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While acknowledging that the European Union (EU) has been to the fore in the promotion of international human rights standards among its own states and citizens, Chapter 7 critically assesses the role of the EU in relation to the promotion of rights and development in the Global South where many former colonies of EU states continue to be affected by the legacy of colonialism and ongoing neocolonial relationships with EU states and institutions. Despite a range of EU commitments and initiatives (indeed, half of the world’s development aid comes from there) it is argued that developmental and rights-based approaches in the Global South have often been frustrated by ideologically and self- interest driven economic policies promoted by the EU. This in turn has contributed to under-development and a diminution of rights in many of the most vulnerable regions around the world.

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Chapter 4 provides a critical perspective on the development of the EU in the Cold War period, the ideological tensions underpinning its operation and its increasing influence on the development of concepts of human rights and their reflection in EU social policy. Issues covered include the tensions between human rights and EU’s ‘pooled sovereignty’, economic, foreign, and migration policies. It discusses the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Pillar of Social Rights, the challenges posed by neoliberalist concepts of ‘free trade’ ‘competition’ and ‘privatisation’. Finally, it looks at the challenges facing the EU as a result of a range of global situations – the banking crisis, refugees fleeing ongoing conflict, migration and globalisation, global inequalities in trade and wealth and global insecurity.

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The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Global South will be formidable and will take decades to recover from. Regions that have historically struggled with development issues have been caught highly exposed to the spread of this particular pathogen. Already straining from under-resourced health and medical provision, climate change and conflict, many of the world’s most vulnerable regions will be forced into a mitigation drain that will undermine decades of positive development while accelerating processes of socioeconomic stress that –​ if not combated at an international level –​ will lead to further damaging levels of economic decline and deprivation. This chapter will survey the effects that COVID-19 will have on socioeconomic inequality and will highlight the scale of the need vis-à-vis strategies for mitigation.

COVID-19 has brought forward a series of issues that will have both short- and long-term implications for international development. The various governmental attempts at mitigating the impact of this pandemic have served to highlight persistent systemic fault-lines in a global socioeconomic system where inequality has, yet again, come sharply into focus. The implications of this all too predictable pandemic have been manifest in various ways: through transnational market competition, the scramble for basic medical supplies; the deliberate neglect of the most vulnerable members of society; the pharmaceutical companies’ race for a vaccine; an almost total lack of testing and medical intervention in disadvantaged communities; fear of the virus being used as a cover for human rights abuses; and international organizational withdrawal when it comes to assisting regions of the world which do not have the health and public services to combat such desperate circumstances –​ this has been most notable in regions in conflict (Human Rights Watch, 2020).

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The COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly evolving. Its impacts have ranged from taking lives to geopolitics with governments engaging in a bitter war of words (and actions) around mitigation and other issues. This disunity is causing concern across the world, not least in the UN system, although it is better that this is being played out in public spats rather than in violent conflict (Steiner, 2020). As Florini and Sharma (2020) argue, the 21st century is set to be one of ‘massive disruptions’ posing serious threats to society. These range from potential political turmoil to financial fragilities, coupled with climate disruption. COVID-19 has demonstrated the imperative of effective, financed international cooperation to solve or remediate these global challenges. However, the prospects for enhanced international cooperation seem to have diminished in recent years as a result of dialectics of globalization.

The spatial dynamics of liberalization, offshoring and corporate greed have generated reactionary backlashes in some developed economies, such as the US and UK. The rise of right-wing populism globally has been associated with the politics of anti-globalization and protectionism (Gereffi, 2018; Kiely, 2020), and Baldwin (2019) predicts that these tendencies will intensify as middle-class professions are gutted by the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), generating further pressure towards ‘shelterism’ and ‘me first’ economic policies. These developments could then be further securitized in relation to climate change impacts –​ an already extant trend (Andersson, 2019; Buxton and Hayes, 2016).

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The world has been convulsed by the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic. The virus has caused untold misery both directly and indirectly to people around the world and its effect on societies and economies globally has been catastrophic. International travel has ground to a near halt, the global economy has stalled and many countries around the world are in government-enforced ‘lockdowns’. Numerous countries have entered deep recessions and many global value chains have experienced massive disruption as a result of both demand, and in some cases, supply shocks, sending reverberations through the value chains of suppliers with negative multiplier and accelerator effects. Such economic shocks are largely an outcome of government policy responses to the pandemic and will have cascading effects both socially and economically for many years to come (OECD, 2020). Notwithstanding the billions of lives that have been adversely affected and the hundreds of thousands of deaths resulting from it, the pandemic has also exposed further serious flaws in the architecture of international development.

In the Global North, the purpose of lockdowns has been to slow the spread of the disease and prevent healthcare systems from being overwhelmed. The countries of the Global South appear to be affected differently, although this is changing as the geographic epicentres of the disease shift. In the developing world, lockdowns were put in place quickly, with often severe livelihood consequences given high levels of dependence on the informal sector for survival, and the general absence of widespread health, social security and public policy assistance measures.

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With the advent of the global pandemic, the architecture of international development has changed. Limited advances made through the promotion of universal healthcare and attempts to reduce global equality have been put under strain in a manner not seen in a generation. The deviation from rights-based approaches to public and social policy since early in 2020 has continued throughout the various waves of the pandemic and has caused different regions to react in different ways to enforce lockdowns, protect pharmaceutical companies, enforce inequality and introduce sometimes draconian public health emergency laws. COVID-19 has also sometimes been used as a pretext to further erode equality legislation and human rights in different contexts around the world. This chapter assesses the implications of this pandemic inequality as a feature of international development in light of the actions taken by governments around the world over its first two years.

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Chapter 2 looks at the development of the UN after World War Two and the subsequent development of the UN Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the various Covenants, Conventions and monitoring committees particularly since the end of the Cold War and increased international oversight of rights. It looks at the geopolitical, ideological and cultural factors that have influenced the development of UN Human Rights mechanisms as well as providing a critical analysis of human rights enforcement and realisability. It introduces some of the debates around the articulation of rights - cultural relativism vs universality, individual vs collective rights, socio-economic vs civil and political rights, etc.

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The Introduction, outlines the concepts and ideas contained in the book, showing how the development of universal human rights and international oversight since World War Two has led to profound global changes in thinking about social policy and global development. It argues that geo-political tensions, conflicts, continuing global inequalities, and the struggles of people around the world whose rights have been denied, have all influenced understandings of rights and state responsibilities. In essence, the formulation, interpretation, realisation and enforcement of international human rights are sites of continuing struggle. It shows how the book is organised around a range of different themes relating to international human rights, their application and influence on social policy development, with 20 chapters in three different sections, ‘International Human Rights: Context’, ‘Key Issues for Universal Human Rights-Based Approaches’, ‘Human Rights Approaches to Social Policy Development’.

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From a Critical Social Policy perspective and with a Global Development remit, this book addresses a range of key questions regarding international human rights. With human rights constantly under challenge, this collection of chapters represent a comprehensive critique that adds a social policy perspective to recent political and legalistic analysis. Expert contributors draw on local and global examples to review constructs of universal rights and their impact on social policy and human welfare. With thorough analysis of their strengths, weaknesses and enforcement, it sets out their role in domestic and geo-political affairs. For those with an interest in social policy, ethics, development, politics and international relations, this is an honest appraisal of both the concepts of international human rights and their realities.

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From a Critical Social Policy perspective and with a Global Development remit, this book addresses a range of key questions regarding international human rights. With human rights constantly under challenge, this collection of chapters represent a comprehensive critique that adds a social policy perspective to recent political and legalistic analysis. Expert contributors draw on local and global examples to review constructs of universal rights and their impact on social policy and human welfare. With thorough analysis of their strengths, weaknesses and enforcement, it sets out their role in domestic and geo-political affairs. For those with an interest in social policy, ethics, development, politics and international relations, this is an honest appraisal of both the concepts of international human rights and their realities.

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