The Age of Impunity?

A country’s human rights record just as important as economic and security benefits for Australians: Ipsos “The Age of Impunity?" study.

The author(s)

  • David Elliott Director - PA
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  • More than half of Australians believe that if a country commits war crimes, other countries should intervene to stop it – even if that infringes on sovereignty
  • Globally, four in ten believe their country should never beak international laws on human rights

The human rights record of a country is as important as economic and security benefits when Australia’s leaders decide on relations with other countries, according to a new Ipsos study.

The study, “The Age of Impunity? Global attitudes to human rights”, found that 37% of Australians believed that the human rights record of a country was as important as the economic benefits (38%) and the security benefits (39%), putting us among the top five countries nominating human rights as equally important. In addition, 40% of Australians believe we should only trade with countries that have good human rights, even if it harms the economy, while 21% believe we should trade with any country if it benefits the economy, regardless of human rights.

Other factors Australia considers important are whether or not that country obeys international law (31%), military benefits (20%) and the environmental impact of that country (18%).

Ipsos and the Policy Institute at King’s College London conducted the major 24-country, 17,000-interview online survey, to inform former UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s 2019 Fulbright Legacy Lecture at King’s College London delivered on 20th June.

The main results are:

International law and human rights

Four in ten (38%) around the world think their country should never break international laws on human rights. However, one in five (21%) think their country should break these laws in extreme circumstances (21%) and a similar proportion think international laws should only be one factor their country takes into account (22%). One third of Australians (34%) believe we should never break laws on human rights, 20% believe we should only break laws in extreme circumstances, and 22% say it should only be one factor we take into account, making us pretty close to the global average.

  • Half (53%) think their own country’s military should always put avoiding civilian casualties ahead of their national interest – but 14% disagree. In Australia, 51% agreed with the statement, while 13% disagreed.
  • Half (51%) also agree that if a country commits war crimes, other countries should intervene to stop it – even if that infringes on sovereignty. However, this falls to 41% who think their own country should intervene. Interestingly, while Australia was similar on the general principle of intervention, we were one of those more likely to suggest we should intervene (47%) alongside countries like Canada and Turkey (47% each) and just ahead of the US, Italy and Great Britain (46%).

International relations

  • Over a third (36%) of people around the world think their country should only trade with countries with a good human rights record, even if it hurts their economy – but 33% think their country should trade with any country if it helps their economy, regardless of that country’s human rights record.
  • The top two factors people say should be important in deciding the closeness of relations with other countries are economic (44%) and security benefits (40%) – but a country’s human rights record (30%) and respect for international law (30%) come next, ahead of the environmental impact of that country (20%), whether or not the country is a democracy (20%), military benefits (19%) and historical relations between the countries (14%). Australia also has these four as its top considerations, however we are much stronger on military benefits (27%) which came in third on our list.

Countries’ and international organisations’ influence

  • When asked whether particular countries used their influence for good or bad, Iran was most likely to be seen as mostly using its influence for bad from all the countries asked in the study (31%). This was followed by Saudi Arabia (25%), Russia (25%), and Israel (24%). The US is next most likely to be seen as using its influence for bad (22%), although 18% say they use that influence for good, and 37% for both good and bad.
  • In contrast, Canada (37%), the UN (35%) and Germany (32%) are seen as most likely to use their influence for good.
  • Three in ten (29%) think the US is less likely to use its influence for good than 10 years ago, similar to Russia (29%), Israel (27%), Iran (32%), and Saudi Arabia (29%). However, 17% say the US is more likely to use its influence for good now, higher than in Russia (13%), Israel (10%), Saudi Arabia (9%) and Iran (7%).
  • Mexicans (43%), Russians (42%) and Chileans (40%) are most likely to think the US’s influence is less positive now compared with 10 years ago.

The survey’s findings featured in the 2019 Fulbright Legacy Lecture, delivered by David Miliband at King’s College London on 20th June. In the lecture, Miliband argued that the West had retreated from a position of global responsibility, allowing repressive governments to act with relative impunity.

Commenting on the results, David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said: “The poll shows that around the world, large numbers of people are looking for commitment to human rights and global engagement. However, it is striking that the US should be perceived to have descended to the level of Russia as a global spoiler.”

Ipsos Australia Director, David Elliott, said: “This survey shows that Australians take a somewhat pragmatic approach to international relations when they are forced to balance competing interests. When asked about the things we think should be most important to our leaders when deciding on relations with other countries, Australians placed security benefits as number one, followed closely by economic benefits and the human rights record of the other country. Interestingly, alongside this is a greater preparedness for Australians to suggest that we should be involved in intervening if another country commits war crimes. “The results show Australians value human rights but view our economic and security relations as paramount and suggest that there is need for more open and honest discussions from our leaders about the about the choices we make as a country and the type of society we want to be.”

 

The author(s)

  • David Elliott Director - PA