To what extent are Human Rights globally accepted?

The concept of human right including principles such as freedom of expression and the freedom of religion became a popular concept, adopted by many nations following the end of the Second World War in 1945. Today, the principles of Human Rights are promoted by many non-governmental organisations who survey abuses of Human Rights globally; many states also act on the international stage in a way to promote the ideas of Human Rights, an approach often criticised by Realist thinkers. However to say Human Rights are globally accepted is wrong as many non-westerners see Human Rights simply as a form of western imperialism and argue organisations such as the International Criminal Court are flawed. Therefore Human Rights is accepted as a fundamental doctrine primarily in western nations.

One argument to suggest Human Rights are seen as globally accepted is the fact that many Non-Governmental organisations such as Amnesty International serve to expose abuses of Human Rights across the globe and encourage states to take on the responsibility of promoting them. For example after increased pressure from Human Rights Watch the US government were forced to condemn the Uzbekistan government for their treatment of their own people. This was despite the US having considerable strategic interests in the country. After repeated criticism, the US had to withdraw its military base from the country. Evidently therefore the concept of Human Rights plays a major role on the global stage. However Realist thinkers would argue this example proves the idea that states should not mix Human Rights interests with International Relations. After leaving Uzbekistan a power vacuum opened up in the country which was eventually filled by Russia. Promoting Human Rights therefore went against US national interest as they lost a strategic source of influence to their competition but also in the long run solidified a regime that abuses human rights.

Furthermore another way by which Human Rights are seen to be globally accepted is the fact that international courts that possess the power to enforce judicial enforcement exist to enforce and prosecute Human Rights abusers globally. The International criminal court established in 2002 prosecute figures no matter what position they hold in their nation. However international courts such as the ICC can only intervene when a national court cannot pursue the case, therefore limiting the extent to which they can actually act. The fact that these courts act on a global stage suggests that Human Rights is a globally accepted concept. Moreover such organisations show a willingness of states to override state sovereignty in favour of promoting and enforcing Human Rights. It can be argued the concept of Human Rights is such a universally accepted idea that promoting it overrides a nation’s sovereignty. Intervention in Kosovo (1999), for example, is evidence of where a nation’s sovereignty was overlooked in order to prevent the genocide of ethnic Albanians. Liberals would argue this demonstrates how Human Rights have become globally accepted and prioritised. Critics however would argue that nations intervene using the idea of saving Human Rights when in reality they intervene to secure political interest. Intervention in Iraq (2003) can be seen as evidence for this. The Western states claimed they were intervening partly to protect Human Rights when in reality it was part of the ‘war on terror’, to attack an ‘enemy’ before they attacked again. Realists would again argue that a state’s primary concern is national interest, therefore universal Human Rights should not guide state policy or be used as an excuse for war.

Furthermore, in many ways the concept of Human Rights are not globally accepted because they reflect the ideological concepts of the west limiting the extent to which they are universal. Some would argue Human Rights represents ideas that have western bias, Critical theorists argue Human Rights have been constructed by the west to marginalise and subjugate the non-western world. Non-western states such as China and Russia would also argue Human Rights are not universal, but are a set of principles established in an international order dominated by the USA. These states would also point to the many Human Rights abuses of western states for example US torture camps such as Guantanamo bay and Bagram, making the principles in many ways flawed and only used when flouted by non-westerners.

In addition the western version of Human Rights cannot be adopted by all states because it is not applicable to their customs and traditions. In Turkey for example allowing ‘freedom of expression’ as defined by the west, would cause internal instability and is not suitable for all countries at different points of development. When arguing whether or not Human Rights is globally accepted it’s important to remember that one reason it is not is because rights may be interpreted differently. Non-westerners may have different interpretations of the principles from that of the western world. The Islamic world, for example, has recently taken mass offense at the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad in cartoons by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Westerners decried ‘freedom of expression’ to be a non-negotiable human right, whereupon others would suggest limits and responsibilities to rights. Russia argues the right to be homosexual is not a ‘universal’ right and suppresses gay rights through the legal system.

The international courts such as the ICC and the Human Rights council are often heavily criticised and highlight why Human Rights are not globally accepted. Many argue the ICC does not promote Human Rights globally because it has a bias to persecute figures primarily from Africa; it therefore fails to pursue Human Rights abusers on an international scale. What also makes the organisation flawed is that it fails to hold the great powers to account for abuses of Human Rights. US actions in Afghanistan and Iraq will never reach the court, nor will the actions of its allies such as Israel.

To conclude the ideas of Human Rights are not globally accepted, because they hold a western bias and cannot be applied to many non-western states. The principles within the Human Rights doctrine need to be representative of the entire global community and its cultures in order for them to be ‘globally accepted’.

Timothy Helps




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