A good holiday can do you the world of good when it comes to chilling out and forgetting about all your worries. And with all the shitty stuff happening the UK this year, it’s no wonder us Brits made 67.6 million visits abroad in the last 12 months. But after the controversy surrounding travel vlogger Fun For Louis’ positive films about North Korea being branded as ‘propaganda’, it really got me thinking about how seriously we take visiting a country with a bad human rights record.
Are we really happy to give money and tourism to oppressive governments? So many travellers refuse to ride elephants or visit tiger sanctuaries and zoos in protest of their treatment of animals. There are travel agencies that exist solely to create eco- and animal-friendly tourism. But do we honestly make the same personal judgments when it comes to human rights?
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Travellers still visit places like Russia, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Cuba – all countries named as the ‘least free in the world’ by Freedom House. Does a country’s Instagram-worthy scenery come before its people’s freedom?
Choosing to play a part
Burma was the one destination a responsible tourism company decided to boycott for 10 years after its pro-democracy party leader Aung San Suu Kyi recommended tourists steer clear. They also believed slave labour existed in the tourism industry there too.
Back in 2014, my husband and I were researching potential honeymoons. We had a few places on the list, but the only destinations that worked with our budget and dates were Sri Lanka and Maldives – both with checkered human rights histories.
I won’t lie, I felt guilty lying on the beach in a country that sentenced a rape victim to 100 lashes. And with Sri Lanka, there had been so many years of turmoil and accusations of torture and illegal detention; I wasn’t totally comfortable with ‘supporting’ that through tourism.
Do we actually make a difference?
But on the other hand, after meeting Sri Lankans in the towns we visited, it didn’t feel like we were contributing to the bad human rights record by being there. It wasn’t their fault after all, so why should the money they make from tourism be affected by my guilt?
Similarly, when a French Mayor imposed a burkini ban on Nice’s beaches recently, I decided I wouldn’t visit France while the ban was still in place. But it wasn’t the people’s fault. Us not spending our Euros there in protest could potentially do more harm to local businesses than it ever would to big governments.
When Louis Cole’s vlogs from North Korea were called naïve and he was accused of creating propaganda while ignoring the country’s horrific history of abuse, he defended his position, stating that he didn’t agree with the North Korean ideologies, but he did “care for and love the people there.”
While some accused him of being irresponsible, others praised his content. They said that while everyone else was concentrating on what the government was doing to its people, Louis was finally showing the positive side of the lives of North Koreans.
When is a bad human rights record ‘bad’?
I’m personally not convinced that a country which holds hundreds of thousands of its own people in detention facilities should be promoted as an ideal holiday destination. And I definitely won’t be buying a plane ticket there any time soon.
But then again, just two months ago in June The United Nations confirmed that the UK’s Austerity policies breached international human rights obligations. Who knew that in 2016 our very own country would slowly diminish the rights of its people?
Things in other countries are getting better. And some governments are working hard to create a fairer society for their people. In the meantime, all we can do is make conscious decisions about what we do and don’t support – and it all starts with research.
I think the first question we should honestly ask ourselves is: do I feel comfortable visiting a country with a bad human rights record?
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