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A prisoner of hope

A prisoner of hope

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Published by Rory Coen
Mary Robinson talked to Rory Coen about human rights issues in Qatar, her Climate Justice foundation and what she was hoping to see at COP18.
Mary Robinson talked to Rory Coen about human rights issues in Qatar, her Climate Justice foundation and what she was hoping to see at COP18.

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Published by: Rory Coen on Jan 27, 2013
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01/27/2013

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Qatar today
 
january 2013
48
listening post
A prisoner
of hope
TreaTing global issues musT feel like TreaTing eye-brows. when you pull one hair, Two more popup in iTs place. however, mary robinson, who aTTended The recenT cop18 congress on behalf ofher foundaTion, feels she is bound To acT on These issues by The cluTches of hope. rory coenspoke To her abouT QaTar’s human righTs issues, The mary robinson foundaTion for climaTejusTice and The ongoing conflicTs in The region.
 
 
january 2013
Qatar today
49
listening post
ollowing her Nelson Mandelalecture in South Arica earlierthis year when Mary Robin-son rued some eathers inthe ruling Arican NationalCongress (ANC) Party regard-ing issues o corruption, shesaid she always understoodthat [the ght or] human rights is about speaking truth to power. “I was speaking as a true riend; tough love i you like,” she said.The ormer United Nations High Commissioner or HumanRights conceded that she could have highlighted more abuses o power rom her regular visits to the country, but elt as an outsiderit might not be her place; it was better to establish hersel rst as ariend and then do what a true riend does: be honest in assessment.Since joining the Silatech Foundation some time ago, Robinsonhas been spending more and more time in Qatar promoting theproject. And whilst she is keen to observe how Qatar continues withits economic and social development, and commitment towardsenergy eciency, she also eels that some darker issues are cloud-ing the country’s image abroad. She didn’t need much encourage-ment to comment on Qatar’s much publicised human rights issues.“The conditions or migrants in the labour camps are not good,”she said. “Any migrants that I’ve talked to tell me they’re here be-cause they have to be here. They’re not happy; they don’t believethis is a good place to be working, but they’ve no choice.“Qatar is branding itsel, both politically and economically, asa player in this region. This treatment is going to undermine thatsooner rather than later unless there’s an understanding thatyou cannot build your success on the backs o a modern orm o bonded labour,” she said.Robinson empathised with the locals in so ar as they had a rightto protect their identity and culture in the midst o the massive in-ux o oreign workers, but she elt they should bend a little more toaccommodate the people who are building the nation. “It’s simply an economic cost to make sure that the workers have the properconditions and choices so they don’t have their passports removedand these other practices that we hear about,” she said.
Climate Justice
 Ater leaving her post as the United Nations High Commissioneror Human Rights in 2002, Robinson learned she could achievemore “outside o the constraints that a multilateral organisationinevitably imposes”, where her outspoken views on civil libertiesmade her an “outsider” and an “awkward voice”. By setting up TheMary Robinson Foundation or Climate Justice (MRFCJ) in 2010,she had the scope to push through her own agendas without beingrailroaded or sidetracked by political preerences.Her oundation looks crucially not at the subject o “climatechange” but that o “climate justice” or those people vulnerable tothe impacts o climate change that are usually orgotten – the poor,the disempowered and the marginalised across the world. Her pri-mary ocus during the COP18 sessions was to change the narrativeregarding climate change and instead on ocusing on the meltingice-caps and the rising water-levels, look at the poor and innocentemale armers in the elds who cannot end or their amiliesbecause o climate change.“We start rom a human rights perspective as you might expect,”said Robinson, “looking at the injustices o those who are afectedby climate change and the act that they are the least responsible.It’s hurting poor communities all over the world, especially in poor,small island states and its undermining their ability to get access toood, water and health. It’s displacing huge numbers o people andit will predictably displace as many as 200 million by 2050 – and wedon’t even have a ramework to deal with it yet!”Robinson mentioned how the uture o small island states wasbeing compromised by climate change. Her oundation is all aboutgetting justice to those who need it most and certainly some o these island states are living each day one at a time because o cli-mate change. In a discussion “Avoiding a 4-Degree Warmer World:The Need or Global Action”, hosted by the World Bank and Qatarduring COP18, ocials rom two island states in the Caribbean Sea were almost weeping as they made their presentations. A our-de-gree warmer world could ultimately see the world’s oceans rise tounprecedented levels and drown these island states orever.The Minister or Environment in Costa Rica, Rene Castro ex-plained that participants at the congress were treated to CO2-neu-tral cofee rom his country. By its nature, cofee is a product thathas the potential to create a large negative environmental impact.Castro said that i Costa Rican delegates were coming to Qatar toplead or more sensitivity, then they would bring a tiny sample o  what they were doing to reverse the trends; they would show someexample and “walk the walk”.The Minister o Environment in Grenada, George Prime toldhis audience that two “one-in-50-year” hurricanes hit his islandin 2004 and 2005 where total damage costs tallied to twice that o the country’s GDP. October’s Sandy was another reminder o how ragile their state is.Even i these island states reduced their carbon ootprint to zero,their utures are out o their hands. It would ultimately depend onhow the rest o the world reacts to the threat o climate change. Socould their eventual demise be construed as “gang manslaughter”,

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