International Law – A Heaven or Hell on Earth?
(Part 2 - Human Rights)
by Brian Risman, Publisher and Founder, The Law Journal UK and Consultant in International Law
International Law promised a noble world at the end of the Second World War. Was that dream realised -- or was the dream a chimera? In this second of a series of articles, The Law Journal UK examines the promise -- and reality -- of Human Rights.
What are human rights?
And how does the world monitor human rights?
And does the world truly monitor human rights?
Or are human rights simply a tool for political aims?
Or are human rights a form of economic domination?
These are all important questions. The answer to these questions is becoming clear – but to understand the answer, we need to dispel the illusions.
First, what are human rights?
That question seems to be simple – or is it?
Rights can cover many areas – the right to speak your mind, the right to vote, the right to join collective organisations such as unions, the right to worship (or not worship), the right to your property, the right to employment. These rights are only a few of the various rights that may exist – or not exist – in different countries.
Therein lays a problem with human rights. Which rights are important, which are less important, and which can be ignored?
An example of this problem occurred during the Cold War which dominated much of the later twentieth century. Western democracies decried the lack of freedom of speech, and the lack of a free vote, in Communist countries. In the Western democratic view, the Communist world lacked human rights. However, the Communists did not see it that way – they looked at the unemployment and rampant poverty in Western capitalist countries, and in turn condemned the West for similar violations of human rights in the economic sphere. The West, however, did not define human rights as having an economic aspect.
Another problem is that the exercise of human rights by one person or group can have the effect of violating the human rights of another person or group. For example, the right of an economic monopolist to exercise their power in an unfettered fashion can have the impact of taking away the quality of life from his or her employees, and indeed the public at large. Or can the rights of a dominant faction in society similarly preclude the rights of the public?
Also, are collective rights -- or individual rights – human rights? In some cultures or religions, there is no sense of the individual – the collective is all that matters. Some languages, for example, do not have a word for individual. What do individual rights, then, mean in such societies? Hence, if a collective right trumps an individual right, is that an issue in such societies, or indeed even in other societies? What if the exercise of individual rights violates the societal norm, and hence collective rights?
At the same time, it can be argued that defining Human Rights is the same as defining the proverbial elephant – no one can define it exactly, but everyone knows one when they see one. A country which engages in wholesale torture and murder of its populace can not deny that it is violating human rights.
Moreover, it has happened that a group of these medieval violators of humanity gain – as their right as nations – membership and even a majority on Human Rights NGOs and International Councils. This creates serious questions about the state of the fight for human rights.
We see this situation today with the United Nations. The UN has had different incarnations of human rights councils monitoring violations throughout the world. Yet many of the nations on these councils – indeed, most of the membership – are brutal dictatorships. Do these nations have the moral authority to judge others?
Most strikingly, these brutal nations – excuse me, human rights defenders – never turn their gaze on to themselves or their partners in crime. Rather, they save their bile for western democracies.
Now, western democracies are not perfect when it comes to human rights – far from it. However, I would hesitate to consider the violations of human rights by the western democracies in the same category as notorious brutal murderous states.
An example of this state of affairs goes beyond human rights councils and NGOs. In an UN-sponsored document discussing the situation of the disabled, Canada was cited for human rights violations of the disabled – and why? The charge against Canada related to a disabled refugee claimant to that country who, in the view of the august writers, was not provided with adequate facilities for the disabled while under detention. While this complaint may be valid, the amount of text spent on this situation suggested that this was one of the worst human rights violations against the disabled in the world. However, little mention was made regarding the brutal treatment of the disabled in many warring and savage countries. Obviously, the UN writers did not want to offend these august murderers.
Now, there have been accusations made that Western countries use Human Rights as an export tied to economic domination via aid packages. That is, the Western nations predicate provision of aid or economic investments to improvements in human rights. Many have therefore called Human Rights a new form of political or ideological imperialism by Western countries. This assertion may have some validity. However, when many of the recipients of economic aid are in fact brutal dictators, it becomes very difficult for Western countries to justify to their populace that their government is supporting human rights violators.
Yet at the same time, Western human rights stances regarding dictatorships vary inversely with the potential trade with these countries. That is, if the human rights violator is important economically to the Western country, little is said about those human rights violations.
What, then, is the status of Human Rights in International Law?
The bodies monitoring human rights are dominated by these notorious human rights criminals. It is the same as if the police chief in a city were the head of the organised crime gang. The latter – criminals in government – has happened many times in many places. However, the law frequently deals with these situations.
That is not the case in International Law. If these brutal countries have membership in bodies such as the UN, then the criminals are in control – and they are considered honourable members of the body.
Moreover, the Human Rights bodies spend their time engaging in political agendas for their own purposes. Hence, nations supporting terrorism attack democracies for their human rights. It should be noted that when human rights violations are committed by – or in the name of – those democracies, there is an internal investigation in these countries, and action is taken if there has been a violation. No such action is taken in the brutal dictatorships, and if it is, it is almost always a sham.
That is the problem. Human Rights have become a sham.
The lofty goal of the UN Declaration of Human Rights has, along with many other great intentions and goals, been subverted and turned on itself.
Until change in this situation occurs, Human Rights will be a prime example of the paralysis and hypocrisy of International Law.
Brian Risman, Publisher and Founder, The Law Journal UK and Consultant in International Law
Other Current Articles:
The Abuse Excuse -- One Size Fits All? - by James Castagnera - United States
Domestic Violence and the Problems of Poor Policing - by Karen Clark-Stapleton - UK
Freedoms of the Air - Changing the Patterns of International Trade and Commerce - by Aaron M. Daniels - Canada
Foreign Investment in the Russian Federation - Denis Biryukov - Russia
Indian Legal Profession in Transition - by Kamal Wadhwa - India
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