Humanity: what it means and why we can’t lose it

The Case Against Killer Robots, sounds like the title for a sci-fi meets detective movie doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, its not. It is a real report written by Human Rights Watch depicting the development of robotic machinery that require no human involvement in the warfare part of war, which could be finalized in as little as twenty years. International humanitarian law has found they this type of machinery would be unable to distinguish between civilians and armed forces and therefore violates such laws.

Not surprisingly the USA seems to be taking the lead in the development of such weaponry and the US Department of Defence has written that it ‘envisions unmanned systems seamlessly operating with manned systems while gradually reducing the degree of human control and decision making required for the unmanned portion of the force structure.’ Sound terrifying? It is.

This would essentially restrict the need for nations to have human involvement in war, which would reduce the thought to humanity given before invading other nations. However, this would only happen for countries with the research capabilities and funding to invest in such technologies and would increase deaths and civilian deaths for other nations.

You’d think that if we have the technology, resources, and intellectual ability to literally make autonomous robot killing machines we would have it in us to not fight. I bet the money the USA uses to make one  of those machiens could end poverty in their own country. . .

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Contraception is a Human Right

We have found that there are no mental health consequences of abortion compared to carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term. There are other interesting findings: even later abortion is safer than childbirth and women who carried an unwanted pregnancy to term are three times more likely than women who receive an abortion to be below the poverty level two years later.

That is a quote from the researchers who are two years in to a five year study abortion – specifically the first scientific study which looks at what happens to women who have been denied abortions. This study has been following 956 women who sought abortions, 182 of which were denied. This study takes place in the USA but I believe much of the information can be extrapolated to other nations.

I find it fascinating that less than halfway into the study researchers are already able to debunk many of the common reasons why women are denied abortions and protestors push for pro-life national agendas. Firstly, abortion does not cause mental illness. Secondly, abortion does not cause drug use. Particularly when combined with the emotional distress of carrying an unwanted child to term. In fact, the study found that giving birth to an unwanted child caused more physical damage than an abortion: “There were no severe complications after abortion; after birth complications included seizure, fractured pelvis, infection and hemorrhage. We find no differences in chronic health conditions at 1 week or one year after seeking abortion.”

What I also found interesting was that only 11% of those who were denied abortions put the child up for adoption and that there are higher rates of putting children up for adoption among those with a history of drug abuse. While there are plenty of people who desperately want to adopt children, particularly from within their home country, adoption is still looked down upon. Many people are discriminated against if they put their child up for adoption, there is a stigma associated with this that makes many people choose to keep the child.

Also notable is that this week the United Nations declared contraception to be a human right. About time, right? Family Planning is universally acknowledged to be critical for development; spacing children apart by a minimum of 2 years improves their health, developmental capacity, brain function, in-utero nutrition, and improves the health of the mother and ease of her delivery. Additionally, 82% of unwanted pregnancies could be avoided simply by increasing access to information and services regarding contraception. Who needs access? Women and adolescents as

Thai Minority Women in Dien Bien, Vietnam discussing the importance of family planning and maternal health (November 8-9, 2012)

those are the target groups and the people who need to be able to have control and power over decisions regarding their own bodies. This is a huge step forward for international development and a wake-up call for so called ‘developed’ nations to improve the dissemination of information and services regarding contraception. It also should indicate a need to not discriminate against such services on the basis of religion, funding, or personal beliefs.

Take a step forward with the United Nations and protect the rights and freedoms of people around the world by supporting family planning, improving access to contraception information and services, reducing the stigma surrounding adoption and abortion, and ensuring that women people are never denied the ability to live out their basic rights.

Rio+20: Suspicion or Sustainability?

After my earlier blog post, I realized that a lot of people might not really know exactly what Rio+20 is and the significance it can play for the world of international development. As you read on, think about what Rio+20 can and will bring us, think about international development and can bring about solutions, think about your opinion and if this conference shares that or contradicts it. Just think.

Rio+20 is the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development that is currently underway (June 20-22 2012) and it is taking place exactly twenty years after the Earth Summit in Rio, Brazil. The Earth Summit in 1992 was where Agenda 21 was signed and ratified, making commitments to changing the ways that economic growth, social equity, and environmental protection are approached. The Earth Summit was essentially a landmark conference in raising awareness and making commitments for sustainability, environmentalism, and equality.

This year, Rio+20 is reviewing some of those former commitments and seeing where nations need to be headed for a sustainable future without poverty. This conference has thousands of participants from governments, non-governmental organizations, private sector representatives, and even concerned citizens.

Rio+20 has two focus areas: ‘a green economy in the context of sustainable development poverty eradication’ and the ‘institutional framework for sustainable development’. The first area – green economy for sustainable development and poverty eradication – works towards having a holistic, sustainable approach to all business, government, and other decision-making. To do this, it means taking social, economic, and environmental concerns, and the ways in which they interact, into account prior to making any decision and using the most beneficial decision to those concerns. The second concern – institutional framework for sustainable development – means taking the same decision making process and ingraining into to all levels of government and governance. It recognizes that current governmental decision-making often neglects sustainability and that through ingraining sustainability into their frameworks they can have longer lasting decisions, policies, and, ideally, a more equal world.

In addition to the themes for the conference, Rio+20 has also identified seven priority areas to focus on for the conference; which include ‘decent jobs, energy, sustainable cities, food security and sustainable agriculture, water, oceans and disaster readiness’. These priorities highlight some of the biggest concerns for sustainability now and in the future and with significant progress and international cooperation on these topics the outlook for the future would be greatly improved.

Wednesday, June 20th marked the start of Rio+20 despite protests and nations have agreed on a draft discussion. Understandably, many people and organizations are skeptical on what results Rio+20 will actually bring, but there has still been progress. United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, acknowledges that in the past sustainable development has not the attention or effort dedicated towards it that it deserves and needs and that they have not met their commitments or goals. While a draft document has been made and agreed upon, titled “The Future We Want,” this draft document is still vague. It holds no requirements or commitments for nations, no real forms of measurement, or targets, and fails to meet the needs or hopes of many international non-governmental organizations. While many nations agreed that between 30 and 100 billion dollars would be required for sustainability initiatives, only 30 billion dollars are drafted and required in the text, which also does not include where the funds will come from.

What was hoped for and what may still transpire are the creation of Sustainable Development Goals, which would replace the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 when they expire. Another hoped outcome of Rio+20 would be the creation of a new index to measure human development. The current model is the Human Development Index, which ranks nations with regards to the quality of life; it takes life expectancy, literacy, and GNI/GDP into account. The proposed model would be the Sustainable Human Development Index that would use the pre-existing Human Development Index but add a measure of sustainability that would have to be determined and quantified at Rio+20.

Personally, I find it most interesting that even nothing transpires directly out of Rio+20, there have still been major commitments in the public and private sector outside of government. As of 12 noon on Thursday June 21st, there were 517 voluntary commitments to sustainability from the private and public sector, these commitments must be concrete goals, with detailed timelines, and will be subject to periodic reporting. This gives us clear goals, with measurable impacts that we can see and watch grow.

A second positive impact is the Rio for People conference that culminated on June 20th at the same time as Rio+20 began. This conference focused on ‘strengthening people’s capacity for genuine sustainable development’ and featured 200 groups from civil society, including environmental non-governmental organizations, unions, religious parties, and representatives from indigenous populations. This conference chose to go beyond the set agenda for Rio+20 and look for sustainable, alternative options for biodiversity, poverty elimination, and climate protection. This conference was an opportunity for grassroots workers on sustainability to meet and share ideas and models, as well as to critique the larger top-down models and ideologies.

Rio for People, resulted in distrust towards the larger Rio+20 conference which can be summarized with the words of one Vietnamese activist, “We are suspicious of this talk of a green economy. It seems like another attempt by the rich powers to impose a model on poor countries.”

Which brings us back to the original questions, what will Rio+20 bring the world? Is there hope for international development? Are these conferences the answer? Or do they promote the top-down model of development? Can policy create sustainability?