June 29, 2006

Acceptable inequities or violations?


In a world so economically disparate as ours, how can basic human rights be equitable. What would be termed a violation in one nation may be more than acceptable in another. To give an example: a 15 year old in China may be stuffing toys in a 10 x 15 room along with ten other boys, and be thankful for it since it provides a square meal for his family that would otherwise starve. A 16 year old in Ukraine may decide to be a part of the flesh trade as a way out of her impoverished and hopeless situation. In either of the two cases the apparent victim does not perceive himself as one. In fact he is simply exercising his/her natural instinct of survival at all costs. That the cost appears high to a person or persons of stable and flourishing economies in developed nations, is no surprise. However, what is surprising is that it is these persons in developed nations and flourishing economies that have the upper hand in determining the rubric for what entails a human right violation. The UN Human Rights Commission sits various countries that have defined powers, but it is the western nations that hold the vote primarily as member nations, others like Iran are but mere observers. The current controversy surrounding Mortazavi's inclusion in the Iranian Delegation to the UN Human Rights Conference has raised red flags in most of the rich western nations including the USA; understandably so, given his much publicized wrongdoings, especially the one involving a Canadian photo journalist. However, it is not so clear to me how and why Mortazavi can be prevented from attending the conference. Afterall he is one of many appointed by his country to represent it at the conference. Furthermore, isn't it true that the viability of any proposition is only strengthened when the proposition is fairly debated with ample representation on either side. So then if a Mortazavi does in fact accompany the Iranian delegation (even if only as part of the audience) the Human Rights conference stands to gain more credence.

Defining Human Rights on a world wide basis is no easy job. The UN Human Rights Commission, obviously cognizant of that, tries to get a balanced representation from nations around the world, only some of who are members while others are observers. But mere representation will not suffice, because countries deemed in violation of Human Rights are now unlikely to become members or even observers of the Commission, as explained in the previous link. Given this scenario, what are the chances that a North Korea will get a fair hearing on its apparent Human Right violation issue in the upcoming session...

16 comments:

eshuneutics said...

You do like dilemmas! I find your start intriguing. Equality of human rights sort of assumes an absolute morality: this is right; this is wrong. But as you suggest, if morality is relative, then rights become relative. I once gave a copy of Human Rights to a class of children from across the world. It seemd fine to me, but they tore it to shreds. As you can imagine, a refugee from the Rwandan had a different opinion from a Kenyan Catholic. Genocide or abortion? Which had to be included? The right to safety? Or the right to life? Are they both murder? Yet out of this a consensus did come: not a single one condoned torture, invasion of privacy etc. What a good point you make. Who actually did determine the Charter? The wealthy nations at the close of the Second World War. I agree with your other main point too: an argument about an individual only takes away from the issues; and politics does this too often. I found these thoughts very interesting. Your linkage points to wide issues. I must go and think.

nandi23 said...

Then we ask ourselves ,just exactly what are human rights?
It is easy to sit on a pedestal and think that simply because we do not like something another person will dislike it as well.
Throughout the world what is taboo for one may be a blessing for another.
UN needs to become more diverse, to better understand the cultures that exist outside of the West.
This is pretty thought provoking because the world is so diverse, there is a very thin line for diplomacy, before one becomes an intruder.

nandi23 said...

"Saeed Mortazavi has been the most public instrument of political repression in Iran since 2000, when he began a crackdown on the media while serving as a judge."---
Maybe he'll learn something from being accepted into the UN????

starry nights said...

Interesting post. I have read and argued so much about human rights, you are right no one person or country should be allowed to set the standards because what is inhumane to one may be survival to another.we should not be siiting on one end and judging another.

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

This post is filled with very though provoking issues.

Wow.

karmic_jay said...

Very interesting post and made me think. But I am not sure the Ukranian girl going in to the flesh trade does not percieve herself as a victim? Do we really know that?
But I agree that rights are allinterpreted differently by different people, that being said I think there is a sensible definition of these that most people can arrive at.

Id it is said...

karmic jay,
"I think there is a sensible definition of these that most people". I'm not so sure there is any one 'sensible' definition, though I'd be more than happy if a few sensible definitions can be arrived at collaboratively by all nations of the world; "Yet out of this a consensus did come: not a single one condoned torture, invasion of privacy" like what eshuneutics mentions in his comment

eshuneutics said...

This is dangerous territory to tread in: I picture hoards of philosophers making abstruse ethical points. But I sort of sense that choice is the problem area. So, the Ukranian girl might perceive herself as a victim, yet accepts that victimisation to live.
She has chosen to live. Like many oppressed women throughout the world she selects a human right. I thought to myself: no one would select torture...but a masochist would. The right to literacy? Would anyone wish not to be able to read?
The right to privacy? Would anyone desire to have their home invaded?
I am tentative here.

Id it is said...

eshuneutics,
You're right there. It all stems with 'choice'. Now, it's my turn to be 'a bit tentative there'. Is there really a conscious choice-making in the case of the Ukraininan girl? Aren't we mistakenly calling a last ditch effort to survive a conscious choice, and if it is so then what is the other option in question? Death; is that really an option, another way to be if not a child prostitute? The 'human right' you mention is more the natural instinct to survive than a human choice that presupposes thoughtful pondering on the part of the subject in question. I wonder if the above makes sense...

karmic_jay said...

Well except for those who condone torture or invasion of privacy cos it makes them feel safe from "them"?

Id it is said...

Here's the closest I could come to defining a human right:

that universal, non-partisan, life giving shield which prevents an individual from having to make a choice in a life threatening situation

...?

mikey said...

Interesting post and kudos to you for bringing up this topic. We often forget how lucky we are if we were to compare with those who can merely survive because of social immobility.

Recently I saw a video online about Disney's setting up sweatshops in China...it's totally devastating.

What's more disturbing is...human rights are often taken for granted all over the world. For example, gay rights in America are still very restricted if compared to other developed countries. Sad, but true.

Khakra said...

Rooting for the underdog id? :) Human rights issues seemingly is a political bugaboo everytime. It's not the Western nations responsible everytime. The inhumane torture of people in Mongolian prisons at the behest of a politician's orders. Thabo Mbeki denying people the proven triple cocktail to heal AIDS because he believes in some unproven scientific theory. Those are human rights tragedies. It takes the West's political muscle to pressure them a bit to comply with UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Though the Mortazavi issue is a pretty interesting one you pointed out..

Hiren said...

Functioning wise, the UN is basically a stooge of the western powers and reflects their vested interest.It may have done some very good humanitarian work but politics is the same everywhere.

EXSENO said...

This is an awesome post, it gives a relatively limited mind like mine a lot to think about. Thanks. I think every country should at least have their say at such a confrence. Am I wrong? Can't help it, that is how I feel. This is a place where important decisions are made for all, so all should be heard whether they are agreed with or not.

SR said...

Recently, I was reading a book (don't recall the name), in which rights were defined as the flip side of duties, that is, a person has a said right in a society if the rest of society feels it is their duty to preserve that right. For instance, my right to freedom of speech is provided by the (perhaps implicit) decision made by fellow Americans to dutifully protect my ability to say what I want.
In that sense, the issue of human rights becomes deceivingly simple - find what is the largest common set of rights that everyone in the world is willing to defend for everyone else. From that point of view, it only makes sense to include representatives of as many peoples as possible.
A lot of people claim the UN is not a good forum for such talks but, if not the UN, then where would such a discussion take place? On blog comment pages like this one, which are limited to only those who have access to computer and internet? Probably not. NATO? No. OAS? No. ASEAN? No. All these are hopelessly limited forums for talks regarding human rights. Maybe all the regional groups could come up with some sort of regional human rights charters which would be combined at the global level, but that would invariably have to happen at the UN. Therefore, if a discussion of universal human rights is to take place at all, the UN is the most appropriate place for it.