Sunday, January 30, 2011

UDHR Failure

The international human rights regime. Is it real? I believe not.

The most striking aspect of reading the UDHR (Universal Declaration of Human Rights) is the obvious lack of adherence to it by any nation in the world. This failure is an obvious flaw in any logical extension of the philosophy. To say that there exists something in name only is to say that it does not exist at all.

To elaborate, it is best to dissect the meaning of regime first. Regime can be defined generally as a set of guiding principles or policies that govern a body; an established pattern. Other definitions include regulation or enforcement. Even excluding the regulation and enforcement aspects it is clear that there is no “regime.” Under this very broad and liberal definition of regime, it would be expected that the UDHR would be followed by the signatory nations. Even if not followed in a broad sense, violating nations should constantly strive to define or institutionalize the UDHR. Instead, there is no public debate. In the United States, there is not a large public debate on better forming our legal system to adhere to the UDHR. The US is largely concerned with domestic law and how it conforms to the Constitution. This kind of narrow thinking keeps the UDHR, an international declaration, from gaining traction. It is not part of the domestic debate. Therefore, even if the voluntary gatherings of international elites agree on the UDHR, it does not penetrate to the masses; there is no outrage or political pressure to maintain a standard.

How does the UDHR exist in name only? The UDHR names many rights that are basic and hard to argue with. In fact, for a government to govern a people, they have to give some rights to function. Rights, as a concept, do not drastically alter any day to day function of government, now or ever in the past.

Even small isolated tribes agree to certain rules in their society, guarantees of fairness and security that are essential to maintain order. These tribes do not call them rights, but to compare their society to a modern Human Rights government; the tribe would easily bestow many “rights” already. Rights, as a modern term, are a new description of a very old thing. Nothing was changed in the renaming. There are still huge violations in the international community, there is no enforcement, and there isn't a public consciousness about their “rights.”

The best test of whether a regime really exists would be during times of stress or conflict. If the regime truly exists, it would persevere through transition. Instead, violence and hatred in places like Kosovo, Rwanda, and Sudan have made it painfully clear that Human Rights governs nothing. There is no established pattern; people—in times of conflict the only governing force—do not stay conscious or aware of human rights. Thus there are the typical condemnations from countries without conflict. There is never an attempt to stabilize and maintain human rights from even these outside governments. When the day comes that the conflict ends, there are the typical promises to follow the UDHR, a re-signing or a national speech, but the continued destruction of those rights on a daily basis undermines completely the notion of regime.

I'm not against Human Rights, but I can't be against something that doesn't exist. The discussion in class of the pragmatic approach utterly negates the idealistic approach. Human Rights are or they aren't, and giving nations leeway to say maybe enervates the movement. As long as countries continue to give Human Rights that maybe status there will never be realistic progress.

Sure there are problems of definition. How do we give people the right to life? Does that include health care? I say it does not matter until every country acknowledges that no country is actively trying to fulfill the requirements of the UDHR. We cannot win the race if no one is racing.

Further, enforcement is essential. As long as countries can continue to function without consequences for their blatant and unacceptable infringements to Human Rights, no regime could possibly exist. Governance calls for the governed to follow certain rules of conduct, a rule of law to exist. That Human Rights cannot establish or enforce it to me is a sad testament to its nonexistence.

Its proponents expound the ideals of how such a modern concept could influence the world yet I don't see it. Human Rights language is almost surreal in its utopian expectations as well as trivial in its overly condescending vision of basic rights. I had hoped that there would be more bite to the document. Instead it smacks of lost cause, an orphan in the international community.

I suppose I am ultimately fighting less the document and more the lack of commitment to it. No penalties for violators, no plan for conformance, no pledges to use it, no vigorous debate on implementation, just dead air and ineffective UN delegates. If I were to write such a document, I would have established multiple enforcement tools to maintain it. Without the Supreme Court, our constitution would be meaningless. This is the same way. I am disappointed that this supposed regime is so non-existent.

There is much to improve on in our Human Rights Regime. I look forward to seeing if this semester can convince me of its existence as well as its effectiveness.