Human Rights Violations and Double Standards
A UN Human Rights Council session in progress.
Rights of all humans or Human Rights are defined as “rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status”. These include “the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and, the right to education”. Each and every living being on earth should be entitled to human rights without discrimination.
Human Rights are known to have seven different characteristics. Universality or the principle of universality states that all citizens of the world are equally permitted to their human rights irrespective of whom they are or where they live. Inalienability means no person is allowed to voluntarily give them up or take them away from any other person unless as per due process. Indivisibility of human rights implies that they are all intrinsic to the self-respect of each human-being. Inter-dependence and Inter-relatedness of human rightsdemonstrates that obtaining a specific right may depend upon another human right. For example, the right to life may be dependent upon the right to health.
Equality and non-discrimination is another characteristic that emphasises the fact that every citizen should be equal without any prejudice due to religion, race, sex or age. Participation and Inclusion characterises how every human being has the entitlement for participation and involvement in civil, political, economic, social and cultural activities. The Accountability and Rule of Law signifies how every governing body must adhere to the acceptable legal frames when dealing with accused citizens and how such citizens have the right to seek appropriate justice before a competent court of law.
The existence of human rights depends upon the enactment of respective national and international laws. Actual morals and beliefs humans hold and the conscience of each citizen also plays a key role in maintaining human rights. In societies which respect and value justice and, act in ethical standards, it is easy for human rights to operate.
The United Nations (UN) can be identified as “the only multilateral governmental agency with universally accepted international jurisdiction for universal human rights legislation”.
The key human rights activities come under the purview of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. It is the duty and responsibility of the High Commissioner to look over any severe human rights violation and to ensure preventive measures are taken place.
International Human Rights Law
International Human Rights Law points out the duties of governing bodies and, the rules and regulations each country should follow with regards to human rights of their citizens. These not only specify the human rights law but also ensure that the fundamental rights of each individual is protected and safeguarded. The human rights law created by the UN can be identified as a code which binds all nations in securing all beings.
According to International human rights law every country and their respective governing body must follow certain obligations and duties which are defined precisely. Accordingly, all governments have an obligation to Respect which specifies that there should be no interference with the human rights of their citizens. The second obligation Protect means that the governments should safeguard individuals and groups against human rights abuses. The third obligation which is Fulfil implies that the governments must proactively work towards ensuring human rights are enjoyed by their citizens. As much as it is an entitlement for people to exercise human rights, it is also a duty of every human being to respect and stand up for the human rights of others.
There are a few treaty-based bodies incorporated by the UN which consist of independent authorities who observe compliance with the stated human rights standards. These are “the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Committee Against Torture monitors, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Committee on Migrant Workers, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and, the Committee on Enforced Disappearances”.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is “an international document accepted by the United Nations General Assembly that preserves the rights and freedoms of all humans”. Even though these are not legally binding, the core of the UDHR has been assimilated into respective international laws, regional human rights legislations, and constitutions of different countries. It has been noticed that it is hard to reinforce these rights legally as a result of absence in agreement on the meaning of some rights.
There are a number of internationally recognized organisations which act on safeguarding human rights with a worldwide mandate or jurisdiction. The main judiciary body of the UN is the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which has worldwide jurisdiction. Another important institution is the International Criminal Court (ICC) which is responsible for inspecting and punishing war crimes, and any crimes against humanity.
It is important to identify the problems encountered with human rights. It is often witnessed how international human rights are being used as a part of various political agendas to criticize or disapprove other nations. Likewise human rights are not considered when certain nations wish to enter into business contracts with another regime or a State. It is a clear indication of how international human rights are used in a covetous nature to fulfil political and economic needs of certain nations and, this can be clearly recognised as a double standard. Some countries are supported while others are scrutinised for the same outlook and actions they possess with regards to human rights.
The issue is the hypocrisy which is associated with human rights. World leaders use double standards and manipulate human rights. Many Western politicians discuss human rights violations without taking into consideration the historical facts and the exact violations the Western interventions caused to the other nations. Many incidents can be found around the world where human rights are violated for requirements of selfish nations who wish to stop or sabotage smaller nations from developing or making progress.
A double standard can be defined as a principle or a rule which is unfairly applied in various different ways to different people or groups who face a similar situation. The similar double standard or hypocrisy can be found around human rights. Many instances are found all around the world where international human rights are used to disguise the dominations of Western nations. The leaders and rulers of Western nations often use double standards with regards to human rights. When a war crime or any crime against humanity takes place in the Global South, it will be highly criticised and condemned by the Global North followed by prosecution, but the crimes they themselves commit are hardly been identified or examined as human rights violations. Many instances where the Western nations in the Global North violate human rights with torture, forced disappearances or civilian deaths are hardly observed by the Global North. This is a clear example of double standard on human rights.
There are four General Tensions which can be used to describe the way the international human rights convey a political nature. Tension 1 is Human Rights and International Peace. In order to uphold world peace, it is necessary to establish human rights in all nations. Having a regulated international human rights law for all nations and expecting to apply it to all countries may create a tension among some states. Enforcing human rights by force in other nations in the name of peace may not be well received by some states and their authorities. Tension 2 is Rights of States to regulate their own political and social affairs free from external interference. With every human right that is established internationally, a duty shall also arise to protect it. However, it must be noted that even if a right is internationally established, a minor violation of that right does not require international concern or intervention. Tension 3 is Individual and Collective Rights. Individual rights as well as collective rights are both considered as important in international human rights. The rights of citizens of a country to live in a safer environment with their rights for development and a peaceful future can be considered as their collective rights. If collective rights are considered as a much needed necessity for a particular nation, then the individual rights of citizens may become subordinate to the collective rights. Tension 4 is Differences between Rights and Goals. A right is always considered as a solid obligation but there may have certain instances where a collective goal can override a right. Many times we have witnessed democratic countries deciding on sacrificing certain human rights in order to ensure social security of their nations. A prime example can be seen as the fight against international terrorism.
Pressure from the West
There are many instances of how international pressure influence human rights, especially the pressure exerted from the Western countries. When looking back at the end of the Cold War Era many theorists claim that the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union was partly due to the pressure bestowed from the West. In the international arena many examples can be found with human rights double standards taking place, where the violations of human rights have been ignored.
Protect human rights
Worldwide there is an increase in the awareness of human rights violations and many nations tend to come forward in showing support towards preserving human rights of all beings. Many international communities extend efforts to promote the human rights of other nations. All around the world there is a significant increase in starvation, extrajudicial killing, illiteracy, maternal deaths, oppression and torture, which needs to be addressed.
In the path of establishing human rights and eliminating human rights violations, it is imperative that measures are taken diligently without any double standards. Nations should pay respect towards each other, irrespective of the size or the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country. The resistance for self criticism by Western nations can be identified as a significant issue when dealing with human rights. The very nations who speak on behalf of human rights conveniently ignore the pathetic history behind Western interventions and the effect it had on subordinate nations. It is high time for Western nations to own up to the human rights violations that they themselves have committed and currently commit. As a result, the world will identify human rights as universal and uncontested which will determine double standards as unacceptable. In order to achieve this, the hypocrisy associated with human rights should be eliminated fully.
All nations must encourage cultural diversity, peace and democracy when observing human rights. Human rights should not be used as simple phrases or tools to apply pressure on other nations. Human rights should produce solid actions of Peace and Harmony for all living beings on Earth.
(The writer is Head – Department of Industrial Management, Director – Business Research Unit, University of Moratuwa)