The Ethical Dimensions of

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In conclusion, it is important to have a clear perspective of the existence and impact of racism today. Racism still exists and we can see it in different forms and expressions. In some parts of the world racism is still strikingly obvious, but in other parts where progress has been made towards civil liberties, racism takes more subtle forms that still alienate many ethnic minorities and immigrants in both legal and illegal ways.

Discrimination is also present against states and governments and it is based on the level of their development as well as their lack of compliance with the rules of the powerful states that do not necessarily have an internationally inclusive policy. For example, the governance of international organizations and special agencies are generally not as participatory and democratic as their charters require.

Discrimination against faith and religion has taken a sharper tone in the last decade, given a polarization in the world resulting from terrorism and the counter measures against it. Many leaders in the world are trying to counter this trend through the idea of “Dialogue among Civilizations”.

Even the Security Council of the United Nations has been a disappointing example of discrimination in international governance when it comes to the management of conflicts and the establishment of security in the world. This is, after all, where a “race” of a few powerful states calling themselves “permanent members” take and enforce decisions, that are obviously biased on their own interests.

Research has found that racism is the major challenge to the unity of people, and has contributed politically and culturally in eroding the sovereignty of nations. Racism is thus a clear and great threat to the culture of states. Discrimination at the international level creates conflicts, poverty, ignorance, and health problems and seriously prevents the development of the world at all levels.

All universal religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam call for no distinction and discrimination between peoples. They express no racial or color prejudice. Hopefully, that truth in these great religions will help reverse the trend towards a racism that remains a blot on the face of human history.


The Declaration on Human Rights of 1948, and the two additional Covenants on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, and on Political and Civil Rights of 1976, established a new area of concrete action and possibilities for the member states of the United Nations.

At the beginning of the 1990s, and largely as a result of the end of the Cold War, the relative “stability” of a bipolar world was replaced by a new structure which saw the disintegration of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, and a noticeable increase in intra-state violence. The world appeared to be suddenly overtaken by xenophobic nationalism, ethnic cleansing and mass atrocities. The decade was marked by the events in Somalia and Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and names like Srebrenica were permanently etched on the history of contemporary times.

These atrocities placed the reputation of the United Nations and the Security Council at great peril, because of the inaction or mistiming of its decisions on the human rights basis of these conflicts. Public opinion judged the organization as guilty for its inability to fulfill due responsibility to protect human rights.

In the architecture of international law, sovereignty and the right of intervention are two conflicting principles that are widely discussed. On the one side are those who see sovereignty as a pure and absolute concept, and who quote Article 2.7 of the UN Charter, as one of the most important pillars and principles governing inter-state relationships. On the other side there are those who are committed to the concept of human rights just as absolutely, and who want it to take precedence over sovereignty.

The controversy was brought to the forefront by the former Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, in his address to the 54th General Assembly when he announced that an automatic right to protect was needed to face the new challenges. In his speech, Annan highlighted the dilemma of humanitarian intervention in Kosovo as follows: “On one side, the question of the legitimacy of an action taken by a regional organization without a United Nations mandate; on the other, the universally recognized imperative of effectively halting gross and systematic violations of human rights with grave humanitarian consequences”. 309

The Secretary-General then proposed to find common ground in intervention, and justified it by stating that, as a result of the crises and the uncertainty about how to proceed in the face of growing human rights violations, the spirit of the UN Charter should be the inspiring guidance in the challenges of a new world order.

Preliminary Conditions


The Secretary General, Kofi Annan, assigned to the Canadian government, along with a panel of experts, the task of launching the concept of Responsibility to Protect through the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS). The latter published a report in 2001 entitled “The Responsibility to Protect”. The objective of the proposal was to satisfy both the concepts of sovereignty, and of the right to intervene under some conditions when a State was unable to meet its responsibilities.

Even though there was no agreed international law or doctrine or UN instrument that regulated this new Responsibility to Protect, the provisions of Paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document did pick up on the idea.

Jan Egeland310, former Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, in his address to the Security Council, the stated that there were too many instances in which the United Nations did not know how to come to the defence of civilian populations in need. Security Council Resolutions 1265, 1296 and 1674 on the protection of civilians in armed conflict could eventually be the frame of reference in order to find valuable guidelines on how to proceed with Responsibility to Protect. In the last of these three resolutions, the Security Council endorsed the approach of the Outcome Document. In the same year, "the responsibility of the government of the Sudan to protect civilians under threat of physical violence" was recalled in Resolution 1706, in which the Council cited the Responsibility to Protect as a principle in the context of a specific situation.

General Assembly Resolution 46/182 on the strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian emergency assistance of the United Nations and of the guiding principles known as humanity, impartiality and neutrality, could also apply to the Responsibility to Protect, even though this resolution was designed to be implemented to help the victims of natural disasters and other emergencies that involve the loss of human lives, the flow of refugees, the mass displacement of people, and material destruction.

Another legal anchor is the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948. In this legal instrument, Article 1 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide asserts that "genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which [States] undertake to prevent and to punish”.

The tribunals such as the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court recognize genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity as crimes to be defeated and punished.

In this sense, the doctrine on Responsibility to Protect can count widely on humanitarian law instruments and principles of international law. Along with the tribunals, the expanding reach of international criminal law requires the international community to exercise its duty to protect and fully implement the prohibition against genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The key question on Responsibility to Protect is how the international community should proceed when faced with an opposition from the requirements of state sovereignty.


Secretary General Kofi Annan in his original address had stated that the concept of state sovereignty could be seen from different perspectives, and as such it had to evolve with the passage of time. In this regard, it meant that responsibilities were not longer just internal matters of the state.

Internally, sovereignty refers to the exclusive decisions that the government and its executive, legislative and judicial branches take. Externally, sovereignty is a status and the way in how the state interacts with others in the international sphere.

The behavior of the state towards its individuals, especially in the human rights arena, is the bridge between external and internal sovereignty. Because of this, it is imperative that states become answerable before their own society as well as other states about the manner in which they assume their responsibilities. The new doctrine on the Responsibility to Protect thus opens the gate to external intervention, and this is the principal cause of the reluctance of the majority of the member states in accepting it.

Shadows of the past also cause one of the main fears, because the colonial experience traumatized many of the States, and there are fears that this could presage a new form of colonial intervention based on the interests of external states.

If state sovereignty provides order, stability and predictability in international relations311, would the Responsibility to Protect not open a new Pandora’s Box? The answer, as Thakur states, is that where a population is suffering serious harm as a result of internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure, and the state in question is unwilling or unable to halt or avert it, the principle of non-intervention or sovereignty yields before the international Responsibility to Protect312.

It thus becomes necessary to re-conceptualize sovereignty as responsibility. “This has threefold significance. First, it implies that state authorities are responsible for the functions of protecting the safety and lives of citizens and promoting their welfare. Second, it suggests that national political authorities are responsible to citizens internally and to the international community through the UN. And third, it means that agents of state are responsible for their actions, that is to say, they are accountable for their acts of commission and omission. Would-be perpetrators of mass atrocities should fear the growth of universal justice, as a result of which they will ultimately have nowhere to run, no place to hide”. 313


In order to avoid the continuing Paradigm of using human rights as a political tool, selectivity must be answered by multilateralism.

Responsibility to Protect could imply a blank check signed by the developing countries to the developed countries, who rather than being interested in cooperation may use this doctrine to open doors for political interventionism.

The Bush doctrine “has had the effect of reinforcing fears both of US dominance and of the chaos that could ensue if what is sauce for the US goose were to become sauce for many other would-be interventionist ganders…one probable result of the enunciation of interventionist doctrines by the USA will be to make states even more circumspect than before about accepting any doctrine, including on humanitarian intervention or on the Responsibility to Protect, that could be seen as opening the door to a general pattern of interventionism” 314

Borderlessness in an interdependent world would inevitably result in political selectivity. It is even more obvious that for weak and poor states their sovereignty could become worthless before the power of the permanent members of the Security Council.

The human rights decisions and the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect thus face a dilemma: “Intervention, like nonintervention, produces resistance and de-legitimization. Not to intervene can bring upon itself the reproach of ignorance, double standards and selectivity. Inversely, the imposition of the cosmopolitan rights against resistance (not only in the concerned country, but also in the international community) sets off a standard avalanche of reproaches of imperialism and rakes the coals of suspicion that one is forcing the clash of civilizations”.315

Rule of Law316

In accordance with the principles of international law and the objectives and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations, the procedures in all UN activities should follow and respect the three main pillars of the United Nations: development, maintenance of peace and security, and respect for human rights. These principles apply in all circumstances, including crises, conflicts, conflict-prevention, as well as in post-conflict and developmental contexts.

In accordance with the principles of international law, the rule of law means that activities and decisions are going to be ruled by these axioms of governance, and that all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the state itself, shall be accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated. These actions must be consistent with international human rights norms and standards. It also requires dimensions that ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of the law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness, and procedural and legal transparency.317

In all these aspects, due process is a preliminary requirement if the Responsibility to Protect is going to be implemented fairly. Rule of law should inspire the actors involved to avoid the use of the force for personal or national purposes. It also encourages refraining from the threat or use of force against the integrity or political independence of any State, the proper maintenance of peace and international security, and non-intervention in matters which are essentially with the domestic jurisdiction of any state.

Threshold criteria should be followed in every single case. This threshold should define what is an extreme case, and should draw the line in determining when military intervention is defensible, what other conditions or restraints, if any, should apply in determining whether and how that intervention should proceed, and who should have the ultimate authority to determine whether an intrusion into a sovereign state, involving the use of deadly force on a potentially massive scale, should actually go ahead?

Framework of Action


The 2004 report of the Secretary-General “A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility” mentions that collective security today is weakened by three factors: (a) threats which recognize no national boundaries, are connected, and must be addressed at the global, regional and national levels; (b) no state, no matter how powerful, can by its own efforts alone make itself invulnerable to today’s threats; and (c) it cannot be assumed that every state will always be able, or willing, to meet its Responsibility to Protect its own people and not to harm its neighbors.

Under the above circumstances, one of the aspirations of the UN, as expressed in the Charter, is to provide collective security for all. The Report highlights the continuing relevance of the idea of collective security today, emphasizing the mutual vulnerability of both weak and strong that results from increasing global economic integration. Whilst the duty of the state to protect and provide for the welfare of its own people is recognized, historical evidence demonstrates that the state can also be unable or unwilling to perform this role by itself and thus, that the principles of collective security require the international community to step in to assist in the provision, or development of the capacity to provide, necessary protection where needed. Past failures of collective action are recognized, with the report noting that “early warning is only effective when it leads to early action for prevention”. 318

Conflict prevention is one of the primary obligations of member states set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, and their efforts must be in conformity with the purposes and principles of the Charter.319 Good offices also are one of the political tools than can strengthen the efforts to avoid a conflict, and the main role of the UN and the international community is to support such efforts at the national level.

In case that mediation, negotiation, good offices or other political exercise are not able to achieve the goal of conflict prevention, sanctions and other coercive measures should be implemented. The very last resource is military intervention as an extraordinary means once all pacific and preventive policies have been exhausted. The key question is how, who and under which circumstances could the Responsibility to Protect be implemented?

It could be under the aegis of a majority of states of the General Assembly, working under the direction of the newly created Human Rights Council, that mandates should be given to carry out the functions of the right to protect under established principles of international law, such as good faith, just cause, and the avoidance of political selectivity.

The framework of Responsibility to Protect should be upheld under the principles of upholding respect for humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence, and above all, the rule of law.

Regional organizations and other intergovernmental institutions could play a key role in the Responsibility to Protect, and as such they should be included in the process of consultations as a valuable partner.

State sovereignty should only be breached as a result of a majority agreement in the international community. In order to prevent the appearance of unilateral intervention on behalf of the Security Council, the decision making process within the UN should be reached multilaterally by the General Assembly, for example, through a majority vote in the General Assembly which is then passed on to the Security Council for ratification and enactment under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. To make the process credible, it could be mandatory that the permanent members of the Security Council refrain from using their veto powers.

Threshold criteria

The Responsibility to Protect embraces three specific responsibilities: The responsibility to prevent: to address both the root and direct causes of internal conflict and other man-made crises putting populations at risk. The responsibility to react: to respond to situations of compelling human need with appropriate measures, which may include coercive measures like sanctions and international prosecution, and in extreme cases military intervention. The responsibility to rebuild: to provide, particularly after a military intervention, full assistance with recovery, reconstruction and reconciliation, addressing the causes of the harm the intervention was designed to halt or avert.

Military intervention for human protection should only be used in the case of a large-scale loss of life due to deliberate state action, neglect or inability to act, or a failed state situation; or in the circumstance of a large-scale ethnic cleansing, actual or apprehended, whether carried out by killing, forced expulsion, acts of terror or rape.

Peace building

The United Nations has developed increasingly useful tools for peace-building. However, once the peacekeepers leave, the risk of a relapse into violence increases. The Peace Building Commission must develop itself into a critical tool for helping Governments to protect their people as countries emerging from conflict often lack both the necessary tools and wherewithal. It was easy for the international community to harangue and criticize, but it is expected that the Commission should be able to go behind the scenes and find out why the violence is occurring. By doing so, the Commission would be able to build an inclusive and sustainable strategic approach to peace-building.

The Way Forward

Civilians are increasingly the targets in violent conflicts, representing 80 percent of all casualties; their injuries, fatalities and displacement often constitute deliberate war aims320. Do human rights trump state sovereignty, and in what way?

Atrocities against human rights cannot be put on hold while waiting for Security Council authorization. On the other hand, it is also necessary to establish mechanisms for strengthening international law and streamline processes that not undermine the already turbulent security system.

In response to this turbulent era of crises and interventions, there are those who have suggested that the UN Charter should establish appropriate guidelines on how to act in times when the use of force may be legitimate in the pursuit of peace. However, it is a must that the Permanent Members of the Security Council should not use their power to advance their own national interests. This is especially important when one takes into account situations such as Iraq, Sudan, or even Iran.

It is important to define intervention as broadly as possible, to include actions from the most pacific to the most coercive without any shadow of national or strategic gain. The commitment of the international community to peacekeeping, to humanitarian assistance, to rehabilitation and reconstruction, varies greatly from region to region, and from crisis to crisis.

If the new commitment to intervention in the face of extreme suffering is to enjoy the support of the world’s peoples, it must be, and must be seen to be, as fair and consistent as possible with human rights principles. Each region and nation differs from others, and in this sense, it is also necessary to recognize that any armed intervention is itself a result of the failure of prevention. When considering the future of intervention one should take into account the values of democracy, pluralism, human rights, and the rule of law, along with preventive capabilities, such as early warning, preventive diplomacy, preventive deployment and preventive disarmament.

Prevention is the single most important aspect of the Responsibility to Protect and as such, preventive options should always be exhausted before intervention is contemplated. The exercise of the responsibility to both prevent and react should always involve less intrusive and coercive measures being considered before more coercive and intrusive ones are applied.

Because many of the conflicts are occurring in the developing world, the concept of accountability of member states towards their citizens differs, and the different perspectives between the developed and developing world run the danger of being politicized.

The United Nations and the international community in general have a role to play in support of national protection efforts. If humanitarian assistance is to be trustworthy and predictable, it must be undertaken in conformity with the United Nations Charter and the principles it enshrines.

The existing institutional structures are sufficient to allow the United Nations to address issues concerning the protection of civilians in an adequate and effective manner. “It is equally necessary to maintain an adequate level of cooperation between the Security Council and other relevant organs of the United Nations. Such coordination is all the more productive when the Council operates within the limits of its competence”.321 The only change that is required is a new commitment to the principle of the Responsibility to Protect, implemented in a fair and just manner, and only after due agreement of the international community.


As the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, stated, whether one likes it or not, the fact is that the global web of our interdependence makes it impossible for anyone to claim the status of a powerless bystander in the face of gross violations of human rights.322

Responsibility to Protect was born at a moment when state sovereignty has been redefined by the forces of the globalization, and when the state must serve its individuals and not vice versa. The 1990s was a decade that concluded with a failure to prevent or stop genocide. The UN report on Srebrenica affirms that “through error, misjudgment, and an inability to recognize the scope of the evil confronting us, we failed to do our part to save these people from the Serb campaign of mass murder”.323

But selectivity has to be avoided, especially when some countries of the West are just as guilty as other countries of many human rights abuses. These are neatly swept under the carpet and kept away from international condemnation.

The foundations of the Responsibility to Protect, as a guiding principle for the international community of states, lie in the criteria inspired by the Charter of the United Nations and under specific legal obligations on human rights and human protection declarations, covenants and treaties, international humanitarian law and national law; the developing practice of states, regional organizations and the Security Council itself.

Sovereignty also entails the responsibility of a state to protect its people. If it is unable or unwilling to do so, the international community has the responsibility to help that state achieve that goal. Authors specializing in human rights therefore pose the question of how the international community can best respond to the new challenges. Perhaps the concept of sovereignty always remains as the will of the state in acting and making the most adequate decisions for its inhabitants.

It has to be accepted that although this responsibility initially belongs to states vis-a-vis their own citizens, this responsibility must be picked up by the international community if that first tier responsibility is abdicated, or if it cannot be exercised.

Intervention in the affairs of another state has no basis in international law or in the UN Charter. Any intervention on humanitarian grounds should have the support of the international community; hence any decisions to intervene should be made multilaterally, by a majority vote within the General Assembly, and not just in the Security Council.

Preventive action should be initiated at the earliest possible stage of a conflict cycle in order for it to be the most effective. One of the principal aims of preventive action should be to address the deep-rooted socio-economic, cultural, environmental, institutional and other structural causes that often underlie the immediate political symptoms of conflicts. An effective preventive strategy requires a comprehensive approach that encompasses both short-term and long-term political, diplomatic, humanitarian, human rights, developmental, institutional and other measures taken by the international community, in cooperation with national and regional actors.

Conflict prevention and sustainable and equitable development are mutually reinforcing activities. An investment in national and international efforts for conflict prevention must be seen as a simultaneous investment in sustainable development since the latter can best take place in an environment of sustainable peace.

A successful preventive strategy depends on the cooperation of many United Nations actors, including the Secretary-General, the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the International Court of Justice, and other UN agencies, offices, funds and programmes, as well as the Bretton Woods Institutions.

Even so, the UN is not the only actor in prevention and may often not be the actor best suited to take the lead. Therefore, member states themselves, international, regional and sub-regional organizations, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and other civil society actors also have very important roles to play in this field.


Ethical issues play a tremendous role in the international political arena, especially in the lead up to, and during, World War II, when violations of human dignity reached a level of cruelty that the world had never before experienced. The extreme violence of the war, which resulted in more than 40 million deaths,324 demonstrated that ethical norms could easily be broken by the human tendency to strive for power.

Thus, international institutions like the United Nations, the European Union, or NATO, were created with the purpose of preventing a repetition of such violence. However, it was, and still is, necessary to question the reliability of those human rights conventions. Despite the increasing promotion of human rights all over the world, a phenomenon known as selectivity leads repeatedly to human rights violations by ignoring and even tolerating abuses against human dignity.

Global players seem willing to spread human rights ideas throughout the world, but on the other hand, they are exercising a targeted and selective policy by tolerating or ignoring the human rights violations of their friends and allies.

Reflecting on the world situation today, it is clear that it is the pursuit of national self-interest that is creating many conflicts. This is primarily due to the unequal distribution of limited human and natural resources worldwide. These are made greater by selectivity. The wealthiest countries control these resources, and obviously protect their own needs and the needs of their allies before sharing these resources with other countries. This fact contradicts the message of the United Nations Charter, which stands for human equality in all aspects of life, and for righteousness in the world as a guarantee of peaceful living in a neighborhood. It is therefore important to deal with the question of to the extent to which selectivity jeopardizes the UN’s goals and its legitimacy; as well as what major consequences that could emerge from selectivity when dealing with human rights issues.

Human Rights Violations

The purpose of the United Nations is to bring all nations of the world together to work for peace and development, based on the principles of justice, human dignity and the well-being of all people”.325 Clearly, the protection of human dignity is considered to be an essential goal in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) as well as two subsequent International Covenants: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).326 Unfortunately, one cannot rely on the reliability of each UN member state to promote and protect the rights that they pledge to support by signing these covenants. Despite the common desire for a peaceful world in which everybody can exercise his or her civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, selectivity repeatedly leads to violations of these human rights. The following are some examples of rights that have been violated:

Violation of the Right to Freedom of Expression

Article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.327 The most common examples of the violation of this right come from developing countries, like the Congo or Ethiopia, where political instability often leads to excessive government control over the political opposition and the media.328 However, violations of this right are not limited to developing countries. Outrageous violations of the right to freedom of expression also occur in economically developed countries.

Dissenting opinions about the government in some countries are also said to be stifled. These governments constantly control both the international and national media coverage329 of events in an effort to prevent the full exercise of human rights by their citizens.

Cases of this type of abuse almost always gain media attention. In cases where the abuse occurs in powerful economically developed nations, the abuses are treated with caution. Weaker countries who commit similar abuses have to face regular critics from human rights activists as well as criticisms about the country’s bad governance and economic struggle.330

Violation of the Right to Work

The UN consistently recognizes the right to work, stating “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment”331 and emphasizes that state parties have to ensure “fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value without distinction of any kind, a decent living, and safe and healthy working conditions”.332

Ideally, Western countries with a strong record of democratization would defend this principle; however this is often not the case. Unfortunately the right to work often goes unrecognized as an essential aspect of equality. That is the reason why gender inequality still manifests its self in unequal salaries between men and women even in the US. While certain countries are promoting women’s rights and gender equality in the world by criticizing others, they simultaneously ignore the gender inequality that exists in the work force of their own countries.

It is also worth mentioning the fact that the European Union uses an extremely selective policy that attempts to prevent non-Europeans from working in EU countries. The policy states that only specially qualified non-European workers are admitted to legally work in the EU. This discriminatory policy is especially prevalent in the UK.333 Thus, the new EU constitution reduces the common human right, the right to work, to a right exclusively for Europeans.334

Violation of the Right to Freedom of Movement

The right to freedom of movement is declared in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and return to his country”.335 This right of unconditional free movement to the country of your choice is extremely appealing, yet many restrictions exist against it.

First of all, when the concept of selectivity is applied to immigration laws, it creates obstacles for members of less developed countries. For example, European citizens are more or less free to travel to foreign countries without visas. However, members of developing countries may only obtain very limited visas in return, or no visas at all.

Secondly, the right to freedom of movement is usually only enjoyed by members of Western countries. Primarily because of their country’s international relations and financial aid to other countries, citizens of Western nations enjoy an uncomplicated migration system worldwide. However, visas for members of the Third World are only approved after a thorough investigation of the applicant’s educational or financial background, and are frequently refused.

Violations of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Economic, social and cultural rights relate to the conditions necessary to meet basic human needs such as food, shelter, education, health care, and gainful employment. They include the rights to education, adequate housing, food, water, the highest attainable standard of health, the right to work and rights at work, as well as the cultural rights of minorities and indigenous peoples”.336 Without these enumerated rights, human dignity would undoubtedly be endangered. However, worldwide economic and social disparities inhibit some from enjoying these rights, both in developed and developing countries worldwide.

The evidence of these violations can be found in an interesting report of Dr. Sengupta, an expert on human rights and extreme poverty, who serves as an adviser to the United Nations human rights system. He criticizes the USA for being the wealthiest country on earth, while simultaneously having one of the highest poverty rates in the First World. He supported his view by publishing statistics about this disparity. According to him “Over 12 percent of the United States population--or about 37 million people--lived in poverty in 2004, with nearly 16 percent--or about 46 million--having no health insurance,” and that, “38 million people, including 14 million children, are threatened by lack of food”.337 Furthermore, ethnic minorities in the United States suffer an extreme disadvantage, as, “Nearly one in four Blacks and more than one out of every five Latinos are extremely poor in the United States”.

Like the US, Germany has also been criticized by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, Mr. Vernor Munoz, for its segregated school system. Mr. Munoz considers the German system to have “One of the lowest school-integration rates for handicapped children in all of Europe”.338 He also regards it as an obstacle for children from low income and migrant backgrounds in obtaining a good education339.

These sub-standard examples from these two developed nations have a tremendous international impact. When two of the richest countries on earth deviate from the standards of economic, social and cultural rights, less developed nations question why they should be held to these standards.

Violation of the Right of Self-Determination

The right of self-determination is embedded in the Charter of the UN as well as in the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which states, “All peoples have the right of self-determination .… to freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”.

The Covenant also protects free disposition of natural wealth and resources for each individual “without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic co-operation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit, and international law. In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence”.340 This right relies on the individual’s freedom to make choices about their political, economic, cultural and social development.341

The principle of “Good Governance” vs. financial aid from donors

In an academic discourse good governance can be used to better understand the connections among states and societies. The concept of good governance is directly contradicted by the idea of a donors’ financial aid. A donor-driven discourse implies that donor agencies (the World Bank, IMF, etc.) take a leadership role in the countries in which they work. The donor agency is empowered to make decisions on how recipient countries ought to be governed in order to obtain financial aid. The role of the donor agency implies two things for the country that receives aid: democratization and an economic plan that requires maintaining political stability and reducing the country’s poverty. The main objectives of this system were democratization and the insertion of a multi party system worldwide. Furthermore, the donor system was designed to enhance the effectiveness of the national government policy, and to make the recipient countries more accountable in order to guarantee the financial transactions. To avoid misunderstandings, the good governance of a country is measured by transparency, the quality and process of decision-making.

From “Good Governance” to “selectivity” in international aid

External interference in developing countries changes over time, and recently the efforts of donor organizations to alter national methods of governance have drawn many critics. The expected outcome of good governance never materialized, and in most cases the results were less successful than envisioned. Because of this disappointment, the Netherlands decided to redefine their foreign aid policy in 2000. The idea was to reduce the list of countries that received aid from the Dutch by selecting only qualified candidates “with a good governance record as measured by economic performance”.342 Unlike the concept of good governance, selectivity in the international aid fund puts an emphasis on the economy and does not necessarily require a democratic system. Thus, aid funds are not viewed as necessary, but voluntary. This means that it is up to the recipient country to improve its governance structure in order to receive the financial aid. This new trend in policy promises to be more cost-effective and result-oriented; and the US and the World Bank, have tried to reorient their policies around it.

The role of Selectivity in the Modern Political Era

With a clear definition of selectivity as the rational best choice that is based on self-interest, and an understanding of how selectivity can lead to violations of human rights, we can now proceed to analyze the causes of selectivity and its impact on the world.

Selectivity as a Tool of Policy

We must understand the international political arena as a jungle in which only the strongest and cleverest can survive. The international community lacks a centralized authority. As a result the economically and militarily powerful countries easily exercise control over international policy. In addition, these more powerful countries determine how to distribute the limited human and natural resources. Hence, it is very important for weaker and smaller countries to obtain the protection of a powerful country and benefit from the advantages of that relationship. The main problem for these weaker countries is, finding the best choice of a powerful ally that will serve the smaller nation’s best interest. This choice is complicated by the fact that the balance of power has been changing dramatically in the last decades. This change has primarily been caused by the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Eastern block in 1990.

Selectivity and the new balance of global power

With the fall of the Eastern block, the bi-polarity of world power has disappeared and has been replaced by a slowly emerging multi-polar power system. Nevertheless, since there is no central authority to govern all nations, the United States has assumed the role of leader because it is the wealthiest of all nations on earth. However, the economic development of many new countries, particularly the European Union, China, and India, jeopardizes this order.

The strong actor in this new multi-polar power system is China, whose annual economical growth attains up to 8 %343 and whose military expenses are matching this rate of growth. This causes fear. We should not forget that until the 1980s, China was a Third World country, and only the fact that China has undergone a remarkable economical development has raised its ambitions to become a power on the world stage. China’s emerging strength threatens the US domination of international politics, because it is also a permanent member of the Security Council, where it has a big influence on critical global issues and can oppose US decisions and desires. For instance, in case of the Darfur crises, the US criticized the crises as genocide and urged the members of the Security Council to impose sanctions against Sudan. China and Russia, however, refused to recognize the situation in Darfur as a case of genocide. Both countries were obviously protecting their own interests with this decision. Russia had a weapons contract with the Sudanese government, and China was primarily interested in the resource of oil.344

In addition, China’s growing interests in Africa, especially for its natural resources, angers Western societies because Chinese foreign policies often differ strongly from Western foreign policies. The Chinese are known to seek markets, to directly invest in foreign infrastructures, and more importantly, not to be involved in internal political issues. China’s gain of power is not welcome in Western eyes as Chinese values strongly differ, and these differences evoke uncomfortable feelings. To the West, China seems uncontrollable345.

The potential power of Russia is less worrisome than is the growing power of China, though Russia too is slowly regaining its erstwhile strengths.346

Latent instruments of Selectivity

Since there is a lack of a central authority to lead all nations on earth, economically powerful countries have claimed world leadership. The dominance of economically developed countries is facilitated by their dominance within international institutions. There, they have the necessary power to control international politics, including international money transactions and the internal governance of developing countries. The use of those powers can take place in form of persuasion or coercion or “conditionalities”. The IMF together with the World Bank plays the key role on the international stage. The danger attached to the power of those institutions is very high, and unfortunately very few people are aware of the fact that these organizations are benefit mainly the most powerful sovereign countries, and not the Third World.

The Western influence in the UN

The United Nations was founded right after the Second World War, as an independent organization with the ambition of creating harmony among all nations. These nations were required to obey the declarations of human rights and other treaties. Since then, the UN’s main goal has been to promote human equality, justice and freedom in all rights and to provide a peaceful world where every citizen can exercise his or her civil, cultural, economical, political and social rights. Unfortunately, the institution is being hindered in this mission by the principle of selectivity that repeatedly violates human rights.

Theoretically, the UN ought to apply its laws protecting human rights to the law-breakers without considering whether the concerned nation has made a huge financial contribution to the UN, or whether or not it is a friend of a powerful country. Nonetheless, the reality is that UN sanctions against nations, and the use of military force in conflict regions, have always been influenced by the Western political agenda. Because of this the UN’s legitimacy has been questioned throughout the world. Even though from the Western point of view the UN has a positive impact in the world, “in other parts of the world, however, it is no longer regarded in this beginning light. Indeed, it has come to seem an instrument of Western oppression and US hegemony- a club of the big boys intent on bullying smaller countries in the interests of Washington and its European allies.347

The selective exploitation of UN power is made possible by the structure of the Security Council, which has only five permanent members: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The original purpose of the Security Council was to keep all control and power in a closed committee of these Permanent Five to help prevent the escalation of local conflicts into global ones. As long as the absolute veto right will be shared only by a handful number of industrialized countries, the abuse of power will still exist.

The role of the Bretton Woods Institutions

Both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (also known as International Bank for Reconstruction and Development), were originally launched at a meeting at Bretton Woods in 1944, before the establishment of the United Nations itself. These institutions were created to help rebuild Europe, and to avoid future economic depressions. The main task of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is to ensure global economic stability and deal with macroeconomic issues, while the World Bank is assigned to deal with structural issues that effect economic and social development. Despite their different obligations, the institutions have become intertwined over the years, and are criticized for the policy of “good governance” which they require from recipient countries as a condition for assistance in development loans.

The Media as a tool of “Thought Control”

With the technological innovations of the last Century, such as the internet, radio and television, that facilitate a fast exchange of information and news, the media has gained an essential role in international affairs. Given this, the media is being used as a tool of the political leaders to systematically control the thoughts of the masses in different areas. One example is the Iraqi conflict that is being reported in the news on a daily basis. Despite the frequency of the reporting, the only emphasis lies on the American military losses or American military victories. Rarely does the media portray the Iraqi side of the war, or the number of Iraqi civilian casualties and deaths. According to the British medical journal, the Lancet, approximately 30,000 Iraqi deaths were counted just in the first half of 2006.348 Other British studies have mentioned a total figure of well over a million for the six years since 2003. If these statistics are true, they would prove that the media can be used as a tool of mind control. Furthermore, this would prove that an essential part of the Iraqi reality is being hidden from the masses in order to not jeopardize foreign interests in the region by allowing people to question the legitimacy of these foreign interests. Since the Iraq war has been promoted worldwide as a “war against evil”,349 there should be no justification for the killing of innocent civilians.

The Impact of Selectivity in Human Rights

The majority of national and international conflicts today are caused when the principle of selectivity is applied by one side in order to pursue its own national interests. It is also worth mentioning the fact that the West claims leadership and thereby, taking the “responsibility in maintaining the balance of power and Western values around the world”.350 It does this by controlling and steering the internal governance of many countries through the international economical institutions IMF and World Bank. In analyzing this phenomenon, it can be said that there is a “neo-colonialism”,351 that is enforced today by international institutions in order to undermine the national sovereignty of smaller nations. Both IMF and World Bank can thus be seen as actually debilitating the economy in these countries. The gap between the first world and impoverished countries continues to widen. Hence, the growing poverty in marginalized societies leads to mass migration towards more industrialized countries. But supranational organizations, like the European Union, have been adjusting migration policies to stop the migration flow that could negatively affect their national employment market.

Additionally, the accumulation of international conflicts in areas rich in limited natural resources are mostly caused by Western involvement. This has promoted an anti-Western sentiment and especially an anti-American feeling.


One of the main desires of human beings is to live in peace and security, free from war, while enjoying economic prosperity. However, throughout history, many have been denied this basic human urge because of the rivalry and conflicts between nations. Just as in a jungle, only the strongest and cleverest countries can survive and prosper in the international arena. There, international laws are meted out by the economically strongest countries. Because of the preponderant influence of these countries, rules are imposed through international institutions like the IMF that ask weaker countries to follow the principle of “good governance” in order accede to financial aid. This aid includes external and internal support, such as military supplies in conflict regions, or financial support for investing in infrastructure or social areas. Countries that jeopardize Western interests have to face political consequences such as international media criticism about their government and their violence against human rights.

In certain situations, when a weak country challenges Western nations, it can be punished with economic sanctions. Therefore, leaders of weaker nations must have good relations with Western countries if they want to guarantee internal political stability and their own survival. It does not matter whether or not the leaders are committing crimes against human rights, as long as they maintain good relations, they will continue to get support.

The developed countries are especially interested in maintaining their economic growth. This goal can only be achieved by preventing the development of poorer countries, and keeping them as suppliers of raw materials.

If a formerly underdeveloped country, like China, gains a higher level of unexpected political and economical power, a new distribution of global power is inevitable. This new balance of power can help prevent the escalation of international conflicts caused by the principle of selectivity, and should thus be seen as a positive development.

Furthermore, the tendency of powerful nations to fight for their own best interests at any cost often has very negative consequences. That is why many countries are questioning the United Nations and other institutions whose task it was to achieve global coherence among all nations. The absence of such agreed non-selective principles can lead to conflicts and wars, and is not in the interest of any country, weak or powerful.



In recent years, the right of self-determination has become a very divisive subject in the international community. The post-Cold War, and the post 9/11 periods have raised new challenges and motivations in the field of human rights. Emerging ideas in a uni-polar world with an idealistic vision of extending democracy around the globe, promoting good governance, and fighting against terrorism have all become the main pretexts to insert selectivity in the implementation of the right of self-determination.

According to historians, the right of self-determination has surfaced during profound political mutations. In 1776, Americans from the 13 colonies revolted against the British because they did not have the right to decide their own political and social future. That revolt was the core of the American Revolution.

In 1789, during the French Revolution, the right of self-determination was proclaimed as a revolutionary principle of the people against the monarchy. During this era, the right of self-determination was neither a legal concept nor a human right principle; it was considered a philosophical judgment, an inspiration to fight against the monarchy and the tyranny.

The right of self-determination is mainly a moral obligation and a legal right. It is also viewed as a universal political tool to liberate people under colonial rule and foreign oppression. It has been a vital and influential ingredient in the establishment of the concept of human rights in modern international relations.

This concept is basically a Western idea, because it did not exist in other cultures or civilizations prior to the era of colonialism, and it does not exist in Islamic theology.

Since the scourges of World War II, the principle of the right of self-determination is viewed as a vital element for peace and stability around the world. It was incorporated in the Charter of the UN in 1945, though with some ambiguity. Since then, however, this principle has become anchored in international law.

Despite its vagueness and lack of a clear definition, self-determination has been a key factor in ending colonization for more than 80 countries, now full members of the United Nations.

The objective of this paper is to demonstrate that, since its foundation, the United Nations has considered the notion of the right of self-determination as an important aspect of its rationale and raison d’etre.

While observing the advancement of the right of self-determination, it can be seen that it has not been applied equally to all peoples. Rather than being a legal human right under rule of law, many have used it to advance their own political and economic hegemony.

Despite the adoption of several international legal instruments and UN documents supporting the achievement of the right of self-determination, several cases around the globe illustrate the deviation of its application from its original legal framework as an inalienable human right, to a political tool. This paper will illustrate this point with some examples.

Self-determination as a Basic Human Right

Philosophical concept and evolution

According to scholars, the right of self-determination has undergone several periods of its own evolution. The first period started with the Peace Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 where the idea of the sovereign nation-state was initially proposed. Each royal family was authorized to rule on his own territory without any foreign interference. This period ended with the Napoleonic era. The second period then started with the Treaty of Vienna in 1815. A third period can be seen between the after World War I, and particularly after World War II. One could assume that a fourth period is now on its course; and that it started after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

President Woodrow Wilson had raised the notion of self-determination in 1918 after the victory of the allies in World War I. He submitted to the US Congress a fourteen-point proposal designed to establish a just and lasting peace around the world.

His vision was to establish a New World Order enforcing the idea that people should be free to determine their own social and political freedom and way of development. At the same time he anticipated the demise of the German colonial power and suggested that the fate of its colonies should be determined after the conclusion of the war in accordance with the wishes of their populations. This idea raised concerns from some allies who feared that the idea would open a Pandora’s Box in their own colonies.

At around the same time, Lenin raised the issue of self-determination when the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917. He demonstrated to workers and peasants that imperialists were fighting to annex other countries while the Bolsheviks were defending their right of self-determination, and thus it was important to defend the right to independence of smaller countries. For Lenin and the Bolsheviks, the notion of self-determination was not a human rights concept but a political strategy to attract nationalists to join their struggle.

Yet, when the Bolsheviks centralized power under the leadership of the Communist Party and founded the Soviet Union, they conveniently abandoned the principle of self-determination, particularly in the Caucasus and in Central Asia.

It’s important to highlight that during this period the right of self-determination was not yet considered a legal human rights principle but it was still an idealistic judgment. It would become a basic human rights concept only after World War II, as one of the positive ideas formalized after the War.

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