be internal migrations, within a state, or international. Migration phenomena are conventionally divided into “voluntary migrations” (a phenomenon which involves people who decide to move somewhere else, looking for better living conditions) and “forced migrations” (referring to people who are forced to emigrate to protect themselves or their loved ones, as is the case with applicants for international protection). A phenomenon to which significant attention has been recently paid is that of environmental migrants, people who are forced to leave their place of origin due to environmental catastrophes or changes.
The subject which receives most attention from the general public is most certainly international migrations. In particular, in the past few years in Europe the number of people coming from Africa and the Middle East has increased, a phenomenon that has been more and more perceived and defined as a quantum leap, with numbers which were seen as a sign of “invasion” or “emergency”.
It is true that the number of migrants (voluntary and forced) has constantly increased in Europe, also involving since the Nineties countries which had traditionally been places of emigration or places of transit and never places of destination, such as Italy, Portugal, Spain and Greece. However population movements are a global, worldwide phenomenon that does not only concern the Old Continent, and the Old Continent is not the area that is mostly affected by it.
Indeed, most of international migratory flows are intra-continental, to the extent that both Africa and Asia were the point of departure and the point of destination of migratory flows: in the world there are about 34 million international migrants of African origin, of whom 21 million live in another African country, and out of the 104 million Asian migrants, 75 million migrated to another Asian country. Also Europe is both place of destination and place of origin of migrations: 76 million international migrants live on our continent, of whom 62 million come from another European country* (*2015 data, United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs).
Also forced migrations, in other words the flows of applicants for international protection, are a worldwide phenomenon concerning different areas of the world, not only Europe.
The UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) estimates that in 2015 12.4 million people had to leave their place of residence, due to a war or personal persecutions, so the total number of forced migrants has reached 65.3 million people all over the world, about 23.5 million of whom are refugees or asylum seekers. Out of the 12.4 million people who moved from their places in 2015, more than the half came from only 3 countries, which have been theatres of war for years: Syria (4.9 million), Afghanistan (2.7 million) and Somalia (1.1 million).
Other UNHCR data show that the idea according to which Europe is the final destination of most migrants is radically wrong. As a matter of fact, the top 10 countries with the largest number of forced migrants are African or Asian: Turkey is the country with the largest number of refugees/ applicants for international protection (more than 2.5 million), followed by Pakistan, Lebanon (which is the country with the highest ratio of refugees/ population) and Iran.
For Turkey 2015 was a particular year because, due to the agreement with the European Union on the detention of Syrian applicants for international protection on the Turkish territory, the total number of such applicants increased from 1.6 million in 2014 to 2.5 million in 2015.
For further information:
- United Nations International Migration Report 2015 (website in English)
Human rights are rights that are inherent to all human beings, irrespective of nationality, place of residence, sex, origin, colour, religion, language or any other status. They were proclaimed as universal, inalienable, interdependent and indivisible. Actually their universal character is quite problematic, as they are interpreted in culturally diverse forms and in different cultural contexts (for instance in Arab Charters, Islamic Charters and in the African Charter). Human rights imply rights and duties: the duty of protection by the State and the duty of respect by all individuals. The international law on human rights establishes the duty of governments to act in a certain way or to refrain from some acts, in order to promote and protect human rights and the fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups.
Human rights are a complex subject which can be studied from different perspectives, from the legal to the philosophical, the historical and the anthropological one. As far as terminology and law are concerned, human rights have to be distinct from fundamental rights, which are constitutionalised human rights, recognised in the constitutions of states. However, according to this transformation, fundamental rights are less than human rights, since they only concern citizens. Thus the constitutions of states include human rights concerning everyone (for instance in the Italian constitution Article 19 on the right to freedom of religion and Article 21 on the right to freedom of thought) and fundamental rights which only concern citizens (for instance in the Italian constitution Article 16 on the right to freedom of movement and Article 17 on the right to freedom of assembly).
In the Western liberal democratic tradition, human rights are proclaimed as:
inviolable, since they are rights that cannot be denied to any human being, not even if the State of which a person is citizen or in which a person lives does not recognise them.
inalienable, because they cannot be surrendered by anyone, not even voluntarily.
In other cultural traditions, such as the Islamic tradition, human rights have to be compatible with šarīʽa, the Islamic law. In the Arab charters, that are based on Arab identity, there is no such limitation.
In the Western tradition, or rather in the (self-proclaimed) Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, they are defined as universal, since all human beings are inherently entitled to them, without distinction as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. They are based on the idea of dignity, which most of the international debate defines as objective value of the life of every human being.
According to some scholars, the concept of human rights has its roots in ancient times: in 539 BC, after the conquest of Babylon, the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great issued some decrees to free slaves, to proclaim the equality among “races” and freedom of religion. The decrees were written on a baked clay cylinder, called “Cyrus Cylinder”, which some people consider as the first document on human rights.
There is an ongoing heated discussion on the universal character of human rights: according to some people today’s prevailing view of human rights is liberal and is the result of the Enlightenment culture of Europe of the XVIII century. The rights that are protected are the rights of individuals, in line with the Western legal philosophy, while communities and groups are not the subject of human rights, although there are collective rights which are exercised together with other rights, such as freedom of association, and which however can never override the rights of individuals. In the same way, little attention is usually paid to the protection of the so-called “social” or socio-economic rights.
In particular, according to some legal experts, human rights, including the UN Universal Declaration of 1948, are an expression of Western thought and not of all mankind, in other words of the different cultures and traditions it consists of.
Also for these reasons, together with the UN Universal Declaration, many regional conventions on human rights have been approved from the Fifties onwards, with contents which might differ from those of the document of the United Nations, although they always refer to it and to its fundamental rights in their introduction. In addition to the Islamic and the Arab Charter, there is also, for example, the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, which came into force in 1986. It is the first international convention on human rights which recognises the rights of peoples (the right to equality of all peoples, the right to self-determination, the right to own natural resources, the right to development, the right to a healthy environment) and it is the first legally binding instrument of international law that expressly connects rights and duties.
Anyway the concept of human rights is nowadays recognised all over the world and the respect of human rights is a point to consider in judging regimes, countries and governments. In particular in Europe human rights were implemented in the European Convention on Human Rights (and in the activity of the European Court in Strasbourg which ensures respect for human rights), that became a guarantee for the citizens of the 47 countries that approved it.
For further information:
development: out of the three subjects of the AMITIE-CODE project, development is definitely the most complex one, first of all because there is no single and common definition of it.
In the classical economic theory (and partly today in the general public debate), development is usually compared to and sometimes even confused with economic growth measured in terms of Gross Domestic Product. But since the Seventies many schools of thought have started to criticise this vision, proposing alternative definitions which highlight in the definition of development the growth of human capital, redistribution, the assessment of welfare and socio-environmental sustainability.
Development cooperation was influenced by this debate and by the changes at an international level.
It started after the Second World War, following the impetus that had led to the creation of the United Nations: the Second World War had shown how people lived in a world that was already extremely interdependent and how poverty and differences in the levels of access to resources caused instability, conflicts and wars. To support development in the poorest countries meant therefore to guarantee stability, peace and prosperity also for the West.
So, in its first years, development cooperation mainly focused on the transfer of technology and of economic resources aimed at increasing the level of national income to be measured in terms of GDP, which should have encouraged, more or less automatically, the social, education and political growth of the beneficiary countries. As a matter of fact, since the immediate post war period, development cooperation policies have become an instrument of international policy in the bipolar context of the Cold War, in which the two blocs moved in the “Third World” competing with each other for supremacy, privileged relations and influence. Even then they met more frequently the needs of donors rather than the needs of recipients. A survey carried out in 1997 by the Senate of the United States (the first country that started cooperation policies after the Second World War) states clearly that “the aid flows of bilateral donors, including the United States, tend to follow the strategic and political priorities of the donor, not those of the countries with the greatest needs in terms of development. International aid has been used first of all as an instrument of foreign policy. The promotion of economic development and human wellbeing was a goal of the international aid of the United States, but in general it was a secondary goal”.
In the Seventies and Eighties strong limits of the intergovernmental policies of development cooperation started to emerge. At the same time Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) emerged as strong actors of cooperation, with a competent point of a view which, at least in theory, was less subject to geopolitical interests. Finally, with the establishment of new paradigms of development, the framework of development cooperation changed: the transfer of technologies and funds to foster economic growth was replaced by projects which focused more on the growth of social and human capital and in which a key role was played by local communities and migrant communities (with a view to co-development).
According to the Agenda for Change, adopted by the European Commission in 2006, the fight against poverty, the main objective of the development cooperation of the European Union, will have to focus on the following pillars:
1) The strengthening of human rights, democracy and “good governance”, as fundamental elements of development;
2) an inclusive and sustainable growth for human development.
The concept of “human development”, which was formulated in a wider and deeper way mainly thanks to Amartya Sen, refers to the full realisation of the “capabilities” of human beings. According to Sen, all capabilities can be interpreted as the overall freedom of each individual in pursuit of the personal “wellbeing”. Thus human development means to guarantee some human rights:
- right to a long and healthy life (food, health, coverage of basic services, housing);
- right to knowledge (education and the ability to participate in the life of the community);
- right to a decent standard of living.
What is fundamental in this concept is the idea according to which human development is the precondition of economic development: if there is no guarantee of human rights – right to life, to health, to knowledge, to social and political participation, to an income that is adequate to the individual’s condition (age, gender, disability, etc.) there cannot be any economic development.
According to this perspective, priority is given to social protection, health, education and employment, with special focus on vulnerable groups (including women and young people) and to the reaffirmation of the principle of universal access to public goods and services, the respect for good governance and the rule of law; the reforms of the labour market; the link between migration and development, regional integration and the role of world markets; food safety, sustainable agriculture and energy policy; the strengthening of the cooperation with local authorities and the civil society at large.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted on 25 September 2015 by the United Nations, confirms a comprehensive approach, aimed at reformulating the previous Millennium Goals in order to widen the horizon of development policies. The Agenda follows a universal approach which concerns developed and developing countries, attributing to the former a greater responsibility than in the past in obtaining goals that are defined as “common”. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) connect the principle of sustainability to economic, environmental and social development, creating a programme of action for people, the planet and prosperity. They are common goals, which concern all countries and individuals on a range of important issues for development, including the fight against poverty, the elimination of hunger and the fight against climate change, just to name a few examples.
For further information: