T6 – Colliding Futures

A true human rights future is not inevitable – even though some such future is a certainty

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T6 intro – audio transcript.

Only True Human Rights Should Be Universal

During the past week, three potential human rights futures have been on show.  Each is not impossible, and must be fought against with all the energies human rights activists can muster.

The Bush Doctrine

According to the former president of the United States George W Bush, there was nothing wrong with water-boarding suspected terrorists, in other words with simulating in them the imminence of drowning so as to secure information.   To the former President this was either not torture, or if it was the lawyers had told him it was okay, or even if it wasn’t okay then ‘so what, it saved many lives’.

Three of Stan Cohen’s states of denial wrapped into one package of self-justification!

The fact that at the same time the then President was pushing a strong line on human rights around the world  –  a line that at least in part underpinned military action in Iraq – was neither here nor there.

This is one of our potential futures: human rights as the servant of an imperial-style power, the term used as past generations of powerful leaders have used ‘Christian values’ or ‘crusades’ or ‘civilising mission’ – a way of sweetening self-interested aggression for the more squeamish folks back home.

Local Trumps Global

China signed up to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1998.  It accepts the UN’s system of universal periodic review.  Even its constitution now declares (in article 33) that ‘the State respects and guarantees human rights’.

But China’s acceptance of human rights is so minimally à la carte as to be ethically anorexic.

Open (as opposed to staged) elections are nowhere to be seen, with the country’s leaders landed on the people without prior debate or discussion.  Ethnic unrest (as in Tibet in 2008 or Xinjiang in 2009) is ruthlessly put down.  The rule of law fades away whenever it threatens the commercial interests of the powerful.  Freedom of expression is savagely punished: Nobel prize-winner Liu Xiaobo is only the most famous (and perhaps also the most scandalous) of those jailed for speaking out for citizens’ rights.  Over all efforts to secure human rights hangs the spectre of  Tiananmen Square, with the unspoken threat ‘yes, we would do this again’.

My Common Track Five on Asian Values, China and Human Rights, released today, looks at these issues in greater depth.

China is not opposed to human rights: it merely wants them on its terms.  A dedication to ‘Asian values’ commits to a belief in human rights that puts harmonious living above individual liberty and looks to the collective welfare over the rights of this or that person.

Insofar as China is concerned, this local certainty about what human rights entails effectively flows from the Communist Party, unmediated by input from civil society (if there were any) or rival visionaries (if these were permitted) or opposition parties (if any were countenanced).

As China grows stronger in the world, expect human rights as an idea not to disappear but rather to be subject to increasing efforts to force it into a shape agreeable to the local elites whose harmonious life and family welfare are massively advantaged by this highly particularised brand of human rights.

Bandits In Burma

Even the Junta that runs Burma (or Myanmar as they call it) think they can now risk playing this human rights game.  Aung San Suu Kyi has been released.  The generals have committed themselves to ‘disciplined democracy’ – but this is much as an arrogant school teacher would host a discussion in which only compliant pupils are let into the class room and any student who disagrees gets beaten up. According to the UK’s annual human rights report the place remains among the most repressive on earth

But this does not stop the country’s new constitution

  • speaking of striving for the ‘further burgeoning’ of ‘the eternal principles namely justice, liberty, equality and perpetuation of peace and prosperity of the National people’.
  • promising to ‘uphold racial equality’ and to administer justice ‘independently according to law’
  • guaranteeing every citizen ‘the right of equality, the right of liberty and the right of justice.’
  • devoting a whole chapter (chapter eight) to ‘Citizen, Fundamental Rights and Duties of the Citizen.’

Burma is also a member of the regional Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and theoretically committed to human rights as a result, though pressure from that body has hardly impacted on the Junta.

‘Hey, this human rights thing is easy once you get the hang of it,’ you can imagine these generals saying to themselves – and being supported by China when they do so.

And Then There Is A Fourth Model…

Russia stands ready to demonstrate how cynically human rights can be worked and abused within even the sophisticated (or supposedly sophisticated) European system.  A member of the Council of Europe, Russia subscribes to the European Convention on Human Rights and submits to the judgments of that treaty’s oversight court, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Yet Russia appears able to engage in violent action against a Council of Europe neighbour (Georgia), while being incapable of protecting the series of investigative reporters whose deaths have made the country one of the most dangerous in the world for independent journalists.  Cases that reach the European Court of Human Rights show a police system which is recklessly disregardful of the rights of those drawn (for whatever reason) within its orbit,  Sokolov v Russia for example, a case decided just a couple of weeks ago.

If you are a country that is too big too fail in human rights terms, then it seems you never need to even try to succeed.

Which Of These Futures Would You Choose?

It is important that we regard none of these as inevitable or right. To a greater or lesser extent they all represent flawed versions of the human rights ideal.

The work we have done in earlier tracks in this project equips us to spot bad faith in action.

None of these versions of human rights is driven by an empathetic engagement with the plight of individuals or their communities.  There is precious little genuine ‘giving’, rather the pursuit of (to use Favio Farinella’s idea from track five) ‘bad givers’. The goal is to preserve inequality and to safeguard selfishness.  President Bush’s approach comes closest to a true human rights perspective but even here his pursuit of moral ends (democracy; the rule of law; human rights) has lost sight of the individual and in the process become either a crude kind of utilitarianism or a cover for the exercise of conventionally self-interested state power.

And what happens if you try to be a brave ‘taker’, an asserter of your human rights, in China, in Burma, in Russia?

The question needs only to be posed for it to be immediately seen how difficult, indeed dangerous this is.  None of these political cultures allows the kind of struggle for human rights that should be part and parcel of a human rights culture.  The British prime minster visits China while mass demonstrations occur at home over his challenge to the right to education.  Far from showing weakness, this reveals a great strength of the democratic system: the confidence inherent in it that the system can survive the pressures put on it by the divisive application of policies, and that those policies must always be capable of being tested in open discussion, not only within the legislature but on the streets as well.

Asserting Universal Human Rights

With the work of earlier tracks behind us, we can say with a degree of confidence that for various reasons explored in track one in particular, the world has stumbled upon a form of government which produces the best outcomes for its peoples: it combines a respect for the dignity of all with a commitment to representative government and a guarantee that that government shall be conducted in accordance with the law.

Of course no system is perfect, and nor is any country seeking to exemplify any such system (defective or otherwise) in action.

We live in a flawed world, where we do the best we can with the tools we have got.

And that means rooting for representative government (democracy) with proper respect both for the dignity of the individual (human rights) and for the independence of those charged with administration of the law (the rule of law).

This is a true human rights approach to governance and it is universal, being evidenced through history at many different places in the world.  Sparks of it exist everywhere across the world today.

If China wishes to criticise Britain’s system of government it is welcome to do so: which bits would it like us to have: the one-party state, the death penalty, the controls on expression, the jailing of dissidents?  If dialogue is meant to be a two-way conversation, then democratic Europe is not afraid of any criticism that the Chinese might muster.

And Russia?  Is the country at a crossroads or is human rights a mere smokescreen for growing state tyranny?  The answer may well be a bit of both. The Council of Europe needs to be a partisan for the better bits of Russian governance in the hope that the good gradually expels the bad, making it a distant memory of the post Communist turmoil rather than the overwhelming truth of today.

Once we know what true human rights entail, we can avoid the various bad faith visions that are offered to us, and assert the importance of human rights without fear of being knocked off our stride by accusations of colonialism or double standards or an addiction to partisan ‘western’ values: see common track five.

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18 Responses to T6 – Colliding Futures

  1. Paul Bernal says:

    Sorry to bring religion back into it again, but I wonder if some of the reticence shown in the West (where Christianity has at the very least been part of our culture for centuries) to be brave enough in asserting human rights comes from our memory of Jesus’s suggestion to those wishing to stone the woman caught in adultery. ‘Let him without sin cast the first stone’. We’re all very conscious of ‘our own’ failings – and thus feel as though we’re disqualified from accusing others. Can I, as someone from a country which has an imperial past and a present punctuated with illegal wars and accusations of torture, possibly tell another country that they shouldn’t be putting people to death, shouldn’t imprison those who criticise their regime and so forth?

    The bottom line for me is that we should be brave enough to admit our own failings. If we can do that, then we’re in a much better position to suggest that others do the same. In our politics, admitting to mistakes seems an almost cardinal sin.

    • Alex says:

      I think this is a very valid point, but similarly we shouldn’t neglect the fact that having been an imperial power, we no longer have the same force on the world stage we once did. Yes we’re still an influential economic force, and have the ear of several larger states, but to be so naive as to think that totalitarian states such as North Korea, or even somewhere such as China, would be willing to listen to our nagging about their human rights record is ludicrous. Besides, which PM or Foreign Secretary would have the nerve, backbone and sheer bravado to deal with super-nations such as China and Russia in a stern manner when they have so much to potentially offer economically?

      Unfortunately, potentially upsetting the economic boat (especially in times such as these) for the sake of human rights is unlikely to be a vote winner amongst target demographics. Unless a wider body such as the whole of the EU or UN etc is willing to enforce sanctions to ensure that human rights are defended world-wide, I sincerely doubt that anything could be achieved by a few uncoordinated attempts by the ‘old power’ countries of the West.

      • Paul Bernal says:

        Well, I agree in terms of the political might of the UK on its own, but isn’t one of the many points about human rights that our voices can function more effectively as part of larger groups? In this case, if the UK’s voice is added to the rest of the EU, then doesn’t that count for more? And then the rest of the world? And add the NGOs?

        • Alex says:

          Absolutely Paul, but my main reservation is this: who out of the current crop of politicians would have the strength of will to not only take the first tentative step, but be willing to keep walking the tightrope?

          Somebody high up in world politics needs to go first, after that they can quite easily take a back seat to the larger groups, as you say. Before that however, there needs to be an appreciable level of public will amongst target groups for politicians.

          I know this sounds dreadfully cynical, but it’s probably best to assume the worst and potentially be pleasantly surprised when it comes to the bast majority of politicians.

  2. All four kinds of threats to a ‘good faith’ notion of human rights identified by Conor may be reunited in one: Power. Power as a deviation from human rights. Human rights need power to become effective. No matter who exercises it, decision making power will inevitably be the greatest human rights antagonist.

    First, democratic power -as inherently limited- is the less suspicious. The Bush doctrine or any other set of ideas of the kind could be a great menace since it is an illness that comes from inside and may end rotting the whole social body. But these consolidated democracies have human resources and institutional mechanisms to confront it.
    Second, authoritarian power (disguised in Chinese ‘Asian values’ or Burmese ‘fake democratic discourse’) constitutes a threat not because of its flagrant violations of fundamental rights that are consequences of the adoption of those particular ways, but because these human rights’ despisers simulate to accept within their jurisdiction a human rights discourse while they void it from its very spirit in real practice. So, the most convenient -and political- way to deny universal rights seems to be not to claim it openly, but to embrace one’s own -relative- approach (Asian values, different and progressive generations, hierarchies of human rights, etc. what allow us to select rights à la carte).
    Third, a so called democratic Russia represents a threat because it receives the treatment due to a ‘convert’: we are so glad with its democratic conversion that during the transition there is no place to start criticizing and complaining about manners and attitudes. What if she changes again?

    Empathy and struggle may adopt so many forms as the power they have to confront and the context where the conflict takes place. The level of violence is determined by the kind of power that brave takers should confront.
    From mild actions performed by good givers and brave takers to a less moderate kind of responses that still are democratically acceptable under newly democratic regimes (such as Russia, but also Venezuela and many others) which still retains much of former authoritarian practices, and ending in (maybe) the open use of force to combat relativists ‘bad faith’ approaches (China) and fake human rights discourses (Burma). In this last case, political violence will be the expression of international legality through the application of the IL principle of self determination, but also to enforce the obligation to respect universal human rights. To accept to discuss universal values means to deny human rights.

    And finally two ideas more about ’empathizers’ and ‘strugglers’ (or good givers and brave takers).

    First, are they inherently different or is it only a matter of intensity of actions? Good givers may be thought to be located outside the problem (for instance Europeans with respect to the Burmese), while brave takers are real victims of the system. This could be true but I think that every society has both. They differ from the grade they consciously dare to confront Power, the dividing line being the use of force.

    Second, is there any community of interests among abroad and domestic ’empathizers’ and ‘strugglers’ ? Are each type suppose to behave in the same way?. I think there is a vital difference between foreign givers and takers and the domestic ones.

    Empathy and struggle are basically domestic feelings. Criminal violations will shock people within the territory, but they may easily pass unnoticed to the rest of the world, unless there will be a campaign to reveal some kind of specific violation (from a cultural crime like sexual mutilation to a political one as the case of enforced disappearances).
    Even after proclaiming universal rights, the level of compromise of the average individual is constrained by /and restricted to his/her region, maybe the state at the most. Our utilitarian capitalist democracy has few time for universal solidarity (which is strongly needed to make human rights real). It seems that the farther the violation occurs the weaker the feeling. Moreover, empathy is a passive feeling since it demands to assume the obligation and to do something about it, such as writing a letter to a newspaper. Anyhow the action remains basically symbolic. On the contrary, struggle demands positive action and some wished outcome.
    This is just to say that at a first glance, empathy and struggle appear as connected to local problems first, and even when we proclaim the universality of human rights, we are far from proclaiming the same as regards that feeling of solidarity that we need to become ‘foreign’ good givers and brave takers and thus make human rights universal.

  3. Zoe Fiander says:

    Some important practical points being made here.

    It strikes me that as UK citizens, we’re perhaps a little hasty to lump ourselves into the box of ‘good givers’ (and ‘good givers’ should not be allowed to become ‘lax preachers’!). Paul’s point on failings is important. It’s difficult to argue for human rights without doing so – implicitly it lays the foundations for the Chinas and the Burmas and the Russias – and sadly, probably more to come. It’s all very well for Britain, the US et al to stand up and say, oh yes, we think human rights are important. But if we’re still engaged in waterboarding people, the argument is really only ‘human rights are important, except where they conflict with another part of our agenda’. Which, at its core, is no different from any other qualified or co-opted vision of human rights. It talks the talk but it doesn’t walk the walk. Which dilutes the very essence and sets a precedent for further dilution. So fixing this should be a priority, and we’re not necessarily in the role of ‘good givers’ if our own democratically elected government is still engaged in torturing people. We should think of ourselves more as ‘brave takers’ and consider what it is we can do if our government is arguing the way to protect us is to torture people for intelligence. After all, who else is going to do the ‘taking’ in this sort of situation?

    (The alternative, unpleasant argument is that the scope of the right to be free from torture should not be thought of as absolute and we were wrong to think this – but I don’t think anyone wants to be drafting in clauses sanctioning torture in specified situations…!)

    Incidentally, I don’t think past history of imperialism or atrocities has much bearing on respecting human rights in the present. For sure, these things are regrettable and deserve to be acknowledged, but they can’t be changed and it would stifle progress if every state (that is, probably all of them) that had been responsible for human rights violations felt themselves unable to promote human rights on that basis.

    • Zoe Fiander says:

      I said ‘as UK citizens’ – that’s sloppy, many people here are probably not!

    • Zoe Fiander says:

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/nov/16/torture-human-rights – this sort of thing (the settlement) goes some of the way – but counts for very little if the practice continues. Conor writes “assert the importance of human rights without fear of being knocked off our stride by accusations of colonialism or double standards” – it isn’t simply an accusation of double standards, the double standard really does exist if the same governments we expect to promote human rights on the world stage are busy torturing people in secret. Thus, only two ways forward: a) acknowledge the breadth of the universal vision was flawed and/or some rights are not absolute, or b) remove the double standard.

      In practice it may be unrealistic to expect every single piece of state apparatus to comply with human rights all the time, but it is one thing for inadvertent breaches to occur (and be appropriately remedied) and quite another for states and their governments to preach human rights while actively sanctioning selective breach.

      • Paul Bernal says:

        Whilst I agree with almost all of what you say, a question immediately springs to mind for me: Who are the ‘we’ who are engaged in waterboarding?

        Certainly it would be hard for the UK government to appear anything but hypocritical if they allow waterboarding by UK forces while accusing other nations of abuses, but would that also apply to UK NGOs, academics and individuals? Are ‘we’ all tarnished by what is done ‘in our name’, even if we was individuals or in groups protest, disapprove, and so forth?

        Also – but unconnected – isn’t there a question of proportion here? Yes, things like waterboarding are atrocious – but surely what is done by the UK security forces pales into insignificance beside what is going on in places like China or Burma? Yes, we need to oppose it, to expose it, to fight it – and encourage and pressurise our politicians to do the same – but to feel that the fact of it is sufficient to prevent us from speaking out about what happens elsewhere is surely disproportionate.

        I don’t want to let us off the hook for what is done in any way, shape or form – but equally I don’t want our own faults to be used by others to excuse their own.

        • Zoe Fiander says:

          Yes, you’re right to pick these things up. I considered mentioning that there are degrees of harm but got distracted in the course of writing!

          On the ‘we’ – I think it’s the point you hint at, whether or not these acts are done with our consent (active or passive) that means they are done in our name/that we are complicit. Of course, we live in a representative democracy, and it is not necessarily easy to assert our lack of consent. Plus there is rarely an ideal way of doing things available.

          For groups like NGOs and individuals with a level of visibility, I think it is actually easier in some respects to assert lack of consent – and perhaps more likely that people will take notice. If you’re a UK NGO which is active in campaigning for human rights then it doesn’t seem unreasonable to be expected to speak out against/campaign against the use of torture by your own government. (This is all rather obvious!) You should only be held to account against the standards you could reasonably have met. (And not saying that what is ‘reasonable’ is easy to pin down!)

          On proportionality- yes, absolutely, in practice there is a question of degree and if we compare the harm created by isolated breaches to systematic suppression of rights – it’s a no-brainer.

          The reason I was hesitant to get into questions of proportionality and the relativity of the moral standards we’re held up to when judging complicity with breaches is partly a practical one. There’s a slippery slope there which is maybe the same slope that can be used to argue the breaches were not true breaches, that it’s a different ‘vision’ of human rights etc. And the sad truth in politics is that nuanced messages presented as nuanced messages rarely have much success. Politicians campaign best in primary colours, not shades of grey. So on the surface of it, at least, I think the slippery slope is worth avoiding!

          • Paul Bernal says:

            The question of proportionality is indeed a thorny one – but I think it has to be grasped. I’m not sure how to grasp it though!

          • Zoe Fiander says:

            While wearing thick gloves (sorry!!)

            I think it is OK to admit the topic (in fact, I think it has to be admitted on some level) but I think it doesn’t work well as part of a political campaign, if that makes sense. To what extent it genuinely undermines the idea of human rights – not sure!

  4. Wenwen Lu says:

    The events of the last decade, especially states’ reactions post-9/11, matter because they have significant consequences for human rights. There will be occasions where some of the rules are wholly inadequate, occasions when states face real threats of terrorism and may justifiably feel the need to dispense with the rules and go it alone. Such practices are extremely dangerous for large and powerfully states, as they feel that they can pick and choose the international rules/individual protections they like and discard those which they do not.

    Yet that has been the approach adopted by the Bush Administration. If you begin to discard unilaterally with the rules you do not like – on human rights, on the Geneva Conventions, then the rest might also begin to discard the rules they do not like – on trade, on intellectual property. If the US has sent out a message that they consider protections of suspects to be obsolete and incapable of meeting new urgent paradigms posed by terrorism threats, they prevent themselves from challenging others who then act in the same way (indefinite preventative detention without charge would be a good example).

    As to the debates over human rights in China, some thoughts from the perspective of a Chinese might help. At first, I did not understand Beijing’s extraordinary efforts to repress the Charter 08, and I was startled at the length of Liu Xiaobo’s sentence. Then, I realized it must come from a deeper worry that the Charter 08 movement might someday tap into, and give shape to, the every broad and deep currents of discontent that have been coursing through Chinese society. What Beijing fears most is a marriage between manifestos and the masses; if protesters and intellectuals were someday armed with Charter 08, and realized that these rights and liberties are natural and non-derogable, then men who rule China could face a challenge of truly nightmarish scale.

    On the one hand, the state authorities have been behaved in quite an absurd and inappropriate way. China’s strong economic performance during the global financial crisis has been a morale booster to the CPC. On the other, thanks to the Internet, Chinese citizens have acquired the technological means – although not yet the full legal protections – of free speech. Unrest in China has occurred over issues such as corruption, official privilege, land confiscation, tainted food products, air and water pollution, and of course, respect for fundamental rights and liberties. Such problems may now draw tens of millions or even hundreds of millions of protesters, and the resultant uproars have sometimes forced the hands of officialdom.

    So it is not quite true that China is rejecting human rights, as Prof. Gearty already pointed out; rather, Chinese citizens are fighting over them. In fact, recently, the question of human rights, freedom, democracy and the rule of law has turned into such an intense internal discussion, dividing scholars, the media and even, some analysts believe, China’s leaders. The Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao is seen by many as a supporter of universal human rights. That’s why I have genuine faith in this state’s future, given that there are so many people broke the silence and cared about the state.

    • Paul Bernal says:

      The question for me is how supporters of human rights outside China can best support those inside China who are struggling to assert their rights. Should be lobby our governments to make more noise? Should we work through NGOs, the media and so forth? Or should we leave the Chinese human rights advocates to do it themselves? Ultimately the change will have to come from within, but how can that change be best supported?

  5. Christina says:

    A true human rights future is not inevitable – even though some such future is a certainty

    I’m with Zoe. Please could we have some more women contributing to this debate?

    I want to keep coming back to two themes.,

    Lliberty and Human Rights start at home.
    Yes human rights should be global, but here is where we live and are responsible and have the power through our elected representatives to make the rights possible.
    So the equal pay act was passed in 1968, and has yet to be implemented. 85% of the new cuts will affect women. Women and children first. How a society treats its weakest and most vulnerable is how it will be judged. (Anne Owers chief inspector of prisons)
    Trafficking affects women and children and children and some men, and terrorist detention of 28 days affects the liberty of untried individuals, as does control orders not much different to that of Aung San Suu Kyi
    The UN resolution 1325 to stop violence against women and girls 10 years ago has yet to be applied.
    http://www.un.org/events/res_1325e.pdf
    A meeting in the house of lords this week celebrates the united nations VAWG, but mentioned in the broadsheets? No. I can confidently predict that it will not be reported outside the palace of westminster.
    Where are the women MPs? Where is women’s representation? the poverty cuts in removing housing, will be dis -enfranchising many women
    Life, liberty, freedom from torture. All of these rights are traduced in trafficking of any kind, be it sex or domestic, and the same applies to violence against women. So these rights can be rolled into one , and attempt to assert these rights on behalf of the un-enfranchised.
    Across Europe there is some awareness of, in particular, the sex trade, and countries are able to co-operate. Many organizations are apprehensive about the increase of sex trafficking during the Olympics, so we have an opportunity to raise awareness ,. If we succeed we raise the bar across Europe and set a standard from which we can criticize China and the rest of the world.
    Eventually and reluctantly, Australia passed legislation, and more importantly prosecuted the sex travelers who went to Philippines, this is an example of starting at home, but with a global reach and impact.
    http://www.philippines.embassy.gov.au/mnla/medrel0308.html
    While women have such little representation in the media, and are portrayed as sex dolls through the “selb” culture, we perpetrate this loss of rights
    When the pensions in France were threatened , the people took to the streets. When the pension in England were raised, with maximum impact on women, no one noticed, and no protest was made.
    The other 3 rights I consider to be key are: education, access to water, and health, I have set aside for the moment, as the above are not just achievable, but attainable and can be promoted through and around the games, while the world watches. Are any of these ambitions not about human rights? Are any of these not “the truth”?
    A true human rights future is not inevitable
    “When they came…”
    Start at home; start with trafficking; start to make it happen. the question is how to be maximum effective.
    finally to quote from Conor track 6
    We live in a flawed world, where we do the best we can with the tools we have got. And that means rooting for representative government (democracy) with proper respect both for the dignity of the individual (human rights) and for the independence of those charged with administration of the law (the rule of law).
    representative democracy…doesn’t ignore women
    dignity of individual, women, abused chidren, terrorist suspects under detention,
    rule of law? apply the equal pay act.

    • Paul Bernal says:

      Perhaps I shouldn’t comment, but though I agree with almost everything you say – and agree wholeheartedly that ‘liberty and human rights begin at home’, does that mean that they have to end at home? Or, more to the point, that we can only do one thing at a time? Shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to change things at home and doing what we can to help people change things elsewhere at the same time?

      What’s more, if we wait until everything’s sorted out at home, we’ll wait forever. I don’t want to have to wait that long.

  6. Christina says:

    A true human rights future is not inevitable – even though some such future is a certainty

    I’m with Zoe. Pleas could we have some more women contributing to this debate?

    I want to keep coming back to two themes.,

    Lliberty and Human Rights start at home.
    Yes human rights should be global, but here is where we live and are responsible and have the power through our elected representatives to make the rights possible.
    So the equal pay act was passed in 1968, and has yet to be implemented. 85% of the new cuts will affect women.
    Women and children first. How a society treats its weakest and most vulnerable is how it will be judged. (Anne Owers chief inspector of prisons)
    Trafficking affects women and children and children and some men, and terrorist detention of 28 days affects the liberty of untried individual, as does control orders not much different to Aung San Suu Kyi
    The UN resolution o1325 to stop violence against women and girls has yet to be applied A meeting in the house of lords this week celebrates the united nations VAWG, but mentioned in the broadsheets? No. I can confidently predict that it will not be reported outside the palace of westminster.
    Where are the women MPs? Where is women’s representation? the poverty cuts in removing housing, will be dis -enfranchising many women
    Life, liberty, freedom from torture. all of these rights are traduced in trafficking of any kind, be it sex or domestic, and the same applies to violence against women. So these rights can be rolled into one , and attempt to assert these rights on behalf of the un-enfranchised.
    Across Europe there is some awareness of, in particular, the sex trade, and countries are able to co-operate.
    Many organizations are apprehensive about the increase of sex trafficking during the Olympics, so we have an opportunity to raise awareness ,. If we succeed we raise the bar across Europe and set a standard from which we can criticize China and the rest of the world.
    Eventually and reluctantly, Australia passed legislation, and more importantly prosecuted the sex travelers who went to Philippines, this is an example of starting at home, but with a global reach and impact.
    http://www.philippines.embassy.gov.au/mnla/medrel0308.html
    While women have such little representation in the media, and are portrayed as sex dolls through the “selb” culture, we perpetrate this loss of rights
    When the pensions in France were threatened , the people took to the streets. When the pension in England were raised, with maximum impact on women, no one noticed, and no protest was made.
    The other 3 rights I consider to be key are: education, access to water, and health, I have set aside for the moment, as the above are not just achievable, but attainable and can be promoted through and around the games. Are any of these ambitions not about human rights? Are any of these not “the truth”?
    A true human rights future is not inevitable
    “When they came…”
    Start at home; start with trafficking; start to make it happen. the question is how to be maximum effective.
    finally to quote from Conor track 6
    We live in a flawed world, where we do the best we can with the tools we have got. And that means rooting for representative government (democracy) with proper respect both for the dignity of the individual (human rights) and for the independence of those charged with administration of the law (the rule of law).
    representative democracy…doesn’t ignore women
    dignity of individual, women, abused chidren, terrorist suspects under detention,
    rule of law? apply the equal pay act.

  7. Joe Hoover says:

    “Once we know what true human rights entail, we can avoid the various bad faith visions that are offered to us, and assert the importance of human rights without fear of being knocked off our stride by accusations of colonialism or double standards or an addiction to partisan ‘western’ values: see common track five.”

    I think this highlights a central tension that runs through a number of the discussions here, and within human rights literatures/debates more broadly. There seems to be a desire to attach human rights both to moral certainty and authoritative power in order to secure a human rights future – a beautiful revolutionary dream that motivates many cosmopolitan thinkers – Seyla Benhabib, Martha Nussbaum, and David Held all come quickly to mind. Yet, I worry that the such dreams depend upon a political moralism that is unrealistic (I borrow the phrase and meaning from Bernard Williams).

    In Conor’s depiction of bad faith visions of human rights a key question is missing. Why are human rights disrespected in these various ways? It is all too easy to blame such failings on the evils of individuals or the corruption of a particular state. Certainly, there’s plenty of personal blame to go around in each of the cases mentioned but I think there’s a more fundamental tension at work that bedevils human rights morality and human rights politics.

    First, It is easy to dismiss US action since 9/11 as imperialistic, tragic or evil (depending on how one judges the Bush administration), but the hard reality of a state-based human rights politics is that violence will be used to uphold rules/laws. Critics of US unilateralism think that we require a more cosmopolitan framework and a firmer global consensus, but it is blindness to think that violence would not be used to support a cosmopolitan human rights regime. The point being, violence is not external to the idea of human rights – so while Bush’s excess may well be a form of bad faith human rights – that doesn’t actually address the hard question of who is going to enforce universal human rights and how is that enforcement going to be carried out.

    Second, the “minimalist” approach of the Chinese government to human rights is not just the result of an authoritarian regime balancing diplomatic pressure and self-interest. The premises of universal human rights as claims that can/should be accepted by everyone requires that priority is given to consensus. Further, the idea that human rights are a universal form of political legitimacy for the contemporary nation-state further contributes to this minimalism. This twin forces of consensus and state legitimacy mean that human rights will necessarily be reduced to the most minimal standards agreeable to powerful actors that dominate the cultural and political environment in which discussion happens. This feature of human rights politics isn’t unique to China – look at the US’s hesitance to endorse widening of human rights norms and to submit to universal review, or the UK’s recent move to exercise social-economic duties from inequalities legislation. So, again, there is a larger question than bad faith – there’s the question of the requirements of a consensus view within a state-system that relies on questionable forms of representation, including “national values” (like the Asian values debate or the Western privileging of political over economic rights) and electoral politics .

    Third, in the case of Burma it is easy to let the viscousness of the regime mark that state as an outlier – the sort of moral sociopath Richard Rorty warned against focusing on. But again there’s more than bad faith at work here, as the junta in Burma know that they need to play the human rights game within the international system and that system actually requires very little of them in the way of substantive human rights or functioning democracy. And not just as a matter of political expediency, for all the voices arguing in favor of interventions or the R2P, international politics is both structurally and normatively oriented towards preserving maximal autonomy for states. The expression of human rights would still be limited were Burma in compliance with all its treaty obligations.

    Which takes us to Russia as the fourth case of bad faith. Again, the bad faith argument has teeth and it is hard to say anything for the folks running Russia at the moment – but the impotence of human rights institutions is not just the result of thuggish rulers. Actually constraining the actions of states, even once they’ve accepted legal instruments, requires force – whether physical or persuasive. This is obvious and problematic within domestic society, as the state is both the source and the force of law, but when considered internationally the conditions for enforcement, much less constrained and just enforcement, are lacking. And its quite obvious how this fourth point could take us back to the first.

    My goal isn’t just to be pessimistic, but to point to the larger problem that faces those desiring improved human rights than the bad faith of corrupt leaders and regimes, because the political and social structures of our world play a massive part in these problems. And while I know there are plenty of voices that would say we’ve got solutions for these problems, and human rights are a key component, so what we need is to put them in place. But those dreams of an international order of democratic states or a cosmopolitan democracy are, I think, based on a problematic notion of moral universalism.

    If we separate the moral and political we fail to see that moral ideals/rules/laws are always expressed in a political and social reality, which limits critique – the kind of limits that meant it took decades to recognize sexual violence as a war crime, or make it persistently difficult to see the deprivation of massive number of human beings as human rights violation (and not just a matter of charity). But beyond those limits, it also imposes limits upon our visions of what replaces the degraded and immoral world we confront, as the moral vision opened up is one emptied of politics – which I think is deeply connected to the moral myopia of Bush – as his faith in his American vision of democracy both enabled him to casually make tradeoffs but also blinded him to violence within his own ideals.

    To finally say something about Conor’s question about what human rights future do we want; I worry about any human rights future that sees itself as the end point of conflict and the ending quote (with which I began) echoes a worrying progressivism in which we answer the tough questions and then wait for the world to catch up to our insight. This, I think, is in tension with the previous discussion of human rights takers – as I would understand this as more than taking the political action to implement the already known just form of political life, I would see it as making claims for what one has a right to as a human being. But these notions are never complete and harmonious, such that even in a far more ideal world full of ‘good givers’ and ‘brave takers’ – the giving and taking would be ongoing.

    This leaves me wondering what universalism could mean if we give up the finality of utopian dreams, the idealized stasis implied by political moralism – I can only think of human rights as a universal politics, or a universal political ethos. Universalism doesn’t require the same ideals/rules/laws enacted everywhere and always, but could point to a universalization of concern, solidarity and struggle for the values at the heart of the human rights movement.