Declaring Human Rights

With a new World Order where terrorism is being fought at all fronts and the world again being divided in terms of ideology, this time East and West, the nations of the world are striving to find a middle ground where law and human rights are something every nation agrees upon. The democratic West against the religious East is the current basis of dispute and sovereign nations are finding it hard to accept the impositions of laws that go against their societal norms and cultures. This is nothing new.

After World War II the global world began to realize that in order to survive it had to have a set of laws that were followed by every nation, these laws had to work to provide individuals their rights to live without discrimination and abuse. These laws were to be introduced under the banner of the United Nations. Mary Ann Glendon in her book, ‘ A World Made New’ wrote about this law. The law that helps protects the rights of minorities around the world and help the global world achieve a form on unanimous beliefs.

Her thoughts in the book are analytical and controversial and they help to bring to life a time that changed the world and helped bring limits to atrocities being committed the world over. The book reports the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — the document of the modern human rights era. Covering the events of 1946-48, which finally led to the human rights law, Glendon brings alive a time of history that is revolutionary for all of us.

It does not give dry facts, rather it provides intricate details of the people involved in the treaty from the US first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt to Lebanon’s Charles Malik and among others the Chinese philosopher Peng-Chun Chang. The most pivotal theme in the book is that Glendon believes, without reservation that every human has to be afforded the fundamental rights and a law, a global law has to be there that enforces this. Yet, when we read the theory and then live the reality we realize that the Human Rights Law may have been drafted but the dividing forces across the globe make it impossible to be implemented.

Right after the draft of the law the cold war began and the world divided into the Communist and Democratic forces. Neither had the right nor the means to enforce their laws in the other’s territory and merely worked to ensure that they could influence as many territories as possible with their mode of belief. However, while the law may not be enforced the note that Glendon stresses and Eleanor Roosevelt stressed through her life works is that the law must exist. For if the law exists there will come a time when it has to be enforced.

Most nations who do not support a global human rights law oppose it on the basis of cultural imperialism. They suggest it is an act on part of the West to impose its own values on the other nations. Glendon undermines this argument and gives examples of where the Declaration is created through a blend of cultures and at times goes against the US values but in its individuality of rights reigns supreme. While the Declaration may seem idealistic it provides an inspiration to improve.

More countries have signed the declaration with the passage of time and while not all the countries that have signed it meet its standards, the path for betterment is there. In today’s world there are countries like China, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and more that are still violating human rights and refuse to adhere to the covenants of the Declaration of Human Rights and Law. These nations refuse to allow any other nation the right to impose laws within the sovereignty of their borders. Yet, with the Internet, the technological advances that have brought the world closer together such refusals are becoming hard to adhere too.

While the human rights of men, women and children around the world are being abused with the massacres in Somalia, the terrorism in North Korea and the maltreatment of women in Saudi Arabia, there are changes that have taken place. The awareness that was lacking before is growing. The individuals that would never have fought for them-selves are standing up for their rights. Women who never had rights in a Muslim world are slowly gaining recognition. A similar argument is presented by Maritain in his article, “Introduction,” in UNESCO, ed. , Human Rights: Comments and Interpretations i-ix (1949).

Maritain questions the value of inserting a code of human rights law that no one believes in. However, the argument goes onto say that it is impossible to make a group of people with completely different ideologies to believe in single laws. However, the idea of a global human right order is more about the notion of the law. It is about having a group of common beliefs that can be acceptable. The groups can agree on a need to have a human rights law but they would disagree on its interpretation which is where the compromise has to be reached.

Maritain ((1949) writes, “How”, I asked, “can we imagine an agreement of minds between men who are gathered together precisely in order to accomplish a common intellectual task, men who come from different cultures and civilizations, but are of antagonistic spiritual associations and schools of thought…? … not on the basis of common speculative ideas, but on common practical ideas, not on the affirmation of one and the same conception of the world, of man and of knowledge, but on the affirmation of a single body of beliefs for guidance in action.

No doubt this is little enough but it is the last resort of intellectual agreement. It is, nevertheless, enough for a great task to be undertaken, and it would do much to crystallize this body of common practical convictions. ” In the divided world we live in borders maybe closing in but the fact is that people are still individual in their beliefs. Today, we see terrorists commit acts of atrocities which in one part of the world are hailed as acts of mercy while in another part are condemned as acts of terrorism. Where does this complete refraction of thought emerge from?

How can a group of people be so blind as to accept terror as salvation? Glendon and Maritain rightly believe that human life, the value of human life has to be the same in any nation and the right of one individual has to be accepted, regardless of the sex, race, age or religion. However, can anyone realistically oppose it when the very people who are being abused uphold it? Saddam Hussain was a dictator who abused the rights of his nation and yet, when the US entered the nation to ‘liberate’ the people, they were met with opposition.

The people of Iraq may not have seen the actions of Saddam as an abuse. So where the ideological do factors come in where does one nation or group of people have the right to impose the law on others? The world is a diverse place. It is different in every way. The social, economic, cultural and religious factors differ and this creates an imbalance. Human rights and the concept of human rights will remain different as long as these fundamentals are in imbalance. The most crucial factor I believe is economics. When the economics of the nation are in turmoil human rights take a back seat to survival.

Every individual becomes selfish and works to ensure their own safety and survival. This means that the people in power can abuse the rights of the people and there would be a general apathy to the abuse. However, when the basic needs of the people are met and the self-esteem of the people begins to rise there are more chances of the people reacting against any sort of abuse. At the moment the war being fought on terrorism is being made more intense due to the imbalance of the economic structure in the West and East.

The East is composed of the developing nations and the under-developed nations where the basic needs are not being met and so people turn more to ideologies and create a spectrum of injustice. In order for true human rights to be implemented and laws to be proven effective the imbalance of economical structure has to be reduced if not eradicated. People are more willing to react when they have something to fight for, in their apathy they can at times agree to the most atrocious laws. Glendon and Maritain are both correct in their belief that there has to be an ideal that has to be followed.

Glendon is more theoretical in her arguments while Maritain is more practical. He sees the need for a law to exist but he also sees the need for the right implementation policy to be followed and integrated into the law as well. There is no argument to the fact that a human rights law must exist, the argument is on the practical implementation, interpretation and significance. To motivate the nations for a better human rights law implementation we have to ensure that we motivate the people to strive for something more than survival, that is the only way we can implement the ideals of the Declaration signed so long ago.