It was reported this week that Somalia has joined the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), which prompted the BBC World Service to ask: Could Somalia be your next holiday destination? A good holiday can do you the world of good when it comes to giving yourself some headspace and forgetting about all your worries. With all the shitty stuff that’s happened in the last two years, it’s no wonder us Brits made 67.6 million visits abroad in the last 12 months.
But, remember when travel vlogger Fun For Louis got in a spot of trouble for his positive films about North Korea? Neither Somalia nor North Korea are known for their stellar human rights records. 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?
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, me and my husband 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.
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 in 2016, 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 do 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 (North Korea) should be promoted as an ideal holiday destination. Neither would I feel comfortable relaxing in Somalia knowing there are 1.4 million internally displaced people in the country.
But then again, in June 2016 The United Nations confirmed that the UK’s Austerity policies breached international human rights obligations. Who knew that in this day and age 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?