Sanaa Eltigani-Uro, Consular Assistant at the Permanent Mission of Sudan.
Naseer Ahmad Faiq, Third Secretary at the Permanent Mission of Afghanistan, in charge of Third Committee matters.
Khalid Faqeeh, First Secretary at the Permanent Mission of Saudi Arabia, specializing in Peace-Keeping Operations.
Julián Hernández, career International Civil Servant from Colombia, specializing in Political Affairs.
Bobette Jansen, a graduate student from Germany, originally from Rwanda, transferring to Fairleigh Dickinson University, and specializing in Conflict Resolution.
Ahmad Kamal, former Ambassador of Pakistan, currently Senior Fellow at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research.
Nikolaos Kouroupis, Consular Agent for Greece, currently responsible for Medical matters.
Siham Mourabit, First Secretary at the Permanent Mission of Morocco, responsible for Security Council and Peace-Building Commission matters.
Diego Rivera, career diplomat from Chile, currently Adviser to the Secretary General of the Organisation of American States
Tania Laumanulupe Tupou, career diplomat from Tonga, currently Senior Adviser at the Commonwealth Joint Office
Andry Olivier Zinsou, a graduate student from Benin at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Index of Contents
Introduction, Ahmad Kamal 1
Basic International Documents, Najeeb Al-Jabowbi 9 Basic International Mechanisms, Khalid Faqeeh 23 Capital Punishment, Bander Al-Moqbel 33 Development and Food, Tania LaomanulupeTupou 39 Indigenous Peoples, Sanaa Eltigani-Uro 55 Indigenous Peoples (continued), Nikolaos Kouroupis 65 Individualism versus Collectivism, ‘Matankiso Chachane 77 International Criminal Court, Idrees Mohamed Ali 95 Islam and Women, Naseer Ahmed Faiq 113 Migration, Siham Mourabit 127 Minorities, Adel Al-Sheikh 139 Prisoners in Developed Countries, Nino Bakhtadze 155 Prisoners in Developing Countries, Andry Olivier Zinsou 169 Racism, Tariq Al-Fayez 183 Responsibility to Protect, Julián Gustavo Hernández 193 Selectivity, Bobette Jansen 203 Self-Determination, Mahmood Aboud 213 Slavery, Waheed Al-Shami 229 Tolerance, Diego Rivera 245
There can be no doubt that the subject of human rights in general, and of human fights violations in particular, has begun to preoccupy us completely in recent years. That may be due to the improvements in communications and the knowledge of events as they unroll in different and distant corners of the world. It may also be due to the end of the Cold War, when the sudden collapse in the relatively balanced structure of a bi-polar world and its alliances led to the emergence of a rudderless void and the bubbling of pent up ethnic tensions. Friends became foes, and all their human rights violations which had been ignored for so long, were now the object of our attention and aggressive interest.
Despite this sudden current emphasis on human rights, and the impression that this is a new phenomenon in a post World War II world, the fact remains that the fundamental concepts of human rights are firmly rooted in the basic spiritual underpinnings which underlie all societies.
All religions and beliefs have spoken of the responsibility of man to fellow man, of the need for respect and tolerance, and of the rules of behavior that must govern this relationship.
Even the secular history of mankind spoke of the Golden Rule – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Diverse civilizations then codified this concept in different texts and edicts. For example, the Code of Hammurabi clearly recorded in 1750 B.C. in its opening lines that its governing justification lay in the objective of a desire to “to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak”.
So there is nothing new about human rights at all, certainly not in the context of global history. Nor, for that matter, is there anything new in human rights violations.
European civilization, for example, went into a prolonged period of denial in its early stages, when it codified the idea of “the divine right of kings to do no wrong”. This permitted the latter to engage in all forms of personal idiosyncrasies, in which the most intense injustices and indignities were visited upon their peoples.
The reversal then started in a first milestone of the Magna Carta in 1215 A.D., when a group of barons surrounded the King and forced him to agree to limit those untrammeled powers by a process of “consultation”. With his hands forced in this fashion, the King agreed, but as soon as the barons dispersed, he disregarded the document and reverted to his earlier ways.
It took almost four hundred years before the next milestone saw light. In 1679, the British Parliament passed the Act of Habeas Corpus, under which it became illegal for the King to imprison anyone without producing him before a third party – a court – to explain the reasons for the incarceration. This fundamental concept of “no detention without charge” then spread around the world into all legal systems, and despite some very visible and obvious violations, it remains an integral part of our global system today.
Then came the third milestone of the 18th Century and the Age of Enlightenment, when prominent thinkers started delving deeper into the injustices of governments in their relationship with the people. Democracy, which had been born in Europe under the Greek civilization, returned to Europe two thousand years later. The glorious revolutions of that 18th Century, first in the British colonies of the United States, and then in France, both spot-lighted the importance of the people and their human rights against the excesses of irresponsible government.
The fact that human rights had now been consecrated in the fundamental documents of both countries did not mean that violations did not occur. In the United States, “all men were created equal” but slavery continued for a hundred years, and then in the incarnation of segregation for another hundred years. In France, the “rights of man” did not extend into its colonies in Africa, and abject colonialism cast its heavy shadow for more than 250 years also.
But the greatest transgressions of Western civilization occurred in the form of a genocidal intolerance towards “others”, in crusades and inquisitions and pogroms and outright Nazism. It was as if the inhumanity of man towards man had no bounds at all.
So, there was with a sense of great relief when World War II ended, and the winds of change began to blow. Led by a great American woman, Eleanor Roosevelt, the world was urged and cajoled and cornered into agreeing to a document of primary importance, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, followed in turn by its two covenants, on Civil and Political Rights, and on Economic and Social and Cultural Rights.
The cracks in the Universal Declaration began to show up right from its birth. To begin with, a vast proportion of the populations of the world were still governed by colonial masters who had little or no interest in their human rights. The United Nations had just 51 member states at this stage, so the word “universal” betrayed an ignorance of basic mathematics. Few were preoccupied by this fundamental fact, and it was not until a dozen years later that the winds of change really took off in the decolonization movements of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
That fact, namely, that the Universal Declaration was an agreement only among a small minority of the member states of the world, remains its most serious shortcoming even today. A number of countries, and they represent very important population masses, maintain that they were not part of the negotiations, and that they were not there to present their own points of view on what should, or should not, be included as fundamental human rights. The debate continues till today.
The Right to Development
An essential part of that debate lay in the identification of what were the constituent specifics of human rights.
For some, mostly in the developed countries of the West, these rights were largely political in nature; the right to free speech, the right to free assembly, the right to free belief, the right to freedom of political choice, the right to asylum, etc.
For others, mostly in the developing countries, it was the fundamental economic rights that were far more important, the right to development, the right to food, the right to a decent life, the right to migration, etc. For these developing countries, basic political rights had little meaning when they were starved of food, or mired in poverty, or condemned to shortened live expectancies.
It was this clear division of opinion that led to the amplification of the basic document, the Universal Declaration, into two separate Covenants, on Civil and Political Rights, and on Economic and Social and Cultural Rights, respectively.
The developed countries of the North could not however meekly accept the point of view of the developing South. To do so would imply financial costs. Talk of political rights was cheap; it merely required statements and judgments and finger-pointing at others. It required no financial outlays. To extend the concept human rights into the Right to Development would however require putting money down into the process, and that was neither the objective nor the desirable implementation procedure.
So, while these ideas were tentatively debated in the margins of the Universal Declaration, it was not until almost twenty years later in 1976 that the two Covenants actually received the necessary number of ratifications.
Even then, the second Covenant, on Economic and Social and Cultural Rights was not ratified by all member states, prominently among them, by the United States. The United States position was, and remains, that economic rights do not have the same weight as political rights, and that they thus constitute a “secondary tier” of rights. This position is not shared by the vast majority of the countries and populations of the world.
In 1993, the United Nations organized a global conference on human rights in Vienna. This conference was dominated by the debate on the Right to Development, and it was finally agreed, after protracted and divisive discussions, that this Right to Development was a “fundamental” human right, and that it would enjoy equal “weightage” with political human rights. The United States did not agree with this conference decision despite the over-whelming majority in support. So much for the respect for democracy!
The net result of this disagreement about the Right to Development is that endemic poverty continues to bedevil the world. The developed countries of the North believe that this poverty is the result of bad governance by the rulers of the developing countries themselves. The developing countries of the South believe, on the other hand, that this poverty is the result of decades and centuries of exploitation through colonialism, and that it is consequently the responsibility of those guilty of that unfortunate past to rectify the damage that has been visited on them.
The debate continues, as does poverty in the world. Many believe that it is this continuing poverty that is the greatest violation of human rights, and that those forces that are responsible for this situation need to be properly identified and reversed.
Linked to this problem of the Right to Development is a more serious disagreement about the manner in which human rights are being implemented in the world.
A large number of countries believe that human rights are not being implemented as a uniform principle under Rule of Law, but rather as a tool of foreign policy considerations, under which violations in one part of the world are highlighted, and similar violations in other parts of the world are ignored. Examples of such “selectivity” abound. The perception is that the governing principle is really whether the violator is an ally or an enemy. In one case, action can be taken not just to condemn, but even to invade, while in another case, eyes are turned away, and no action is taken at all. This makes a travesty of a noble principle of human rights, which is seen as being held hostage to petty political machinations.
This also produces another unfortunate result. If human rights are not a principle but just a tool of foreign policy, then they lose status and acceptability. Suspicions abound about motives and objectives. Once that happens, violators get a new lease of life in their nefarious activities, and no impartial recourse against them becomes possible.
So, selectivity in human rights becomes a very serious detraction from a principle which should command universal adherence and respect. Violations proliferate, and those whose human rights are violated continue to suffer.
Globalism versus Nationalism
Another aspect of the debate emerges from the tectonic forces of globalization that are sweeping the world.
Globalization is the increasing inter-connectedness of peoples and populations around the world, through awareness, through contacts, through communications, through new technical facilities, etc. These are intensifying at historic speeds, and at a dizzying collapse in costs.
The result of this globalization is the progressive erosion of the concept of unquestioned sovereignty. Governance and ideas can no longer be contained within the limits of erstwhile borders, nor can any nation or state now retain a status of imperial divinity. All are now subject to scrutiny and criticism.
What that means is that protectionism is going against the tide. It is no longer possible to penetrate the borders of others with a right to survey and to judge, while at the same time preventing others from doing the same in reverse. Human rights cannot be a one-way street. Either borders exist, and no judgments are to be allowed against the human violations committed by others within the limits of their own sovereignty, or borders do not exist, and all become vulnerable to oversight and criticism in a globalized world.
The question has not been resolved, and will continue to be the focus of analysis as we try to adjust to the new forces that are changing our world today.
Linked to these points at issue is the question of the existence or otherwise of the Right to Migration. If we live in a globalized world, and if the basic human right is a search for a decent life, then the Right to Migration becomes fundamental to the debate.
There is really nothing new in migration. All scientific research shows that the human species originated in East Africa. All of us are thus African in origin, and almost all have just migrated out from that original source to wherever we find ourselves today.
So, we are all African, and all migrants. The fact that this initial human migration placed us in different corners of the globe, and made us develop different physical and cultural characteristics, cannot detract from the commonality of the human species.
The problem lies in the well-documented tendency of old migrants to resist and to look down on new migrants. That does not, in any way, constitute a justification, as it is no more than an explanation of a psychological tendency. Nothing can justify the right of one person to immigrate, and then to deny immigration to others.
What compounds the problem is the appearance of the nation-state. This is a relatively recent phenomenon, going back no more than a couple of hundred years in the history of the world. Since that history of the world is much longer than those two hundred years, this new phenomenon of the nation-state is of questionable permanence. In fact, it is already being seriously questioned by a number of forces, by globalization itself, by regionalism, and even by a possible reversion to old imperialism.
Meanwhile, given the vast global differences between income and developmental levels in different corners of the world today, and the fact that migration has always been a fundamental safety valve against the scarcity of resources in history, we face a force that just cannot be contained behind protectionist walls, and fences, and immigration policies.
Nor can the simple addition of the adjective “illegal” modify a force of natural and historic proportions. National laws are enacted by humans after all, and cannot have the same weight as natural laws that have governed human behaviour for centuries. It has to be remembered also that human rights are fundamentally about the right to a decent life, so that any laws that attempt to constrict that right for national objectives can only be seen as a violation of that fundamental right.
Much of the accusation of violations of human rights by “others” can also be attributed to the human tendency to racism.
Racism is not about skin-color at all. It is about the feeling of each individual that he alone is at the center of the world, and that all others fall in the category of “they”. This self-centricity is human, and it is natural.
That does not justify it however. We have many natural human tendencies, and many of them are reprehensible. That is why the history of spirituality is the progressive shift away from the “lower” instincts to “higher” purposes. Society has constantly attempted to control these lower instincts, through laws, and through social rules. Thus, freedom is not about the uncontrolled exercise of desires, but rather about the manner in which they can be channeled along acceptable lines of social behaviour.
Be that as it may, we have racist tendencies in all societies and in all individuals, against persons of a different skin-color, against persons with different facial characteristics, against persons of different languages or accents, against persons of a different gender, against persons of a different origin. All these are incarnations of basic racist tendencies. So, while this may be natural or human in its own way, the fact remains that racism has to be strongly resisted and contained. That is what spiritualism and intellectual thought has attempted throughout history, albeit with limited success. Note the violent and abhorrent examples of racism in contemporary times, some of which will remain as permanent blots on the human face-book. The struggle is not easy, but it must continue.
The Moat and the Speck
Another human tendency lies in finger-pointing at others. There is some merit in noticing that when one points a finger at others, there are normally three fingers that point back at you yourself.
The fact of the matter is that all of us are guilty of serious human rights violations. Those who pontificate about human rights would do well to look into their own histories, and to grade their own past performance first in this field. There is a principle in law, normally referred to as “clean hands”, which implies that your own hands have to be clean before you can accuse others of having dirty hands.
This now poses a problem. Since all of us have some human rights skeletons in our closets, how do we then proceed to further the objective of achieving a more just world, with better human rights for all.
Perhaps the solution lies in understanding that human rights are not a simple and static comparison between those who have them and those who do not, but rather a target that all of us have to aspire towards.
Once we understand that this is a dynamic objective, and a target, then judgmental criticism would be replaced by sympathetic dialogue, and incentives rather than sanctions.
Universality of Norms versus Cultural Differences
An even greater challenge is posed by the cultural differences that have emerged in the variety of civilizations that exist around the world. As these have developed over time, they have created new concepts, new habits, and new norms of local behaviour.
Should those differences be respected where they exist, or should they be judged according to one-sided “universal” norms developed elsewhere? Which should command higher respect, “local” norms or “universal” norms? And who, if anyone, is to judge which stands on a higher pedestal vis-à-vis the other? This debate is beginning to occupy center stage now, and once again, there is little possibility yet of any emerging consensus. The world is divided into different civilizations and cultures, and no one of them is willing to accept the primacy of the other. In fact, different population masses in the world have developed different legal systems also, and it is virtually impossible to classify any one as superior to the other.
The current debate about the Islamic Sharia and its injunctions exemplifies this dilemma.
Part of the debate also centers around the status of women. Women constitute half of the population of the world, and have been trampled upon throughout history by a male-dominated structure.
This was particularly true of Western societies, where women had to struggle for centuries to obtain the legal right to property, or the legal right to vote. In most of the West, those rights were not obtained until just a century ago, and even today, women struggle to break through a “glass ceiling” under which they do not have equal pay for equal work.
Elsewhere, women did have their rights granted by law, in the case of Islamic society more than fourteen hundred years ago, and yet the actual implementation of those rights remains elusive.
So, the unfortunate case of women is another blot on the pages of human rights. It is amazing that men have succeeded for so long in dominating women, for no reason other than the heavier muscles of their bodies. Their brains are no better, and their testosterone-based aggressiveness has created more damage in history than any other element.
It is high time that the greater sentimental balance of women be given a more prominent say in the affairs of the world. But will men ever learn, and will women ever insist?
Another forgotten group is that of indigenous peoples, who have suffered at the hands of armed settlers, and who continue to have their rights trampled upon. Some have achieved a slightly better status of being recognized as “first peoples”, at least on paper. Others continue to languish in reservations, or in the back-woods of society, or as untouchables, not to be seen or heard or taken into any consideration.
Once again, those who talk glibly about human rights would do well to examine their own past history, and the crimes committed by them against the original populations of the lands that they migrated to and forcefully appropriated. Some are not even capable of expressing an apology for these crimes, let alone extending due compensation for the “conquest” of the lands and properties of others, or for the sufferings of the affected populations.
That too will be called into question by the judgment of history when it is finally written years and centuries hence.