The purpose of human rights is to implement a minimal set of standards that all human beings should be entitled to. In English, the word right has two meanings. The first meaning of right means, what is right or what is the right thing to do. The second meaning of right means something that is an especial entitlement. But putting the word human in front of rights, it is deliberately supposed to make “human rights” a universal term that applies to every single human being. However, there is much controversy centering around human rights, because of the immense difficultly of implanting universal rights on a world that is divided among ideological, religious, and cultural lines. In this presentation I will elaborate on the challenges faced by the human rights movement.
First, the major ideological challenge to human rights comes from the people who study the world using the statist approach. Statists believe most strongly in state sovereignty, and thus view human rights as an issue concerning only the national jurisdiction of the state. American George Kennan argued that, “The process of government … is a practical exercise and not a moral one”. The statists belief system is based on realist principles, that the international world is to anarchic, and full authority should rest with the individual state. Moreover, the worst cases of human right infractions, tends to be in states where the government doesn’t have full control, and brutal force is needed to maintain a government’s control. It is in these situations realists like Robert Art, and Kenneth Waltz argue that, “states in anarchy cannot afford to be moral”. In short, the most important factor of governing for realists is power, and they don’t view human rights as high politics, and view it as impossible to monitor.
Human rights are generally divided into categories: political and civil rights; and economic, and social rights. Political, and Civil Rights are generally accepted by the western world, and are referred to as negative rights, because nobody is forced to give something up, in order for other people to have them, but simply not carry out acts that harm other people. In Contrast, economic and social rights are referred to as “positive rights”, because in order for these rights to be enacted an economic cost by a society’s elite is required for these rights to be implemented. In the Western world (especially the US), realists that believe in self-sufficiency, and minimal government intervention oppose economic rights. Their most potent argument against economic rights is that economic rights are unattainable, and right-wing nationalists who oppose giving assistance to other nations. They use such examples such as guaranteed vacation pay as a luxury rather than a right, because its cost makes it unaccessible.
Second, the politically sensitive area that opposes human rights most vigoroursly is cultural. In the Western World individual freedom, and liberty are valued, and we are taught not even to question these values. But during the Cold War, the Soviet Union was disinterested in these rights, and stresses the benefits of social and economic rights. Furthermore, in the eastern world individual rights are seen as western imperialism, they value group rights, believe each individual is responsible to his or her community, and believe that groups rights are lacking in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. The opponents to an individualist focused view on human rights, see such other rights as care, attentiveness, trust, and respect: as being ignored by international human rights documents. A fact that should be ignored is that in many economic disadvantaged areas of the world, people are being exploited by MNC’s, and this trend must end, because the “sweat shops”,can be perceived as slavery, and this will only increase the amount of anger and hatred to the west. Lastly on this topic, we must respect different cultures, and not force human rights on them, but make sure they have the opportunity to implement the human rights that is appropriate to their culture.
Third, another issue that is causing apprehension regarding human rights, is how it pertains to religious rights. Almost every single religious group views that by implementing universal rights, that there religious freedom is being violated. Under the Declaration of human rights, it clearly states that everybody is entitled to worship the religion they choose, but it conflicts with human rights, because every single religion’s followers are obliged to give up certain freedoms in order to follow their religion. Under this analysis, human rights can be seen as being too tolerant, and the area attacked most, is gender equality. There are religious beliefs that conflict with human rights such as abortion. The Catholic Church believes life begins at conception, and thus they view the right to have an abortion as morally wrong, because it violates the right to life. The Vatican, the most powerful religious institution in the world, has publicly denounced women’s rights. They argue in favour of sexual discrimination in their religious orders, and oppose abortion and use such arguments as a long tradition of gender separation, and moral objections.
The most well known objection to human rights is Muslims that have strict restrictions on its followers. They believe firmly in law based on the Koran, and object to having state laws that conflict with their religious laws. The Muslims object to many freedoms most notably regarding gender and, religious freedom. Fundamental muslims have put a serious stain on the religion, because due to their lacking of a strong hierarchical organization, it has allowed various fanatics to use this religion as a basis for their actions. It is my belief that every religion can be used by fanatics to just their means, and the best parallel to Christianity is the people who kill abortion doctors. Lastly on religion, I feel we have no alternative but to accept most of the religious beliefs that conflict with human rights, because these religions have been firmly in place for centuries, and there is a long line of tradition. But, we must not look so pessimistically on religion, because it shows it can change, and is prepared to modify in order that religious conflict can be affected.
Finally, I have just touched on the confrontations facing human rights. There are many other controversial topics including state intervention that I have been unable to elaborate on. Clearly, universal laws are difficult to implement, because of each society’s different foundations that have different value systems that have become all too obvious over the past year. After 1948, with the declaration of Universal Human Rights, the World decided to come together to establish a system that would allow the world to be able to function in peace. In those tragic years before that significant date, the world in the past 30 years had witnessed; the two most bloodiest human wars ever to take place on this planet, the attempted extermination of a race, and the dropping of the Atomic Bomb, that showed we had the power to annihilate every single living creature on this planet. Clearly, something had to be done to prevent humankind’s worst faults from re-surfacing again, which would lead to the apocalypse.
The United Nations main goal was not imperialism, but peace through new channels that have not been used before. The drafting of the declaration of human rights was the first major legal document that didn’t make reference to any specific religion, and its aim was to produce a secular document that would respect the rights of every single human being. But the United Nations decided to extend its mandate. Not only would civil, and political rights be respected, but economic, and social rights were also addressed because it was felt that economic equality must be aimed for, so every single person would have the opportunity to exercise their political, and civil rights, without any preventions.
Since 1948, I believe great strides have been made in the area of human rights. Ironically, this century’s greatest accomplishments in human rights have come following great confrontations. After, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States, and the Soviet Union, both learned that they had to co-operate in order to mutually exist. The next decade, the 70’s, saw the opening up of China, economically to the West, and the West’s new influence in China, exposed many people to the universal human rights ideology. The late 80’s and early 90’s saw the removal of apartheid in South Africa, and the release of Nelson Mandela. Most important of all last century was the collapse of communism. This sudden surprise gave the people of the Soviet Union new rights, and freedoms. But most importantly it ended the insanity of the arms race, which allowed more time to be devoted to human needs. But the Western World failed to seize this peaceful opportunity. During this period many people saw political rights as the only important issue, and economic rights were neglected. There is no denying the fact the world conflict is connected with poverty, and we all need to show compassion to other human beings who are not in as beneficial situations as we are, and we need to be more activist, and not leave anybody abandoned.
But, on that day, when we woke up, and saw our most powerful cities, and landmarks blanketed by smoke, many human rights activists believed more fervently than ever that poverty should not be ignored. Many Human Rights activists believe that if basic economic needs were met it would give people in ever corner of the world, the opportunity to reach their full potential, and prevent them from joining radical alternatives to make themselves heard. September 11th , 2001 will be a day that I hope will be a turning point for humankind, to realize economic needs should never again be ignored , and the Western World needs to put limits on itself, and not use our resources so extravagantly to the point of humiliation for the rest of the world, but instead to aid, and assist, so that no radical group can ever use our foreign policy flaws as an excuse to use terror on innocent civilians ever again.