Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Our "Security" Council

In what is commonly referred to as the "Bible" of Human Rights Law "International Human Rights Law" by H. Steiner and P. Alston, I found the following evaluation of the Security Council that comes from the Human Rights Watch 2000 annual report:

"[As the Council] functions today, with the five permanent members free to exercise their vetoes for the most parochial reasons, [it] cannot be counted on to authorize intervention even in dire circumstances. China and Russia seem preoccupied by perceived analogies to Tibet and Chechnya. The United States is sometimes paralyzed by an isolationist Congress and a risk-averse Pentagon. Britain and France have let commercial or cultural ties stand in the way."

And this refers not to just any institution but to the Security Council instead, the most potent of all, the institution that is all about "security" as it's name denotes.. or maybe not? The Security Council is the international body that can make a difference, that should/would impose sanctions, that should/would safeguard (human) rights, that should/would render justice... Given that we have collectively and deliberately entrusted our fate with this Council, we might as well reserve the right to describe it as we wish: Go ahead and choose the grammatical tense/mode that you prefer, "should" or "would". What is the verdict?

Reference: The Human Rights Watch World Report 2000 quoted in Steiner H. and Alston P. International Human Rights in Context: Law, Politics, Morals. 2nd edition. Oxford: OUP p.652

5 comments:

M. Atitar de la Fuente said...

Great Post...I'm going to link it...

Anastasia said...

thank you!

Pixie said...

The security council has lost its power and influence it seems.This is a bit scary and what is the point of its existence anyway if countries like the USA can do as they please?
Where is the future and who the hell can do something in dire circumstances?
Congratulations for finding this and thank you for sharing Anastasia.

Scott Stirling said...

The UN came up with a Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. I would say it's safe to conclude that it's a worthless document in terms of its practical impact in reality. The American Bill of Rights and, by virtue of its influence on the American version, its British predecessor, have had a much greater impact on reality primarily through the economic and technological successes of its citizens. Imagine the U.S. government trying to create a Bill of Rights today -- I think it would be a doomed effort since our government is pretty busy working its way around the rights of its own citizens, and has always recognized the rights of other inhabitants of world as it suited convenience.

I have wondered about the concept of "rights." Where do rights come from? Do such things really exist? I don't think they do naturally. I don't believe in natural rights. I think rights are a great concept and a great tool for creating stable societies, but I think they are man made and can only be preserved through will, effort, education and, sometimes, violence (or the willingness to suffer violence, as in Gandhi's 'satyagraha' movement, echoed by Martin Luther King and his followers, and rejected by Malcom X).

Anastasia said...

Pixie: I agree, these are questions that we need to confront at some point.

Scott: Interesting points you are making here. Allow me to give my take of the things. First with regard to rights. I believe that individuals are born with rights because each life is valuable and also because I refuse to accept the idea that humans are in a permanent race against each other for survival (even though in practice we often do so!). Regardless of their nature, the fact that they have acquired 'a status' stems from the human willingness to give rights a value/statute. It is true that the concept of 'natural' and hence 'human' rights appeals primarily to those who espouse a religious legacy of the concept (a convincing non religious explanation of 'natural' rights has yet to emerge to the best of my knoweldge). However and as a result of the human experience, humans have somehow concurred with the fact that some acts [what we call violations of rights] are not to be tolerated.

To agree that there are some rights [for stable societies as you argue] does not imply that people also agree how to put these into effect and mutually respect them. This is the consequence of the fact that the Western concepts of rights do not reasonate in other cultures in the same ways, see for example the equivalent of 'duties' for the Jewish people.

Of course education and willingness are intrinsic to the preservation of rights. Violence and other such ways may yield results occasionally but quite often they may have negative consequences including further violations of rights. Is this acceptable? A core principle that runs through this debate of rights and how to preserve them is that of 'national sovereignty vs 'universality'; while countries seem to endorse rights at a universal level they appear reluctant when it comes to implementation.

A final note with regard to rigts is that they are not absolute, they can be counterbalanced particularly when the right of one individual/actor is at the same time a violation of the right of another person etc.

Second, the legislation. The American and British Bills of Rights differ significantly from the Universal Declaration in that they refer to a particular state. If they were made universal I am pretty sure they would be objected by many peoples. The Human Rights Declaration on the other hand is the only document that has a universal validity. It is true that it has not been extremely effective, look at its vagueness to begin with. However it must be noted that it is purposefully made vague so that countries with different value systems can affiliate it with and not object. Finally, while it has not had any concrete result on its own it has created a precedent for respect of rights, what we call customary law, and hence invoked in many subsequent treaties. Prior to the Universal Declaration there were few places where you could find something about human rights 'on paper'.

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