This month at the UN saw the discussion of three seemingly “human rights” declarations – one on the Right to Peace, one on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas, and one on the Right of Peoples and Individuals to International Solidarity. But why are they unable to garner consensus? And why do so many democracies criticize them either for their lack of clarity, or their outright uselessness?
In a UN meeting on the Right to Peace, several democracies expressed concerns that trying to define such a right would possibly be dangerous to human rights, that it is too vague, that in fact the Right to Peace cannot be recognized as either an individual right or as a collective one, and that it does not reflect any international principles enshrined in the UN Charter.
In a meeting on the Right of Peasants, similar concerns were expressed. The EU stated that it is not convinced that a declaration is the best way forward, that the existing normative framework is sufficient to protect human rights and that the problem is one of implementation. South Korea also had “strong reservations” on whether it was really needed.
The Declaration on International Solidarity is no more promising, containing an array of watery phrases like:
– “…effective international cooperation is essential in order to provide [developing countries] with…means and facilities to foster their…development”;
– “…solidarity is not limited to international assistance and cooperation, aid, charity or humanitarian assistance…”;
– “…the promotion of international cooperation is a duty for States…implemented without any conditionality.”
Fundamentally, it is the individual who is the bearer of human rights. However at best, the document makes sparse mention of individuals and genuine human rights concerns. Can international solidarity therefore be considered a human right?
The original drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was limited to just 30 articles on the most basic principles of human freedom and dignity, but today there are no less than 676 human rights provisions. With the introduction of these new resolutions, human rights are diluted beyond meaning and – much like a currency suffering from inflation – eventually lose their value. As The Freedom Rights Project’s Jacob Mchangama said, “When everything can be defined as a human right, the premium on violating such rights is cheap”.
So the grand question is:
Who really benefits from this over-proliferation of human rights?
The states that rarely adhere to international standards of human rights are the true winners. It is dictatorships such as Cuba, chief sponsor of the Right to Peace; Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Syria – the main proponents of these “third-generation” utilitarian rights – who champion them in order to hide the chronic human rights abuses occurring within their own borders. Why? Because they seek to appear as if they are legitimately concerned about the rights of their people, while concealing the ugly truth and ridiculing the true democracies for not supporting these declarations.
The declarations center around several words that, prima facie, represent the undeniable values upon which human rights are founded – “peace”, “solidarity”, “development”- but in reality mean little for the protection of civil liberties. In advocating them, countries who rarely adhere to international human rights standards are able to laud each other’s ‘successes’ and ‘efforts’ in the Human Rights Council whilst simultaneously avoiding scrutiny for their lack of fundamental human rights. And when democracies such as the US and South Korea refuse to support these inane resolutions, it is implied that they are not supporters of “peace” and “solidarity” but instead endorse the contrary.
The Rights to Peace, Solidarity and of Peasants are examples of how human rights abusers are attempting (and succeeding) to dilute the moral lucidity of human rights and praise each other for doing so, until the whole concept of human rights loses its meaning. It is no wonder that the countries who still uphold basic, fundamental human rights do not support their implementation.
They are simply not human rights.