Posts Tagged ‘UDHR’

Daniel Ravindran; a voice of reason in India’s human rights debate

January 16, 2020

A protest in Srinagar in December 2016.

A protest in Srinagar in December 2016.

With the evolution of international law in the last 100 years, the concept of unrestricted sovereignty has weakened

The human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) following the dilution of Article 370 and the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) have brought renewed international focus on India’s human rights practice. Responding to criticism made by the United Nations agencies and others, the Indian state asserted that both J&K and CAA are entirely internal matters and there cannot be any interference in such sovereign decisions.

What is remarkable about modern international human rights law is its recognition of individuals as subjects. Classic international law governed the conduct between states and did not recognise the rights of individuals. Countries made agreements on the premise that a sovereign state had the exclusive right to take any action it thought fit to deal with its nationals. Such a notion of absolute sovereignty was challenged in 19th century with the emergence of humanitarian intervention to protect minorities living in other states. Later, in 1919, the evolution of labour standards led to the establishment of the International Labour Office (ILO). In 1926, the Slavery Convention adopted by the League of Nations prohibiting slave trade heralded the first human rights treaty based on the principle of dignity of a human being. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 by the United Nations, was the first comprehensive international human rights document. The Universal Declaration has acquired the force of law as part of the customary law of nations. It has provided the basis for binding human rights treaties and non-binding guidelines/principles that constitute a distinct body of law known as international human rights law.

Unsustainable claim

This progress of international law in the last 100 years makes the Indian state’s assertion of its sovereign right unsustainable. The evolution of international human rights law is also about the gradual weakening of the concept of unrestricted sovereignty. The Indian government has ratified several international human rights treaties and submits periodic reports to the respective treaty bodies. By doing so, it has acknowledged the principle that the treatment of its citizens is not entirely an internal matter, and such measures do not enjoy an absolute sovereignty.

The Indian government’s response to concerns about its human rights practice has always been that international scrutiny is unwarranted since the country is the largest democracy in the world with an independent judiciary, free media, and an active civil society. These claims sound less credible after the recent developments in J&K and the passage of the CAA.

Non–discrimination is a fundamental principle of human rights. Discrimination in various forms occurs in all societies, but what is of concern is institutionalised discrimination. Apartheid was pronounced as a crime against humanity since it institutionalised discrimination based on race. Similarly, for the first time in post–Independence India, a religious group has been excluded from the purview of a law dealing with citizenship.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which is the lead agency within the UN system on all aspects related to human rights, has expressed its concern stating that the CAA “is fundamentally discriminatory in nature”. It has also said that “although India’s broader naturalization laws remain in place, these amendments will have a discriminatory effect on people’s access to nationality.”

International human rights law includes safeguards against unwarranted foreign intervention and stresses the exhaustion of domestic remedies before an issue is considered by an international body. The Indian state always assured the international community that the judiciary, mainly its Supreme Court, would provide adequate remedies to victims of human rights violations. However, of late, the faith of the common people in the higher judiciary has been weakened. In the face of serious allegations about human rights violations in J&K, the Supreme Court has “ducked, evaded and adjourned”, as put across by advocate Gautam Bhatia.

Weakening of civil society

While responding to criticism against its human rights practices, the Indian government also refers to the role of free media and civil society in protecting the human rights of vulnerable groups. However, in the context of J&K and the ongoing struggle against the CAA, the media has not come out any better. As for civil society organisations, the government since 2014 has systematically targeted them, including by making it difficult for them to receive funds from foreign donors. Since 2014, the government has cancelled the registration of about 14,000 NGOs under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). It has also mainly targeted its own critics.

Indian and international human rights groups are getting increasingly concerned about the actions of people associated with the ruling party who are engaged in the intimidation of critics, attacks against minorities, and restrictions on the freedoms of artistes. The brazen attack on JNU students on January 5 by armed goons and the total lack of response by the police is emblematic of free reign given to non-state actors in various parts of the country.

The international community is sympathetic to governments that are committed to upholding human rights but lack human and other resources to pursue it. In the case of India, it is not a question of resources but an unwillingness to uphold human rights. The government’s action in J&K, the passage of the CAA, and its response to protests on the CAA demonstrate that the present regime is not fully committed to upholding human rights and does not respect international human rights standards. Of course, it is possible for the Indian government, due to its diplomatic clout, to avoid robust intervention by the UN Human Rights Council and other UN human rights mechanisms. However, it would not be able to avoid scrutiny by the international community, which would complement the struggle of the Indian civil society to reclaim the Indian Constitution and advance human rights.

For transparancy reasons: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/12/14/who-should-be-the-new-un-rapporteur-for-human-rights-defenders-ravindram-is-my-choice/

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/human-rights-are-not-solely-an-internal-matter/article30537443.ece

More re-thinking and ‘shrinking’ of the modern human rights concept

September 8, 2019

I have referred to the issue of re-visiting the human rights concept – which keeps popping up especially when there is a sense of malaise – by several strands of thought within the human rights movement. Some think the answer is to broaden the base and the scope even more [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/08/05/amnesty-internationals-global-assembly-2019-deserves-more-attention-big-shifts-coming-up/]; others think a re-think is in order but those range from Trump’s State Department [[https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/11/trump-marches-on-with-commission-on-unalienable-rights/] to moderate academics [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/20/hurst-hannum-wants-a-radically-moderate-approach-to-human-rights/].

In a opinion piece in Foreign Policy of 6 September 2019 entitled “When Everything Is a Human Right, Nothing Is”  – a Lecturer in the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, Senior Adviser for the Institute for Integrated Transitions – shows he belongs to the latter category albeit with a strong dose of return to basics (return to the UDHR) and a whiff of cultural relativism:

.. given the myriad challenges to human rights today, rethinking some widely accepted human rights assumptions seems timely. …

Some disagreements over human rights come from repressive regimes or communal leaders, and such complaints are easy to dismiss. But when critiques come from people who are sympathetic to the cause of human rights, they reflect something more fundamentally troubling. How did an idea once powerful enough to unify a vast range of people in struggles against totalitarianism and apartheid become so impotent? A major factor, ironically, was the overweening dual ambition born of those successes. Human rights advocates have broadened the scope of issues covered by human rights while narrowing the room for differences in bringing those rights to life. In so doing, they misconstrue the original goals of human rights, most clearly embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the foundation for much of the post-1945 rights project. Even as their ambitions rise, human rights activists have failed to take into account how expansive new programs might aggravate suspicion of human rights in today’s multipolar world. And attempts to enforce a uniform conception of rights might reduce the space for local actors to formulate their own pathways, fueling skepticism about the rights themselves. For example, attempts by Western countries to promote gay rights in Africa triggered deep-rooted resentment about how the West treats Africa; the results are tougher laws, stronger rhetoric, more funding of anti-gay rights organizations, and even greater harassment of activists. As the New York Times reported, “More Africans came to believe that gay rights were a Western imposition.”

Non-Western countries do not necessarily disagree with basic human rights goals. Rather, as the Brazilian academic Oliver Stuenkel argues in his book Post-Western World, they contest the “operationalization of liberal norms” and “the implicit and explicit hierarchies of international institutions” that privilege Western countries. U.S. retrenchment in the Middle East and the rise of authoritarian states like China reduce the effective reach of ideas that are stretched too thin or that are not credibly universal, in the sense of being deeply grounded in all the world’s major philosophical and religious systems. And curtailing overly expansionist and revisionist aspirations, as Jennifer Lind and William C. Wohlforth recently wrote in Foreign Affairs, is essential to preserving the post-World War II liberal international order.

If advocates for human rights wish to overcome the current challenges, they would do well to learn from the course of the human rights project from ideal to reality in the wake of World War II. The framers of the Universal Declaration learned that the best way to build a system of rights with a strong claim to legitimacy across different cultures and ideologies was to stick to basics. Today, only a modest and flexible approach can restore the moral authority that gave the universal human rights idea its greatest successes.

The 1948 Universal Declaration was a product of intense debate, negotiation, and compromise, all done with the understanding that its principles could be brought to life differently in dissimilar parts of the world. Today’s human rights discourse, however, is pervaded by Western normative assumptions that are controversial even in the West. Westerners play an extraordinarily large role as funders and conveners of human rights organizations and scholarly debates, directly and indirectly shaping agendas, frameworks of analysis, and evaluation methods in the process. As a result, human rights have become, as the New York University professor Sally Engle Merry writes in Human Rights and Gender Violence, “part of a distinctive modernist vision of the good and just society that emphasizes autonomy, choice, equality, secularism, and protection of the body,” converting cultural norms from one part of the world into universal rights.

Consequently, nonindividualistic values—such as those promoting communal duties or those tied to religious belief—have been de-emphasized. Arguments that there are other means of promoting and ensuring human dignity are dismissed as unrealistic or ignored. African, Asian, and other non-Western human rights institutions and laws are marginalized.

Meanwhile, the number of rights, and rights claims, has risen steeply as various well-meaning special interest groups have sought to harness the moral authority of the human rights idea to their causes. The international legal infrastructure has been enlarged, producing institutions such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) and doctrines such as the “Responsibility to Protect,” but these focus mainly on geopolitically weak or unimportant—10 of the 11 situations under investigation at the ICC are African—countries, while governments such as Syria’s commit atrocities with little fear of prosecution or intervention because Russia, one of its two main international backers, undermines any attempt to hold the country’s leaders accountable.

The human rights field’s ambitions not only have produced unnecessary clashes over human rights, but they have also diminished the core rights that were meant to, above all else, uphold human dignity.

In Europe, for example, advocates for abolishing circumcision have argued that a child’s bodily integrity is a human right while attempting to reduce religious freedom to a mere right to worship. This has led government ombudspersons to call for a ban, pediatric societies to call the practice “mutilation,” the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to pass a resolution against the practice, political parties to lobby for legislation outlawing the practice, and a court in Germany to rule that the act of circumcision should be considered a prosecutable physical assault. For devout Jews and Muslims, these developments feel like direct attacks on a ritual integral to their faiths.

In Asia, instead of welcoming the 2012 Human Rights Declaration by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as representing some important steps forward, organizations such as Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the U.S. State Department criticized the document for differing from their preferred emphases. Even though it included all the civil and political rights that similar documents elsewhere have—as well as innovative provisions related to those with AIDS, childbearing mothers, human trafficking, vulnerable groups, and children—these groups objected to the declaration’s emphasis that rights must be balanced with duties and that realization of rights has to take into account the local political and cultural context. But it is precisely the regional flavor that is most likely to increase the ASEAN declaration’s legitimacy—and thus the chance that it will be embraced locally.

In Africa, select issues that concern Western countries are often promoted in ways that pay little heed to local conditions, provoking a backlash. In Kenya, international attempts to prosecute Uhuru Kenyatta for fueling ethnic violence after the 2007 election ignored how this would boost his popularity among his supporters—helping him to eventual victory in the 2013 elections.

The mindset currently prevailing among many human rights actors thus makes it extremely difficult to realize the aim of the Universal Declaration’s framers to promote the implementation of fundamental human rights principles under a variety of circumstances and cultures. The result has been to reduce both the effectiveness and appeal of those principles. Human rights organizations are less able to embed themselves within local cultures and gain legitimacy in the eyes of local people. Greater flexibility in implementation would enable human rights supporters to focus on the importance of political dynamics and incentives to promoting change within countries. For example, the end of white rule in South Africa was brought about not by threatening apartheid leaders with international justice but by first sanctioning and then offering incentives for leaders to transfer power. Reconciliation and truth commissions played prominent roles; retribution was limited. The country crafted a new, inclusive national identity and developed a constitution around existing institutions, a stark contrast to efforts in Iraq and Libya that tried to replace institutions and exclude members of the previous regime.

The human rights movement should refocus on the principles of the Universal Declaration—a document more praised than understood. Its drafters developed a framework for human rights that was both universal and flexible. Their aim was to establish a “common standard of achievement,” based on the “inherent dignity” and “equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.”

This would entail recognizing that in a world of great cultural and political diversity, human rights cannot be universal unless kept to a small core of rights so fundamental that almost no country would openly oppose them.

In the original Universal Declaration, only a handful were drafted in such a way as to leave little room for flexibility in implementation. These include protections for religion and conscience, as well as prohibitions against genocide; slavery; torture; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; retroactive penal measures; deportation or forcible transfer of population; and discrimination based on race, color, sex, language, religion, nationality, or social origin. Today, many human rights treaties make these rights nonderogable—i.e., there are no circumstances under which they can be lifted or suspended. Where other rights are concerned, the framers of the Universal Declaration were clear that universality does not mean homogeneity in implementation. They expected states to experiment with different modes of implementation—to allow “different kinds of music” to be “played on the same keyboard,” as the French philosopher Jacques Maritain, who supported the U.N. process, put it. Indeed, Eleanor Roosevelt made clear in 1948 during one of the debates over the Universal Declaration that methods for implementing many rights “would necessarily vary from one country to another and such variations should be considered not only inevitable but salutary.” For example, individuals everywhere have the right to be free of torture, but different countries may legitimately come to different conclusions about when private property may be taken for public use.

Moreover, in resolving tensions among rights, no fundamental right should be completely ignored. By specifying that all rights must be exercised with due respect for the rights of others, the framers intended that clashes should be occasions to figure out how to give each right as much protection as possible while never subordinating any right completely to another. Ultimately, a culture of human rights can only be built from the bottom up. Focusing on the gravest violations of human dignity while understanding that other rights can be protected in a legitimate variety of ways is the best way to achieve this.

https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/09/06/when-everything-is-a-human-right-nothing-is/

Universal Declaration of Human Rights truly universal: milestone of 500 languages reached

November 4, 2016

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is now accessible in 501 languages and dialects, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights announced on 2 November 2016.

Our goal is to share the UDHR with the entire world, and it’s a great achievement for us to be able to make this important document available in more than 500 languages,” said OHCHR librarian Alfia Gilbert.

The collection constitutes the world’s most translated document according the The Guinness Records.

The growing number of translations underscores the universality of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the power of its words to resonate strongly across cultures and languages,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

 

 

 

Source: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights now available in more than 500 languages and dialects