To what extent are Human rights protected in the modern world?

Human rights are rights to which people are entitled by virtue of being human, and it is thought to be universal, fundamental and indivisible. There has been increasing efforts within the international community to enforce more mechanisms and laws to ensure that human rights are protected around the world, this includes the International Criminal Court and UN Human Rights Council etc… There are also thousands of NGO’s around the world which now have a crucial role in protecting and promoting human rights, particularly through their use of the media. However, human rights can only be protected to an extent because these organisations and institutions are limited by their lack of authority to enforce action upon a state. Therefore, state sovereignty and national interest are fundamental within global politics, which impedes attempts to protect human rights.

One of the major developments in the modern world is the establishment of international organisations to uphold and protect human rights. The International Criminal Court (ICC) was founded in 1998, in order to prosecute individuals for international crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. This institution is significant because it is one of the first attempts to strengthen international law, which was formed in response to the horrors that had taken place in Yugoslavia and Rwanda. For example in Srebrenica, Bosnian Serb troops had killed 8,000 Bosnian Muslim, predominately boys and men in July 1995. The most notable figure indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia was Slobodan Milosevic and became the first head of state under international law. This has strengthened the idea of personal culpability for war crime, and may reduce the prevalence of mass atrocities, as leaders around the world recognize that they are not above international law. In addition, there is also the UN 47- member Human Rights Council was also set up to strengthen and promote human rights around the world. It has the role of addressing human rights abuses and making recommendations to states in order to resolve these problems. Through this it is evident that there are now more structured international regimes in place to ensure that the principles of the UN convention on Human Rights are upheld and protected against abuses.

Nevertheless, the abilities of these organisations are severely restricted by their internal flaws. The core issues with the ICC, Human rights council and other organisation is its lack of authority to implement its wishes upon states. For example, they have made several arrest warrants against Sudanese President Al Bashir but he still remains at large. This is because there is a number of Arab government and the African Union have rejected the ICC Darfur case and express their solidarity with Sudan. This means that it is heavily reliant upon cooperation with states for it to be able to prosecute war criminals. It also depends on local law enforcement to reprimand those indicted, therefore Bashir cannot be arrested as he has control over Sudanese law enforcement. Similarly, the Human Rights Council is only able to make recommendation to the General Assembly and Security Council, which means that its successes are very reliant on the cooperation of states, particularly on Great States. It has also been criticised for double standards, as many members within the Council have questionable human rights records, such as Saudi Arabia, Russia, Congo and many more. For example, Saudi Arabia has committed war crimes in Yemen by bombing indiscriminately on civilian concentrated areas, such as schools and hospitals. It could be argued that the states join this Council in order to gain impunity against criticisms for human rights abuses and to pursue national interest. Therefore, this undermines the role of the Human Rights Council as it has members that are violating the principles that they are aiming to promote and protect. In addition, the Council is highly politicized which means that it cannot respond effectively to all human rights violations in the world. The council has also been criticized for being heavily focused on the actions of Israel, which illustrates that it can be highly selective over human rights issues.

Non-governmental Organisations have also played a key role in protecting and advocating human rights at national and international level. There are thousands of NGO’s around the world and are influenced by the liberal ideas that human rights are universal and fundamental to every individual. One of the core roles of NGO’s is to raise awareness about significant human rights abuses around the world through the use of the media and direct action. For example, Amnesty International demonstrated outside the White House on January 2016, demanding the closure of Guantanamo Bay for its human rights abuses against Terror suspects. NGO’s contribute significantly to civil societies as they are able to provide independent information, which increases consciousness about human rights violations. A notable example of this is Human Rights Watch, as they publish annual ‘World Reports’ about human rights violations around the world.   They also use lobbying and meetings with decision-makers to reform laws to strengthen protection for the vulnerable within society. This has been demonstrated by Equality Now, an NGO that focuses on the rights of girls and women around the world. In 2003, their advocacy resulted in Hawaii to pass the first U.S law which outlawed sex tourism. This illustrates that NGO’s can also become heavily involved in law-making to ensure that it protects the rights of all individuals. Through this it is evident that NGOS’s have significantly contributed to the human rights culture through educating and exposing human rights violations around the world.

However, NGO’s are also limited by their inability to force governments to change their ways, therefore they can only use moral pressure to promote human rights protection. This can severely limit the aims of NGO’s because states can use its sovereignty to prevent them from monitoring areas to find human rights violations. Realists would claim state sovereignty is central to the international system and cannot be violated. Human Rights Watch reported on 3 April 2017, that their researchers were barred from entry into the besieged Gaza strip by Israel, which has restricted their ability to report back on human rights abuses. Similarly to other international organisations, they require the cooperation of governments to achieve their goals, for instance NSPCC has been successful due to its partnership with national governments to tackle abuses and neglect of children. Furthermore, funding can also impact the commitment of NGO’s to a cause because supporting controversial issues can mean the loss of important donors. This means that significant human rights violations may not be tackled effectively, as many NGO’s lack autonomy. For example, Sove Lavi, an NGO in Haiti that provides for the poorest has been criticised for not committing to its core aims, because it has made adaptations to appease donors. NGO’s have therefore been criticized for only supporting popular issues within the media, in order to attract funding.

Humanitarian intervention has also become a central feature of protecting human rights in the modern world. The ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) doctrine asserts that it is the duty of states to intervene or provide assistance when there is a risk of large-scale loss of life or ethnic cleansing. This discredits the idea of sovereignty in circumstances when a state does not uphold the human rights of its citizens. Humanitarian intervention can be effective as it can protect citizens from the abuse of their own government, for example the establishment of the ‘no-fly zone’ in northern Iraq in 1991 prevented attacks or even potential massacres against the Kurds after an uprising. It was also successful when NATO military action saved Kosovo Albanians from an imminent attack by Serbia in 1999. It is believed that humanitarian intervention can also create long-term change by promoting democracy in countries under dictatorships and authoritarian regimes. This process is rooted in the idea of liberal interventionism, which asserts that other liberal states have the duty to help liberal movements within repressive regimes. This was seen in the cases of both Iraq and Afghanistan; it was believed that these regimes were brutally oppressing its citizens. In Iraq, the Saddam regime was viewed as a threat towards the Kurds in the north and the Shia population as they had experienced ongoing attacks and exclusion. Therefore, Humanitarian intervention can protect human rights by prevention large-scale attacks, and it can also promote long-term change by reforming governments.

However, commitments to R2P have been abandoned due to its failures, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. These interventions had both turned into prolonged counter-insurgency wars, which had created more problems and increased human rights abuses of citizens. In the present-day many global powers, particularly the USA, have become less willing to intervene because they fear that the same mistakes would be repeated and could damage their global reputation. This lack of willingness to intervene has meant that many atrocities have been able to occur, notably in Syria, which has resulted in approximately 400,000 deaths and 4 million refugees. The response from the international community has been very slow, as the US did not intervene until 2014, when Assad’s regime began to use chemical weapons against its citizens, and when it did, it targeted ISIS abuses not the greater abuses by Asad. There has been no action against the genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingya population and North Korea, as these are protected by Great Powers. This means that the R2P commitment has not been applied consistently to conflicts around the world, and has fundamentally undermined the importance of human rights protection. Furthermore, states committed to realism will not intervene or condemn human rights abuses if their only aim is to pursue national interest, which means that it is crucial to maintain diplomatic relations. A state with significant economic and political influence within the international community can gain immunity against criticism. China’s rapid economic growth has meant that international criticisms against the governments’ abuses of human rights have become less significant. The fact that the principles of R2P have not been applied due to the prioritisation of national interest means that it cannot always ensure the protection of human rights.

In conclusion, human rights around the world are only protected selectively, despite the increasing efforts to form regimes and organisations to uphold international law. There are thousands of NGO’s have been working both at national and international level to protect and promote human rights. In addition, humanitarian intervention can prevent large-scale attacks and reduce the incidences of human rights violations. Liberals also support the idea of promoting democracy through intervention, in order to ensure the protection of civil liberties. However this has proven to be ineffective as it exacerbate conflicts, as seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. Therefore, human rights are still vulnerable as there is a lack of measures in place to implement international law. Global powers also have impunity against criticisms for human rights violations as national interest is central to foreign policy.

Tulay Marashli

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