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Monday, March 23, 2009

the crisis of human rights versus national autonomy

As the New Year unfolded, headlines about Israel’s invasion of Gaza were carried by various media across the globe. The bombings reduced many material properties to rubbles. What is more, human suffering was such that 40 percent of the casualties and 50 percent of the injured comprised women and children. Perhaps what was most devastating is the fact that the West, home to modern democracy and capitalist-sponsored social development, backed Israel in turning the dream of Arab/Muslim-West coexistence into a nightmare.
Atrocities like this challenge the conventional notion about the West-born United Nations, the prototype of a world government at present, as an institution that champions world peace among other ideals. Its slow action in the Gaza conflict and its tolerance of Israel’s Western backing seem a legitimate execution of its Charter provision regarding the non-intervention on any member nation’s state of independence. However, this appears to have been done to the detriment of the rights of the affected people. As such, a pressing question is, “Should autonomy of states in the international system be respected even if they violate the human system of their citizens?”
Tackling the abovementioned issue is relevant to the lessons in international relations since the highly globalized affairs of nations render them inseparable from the concept of world community. Hence, if within the international circle there are conflicts that endanger the community’s upheld principles of camaraderie and harmony, the very foundation of world peace is being defeated. The interconnections among nation-states are put at risk if the very elements of such interlink do not apply consensus at the home front.
The abovementioned thesis question to be addressed by this essay boils down to the binary involving autonomy and international relations, with the issue of local human rights abuses as the point of discussion.
The postwar period saw the United Nations’ birth as an avenue for resolving differences in a bid to prevent the eruption of another world war. Its responsibilities broadened since, from helping liberate colonies to performing peacekeeping missions. UN’s interventions like the ones mentioned did not all succeed since member nations disagree on the means to execute the interventions. Also, the UN Charter hinders actions that tamper with the independence of its members. In effect, member countries with internal records of human rights violations against their citizens have received varying degrees of intervention from the international system including the UN. For example, while the UN deployed peacekeepers to protect the ethnic Kurds from the brutality of the Iraqi government in the 1990s, it did not do so during the massacre of a million Tutsis by the Hutu tribe in Rwanda. Also, whereas the North Atlantic Treaty Organization halted Serbs from attacking ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in 1999, the UN was unhurried to do so against Serbs who persecuted Muslims in Bosnia in an act of “ethnic cleansing.”
These human rights abuses that consist of torture and random arrest take place everywhere despite the approval of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, a document entitling all people to fundamental rights and freedoms “without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, property, birth, or other status.” These basic rights comprise the person’s right to life, liberty and security. In 1975, additional basic rights like freedom of speech, religion, and the press as well as the rights to fair trial, to earn a living and to live in safety were guaranteed in the signing of the Helsinki Accords. Notwithstanding, certain countries accusing the West of forcing individualism continue to violate the rights of their citizens, citing that their cultures prioritize the community over the individual. Two years ago, Parade Magazine listed down these countries’ leaders who figured as the world’s worst dictators and they include:
1. Omar al-Bashir of Sudan
2. Kim Jong-il of North Korea
3. Sayyid Ali KhamEnei of Iran
4. Hu Jintao of China
5. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia
6. Than Shwe of Myanmar
7. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe
8. Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan
9. Muammar al-Qaddafi of Libya
10. Bashar al-Assad of Syria
11. Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea
12. King Mswati III of Swaziland
13. Isayas Afewerki of Eritrea
14. Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus
15. Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan
16. Choummaly Saysone of Laos
17. Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia
18. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt
19. Paul Biya of Cameroon
20. Vladimir Putin of Russia
To be specific, Chinese leaders have justified the violation of individual political freedom in the name of economic goals like enhancing the Chinese people’s standard of living. Apart from China, countries like Indonesia, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Myanmar have been accused of imprisoning and harassing their citizens for expressing their thoughts. State-sponsored terrorism like those allegedly carried by Iran, Iraq, Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria happens not only outside these countries’ territories but also at home, intentionally using violence against civilians to attain political objectives through bombings, plane hijackings, shootings, torture, murder and illegal arrests.
In the midst of all these, the international community remains lax in terms of intervening in behalf of local citizens whose individual rights have been abused. It may be that countries like South Africa, Haiti and El Salvador have taken their own initiative to examine previous governments’ violations and Bosnia and Rwanda have answered summons in the international tribunals owing to their war crimes, but by and large, national autonomy and the UN Charter on tamper-proof independence protect tyrannical regimes from being accountable to the international community for their human rights abuses.
Analysis and conclusions:
While the state of global affairs today merits the absence of a universal government ruling over independent sovereignties, a world system like the UN can serve as a leader that has the superior power to perform an important component of international relations: foreign intervention. The ambiguous movements of the UN every time any of its member countries gets monitored as having perpetuated human rights crimes does not make it effective as an international system tasked at creating and sustaining social order. There is no social order (hence, there is dispute, conflict or chaos) if somewhere in the supposedly free world, individuals are jailed for speaking their minds or governments wield iron-hand rule over their subjects. Obviously, the United Nations came into existence in order to prevent wars, and this might include conflicts at the grassroots level. Corollary to this, the basic human rights of people enshrined in the UDHR document should be upheld at all cost, especially if the governments subjecting these people under tortures of whatever form are distorting their privilege of national autonomy.
How can interventions be done? It has been conducted before by the international community that pressured South Africa into dissolving its law on the apartheid under the pains of economic deprivation. For fear that global aids will halt and the government goals will be paralyzed, South Africa had grudgingly surrendered to said pressure. Also, in the works now is the economic paralysis of Zimbabwe if and when its dictator will continue to whip his genocidal madness onto the citizens. The UN is vigorously voting for the curtailment of economic aid to that African government, although China and Russia as well as Zimbabwe’s staunch supporter South Africa back it up with the invocation of the UN Charter on the upholding of Zimbabwe’s autonomy. Nonetheless, the above cases prove that with international relations in priority, a global system can actually materialize a significant action toward the greater respect for basic human rights than for national autonomies that ironically suppress the liberties of their citizens and, ultimately, that do not take seriously the principles of United Nations.
For as long as these despotic governments operate unlawfully, there will be citizens who get victimized by social injustice, eventually defeating the purpose of the UN as a global peacekeeping institution. What is more, by tolerating dictatorships into using national autonomy as an excuse to place community interest above that of civilians, the international system becomes an accomplice to the heinous crimes committed against humanity.
Al-Saeed, Abul Rahman (February 16, 2009). “Revive the Saudi Peace Plan.” In Newsweek, Vol. CLIII, No.7.
Ellis, Elisabeth Gaynor and Anthony Esler (2001). World History: Connections to Today. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Farah, Mounir and Andrea Berens Karls (1999). World History: The Human Experience. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Muñoz, Heraldo, ed (2006). Democracy Rising: Assessing the Global Challenges. Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc.
Saffell, David (2002). Civics: Responsibilities and Citizenship. New York: McGraw Hill.

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