Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A New Examination of Human Rights

In the debate on human rights: states, individuals, and institutions have the tendency to conceptualize rights according to the Western view. They fail to consider the notion of rights has also been explored and developed in African, Islamic, Asian, and Latin American countries.

Countries from the South seem to agree that human rights are important on a universal level. They differ from the West in terms of how rights are promoted. Human dignity is at the core of the cultural ideals of these regions; thus, it is essential that the rights of the collective as well as its needs be met. Jack Donnelly and others argue the concept of human rights is best interpreted using a constructivist theory. The theory acknowledges that rights are not given to man, but they arise from human action and represent the choice of a particular moral vision (Donnelly 1985). This theory “accords with the sociological view that human rights are a social phenomenon, a creation of the human mind” (Howard 1995B, 15; also seen in Howard 1995A).

The conception of political rights is a Western product, which is slowly making its way through the developing world. A compromise between the West and the rest is required to ensure that all rights are promoted. The West must be sensitive to the cultural needs of developing nations and realize that a dialogue is more persuasive than an imposition of those ideas. Chandra Muzzafar (1994) acknowledges this importance by calling for a move “from Western human rights to universal human dignity” (4). Moreover, she states:

“Main stream human rights ideas…have contributed significantly to human civilization in at least four ways. One, they have endowed the individual with certain basic rights such as the right of free speech, the right of association, the right to a fair trial and so on. Two, they have strengthened the position of the ordinary citizen against the arbitrariness of power. Three, they have expanded the space and scope for individual participation in public decision-making. Four, they have forced the State and authority in general to be accountable to the public” (Muzaffar 1994, 1; Muzaffar 1999, 25-26).

The ideal of global justice is articulated in what is known as ‘humane governance.’ This idea incorporates the concepts of political economy and human rights. This idea examines positive and negative trends along several main focal points or normative concern: security in relation to international and intranational violence; economic well-being in relation to standard human needs and degrees of inequality within and among societies; and the depth and breadth of democratization, including economic and social aspects of human rights and the extent of environmental protection as it relates to present and future conditions (Falk 2000). Jack Donnelly states that its “dangerous to deny differences between civilizations where they do exist or to exaggerate their extent or practical importance” (Donnelly 2002, 105).

The reasoning behind the change in policies is due to a series of elections in Europe in the late 1990s and early part of the 21st century. The result is minimizing emphasis on neo-liberal political orientation of economic globalization and a call for the re-establishment of social Europe or a ‘Third Way’. (Falk 2000; Giddens 1998) Anthony Giddens, a prominent sociologist, is one of the originators of this new ideal. He takes the foundational concepts of Marx, Durkheim, and Weber and applies modern-day realities as discussed in this paper. Giddens argues that the best way forward politically is to borrow ideas from both neo-liberal and social democratic orientations to shape a new level of politics that is both business-friendly and socially empathetic. This avoids the dogmatic extremes of both the unconditional deference to market forces and uncritical endorsement of the welfare state (Giddens 1998).

Falk says the Third Way aims to minimize the intrusiveness of the state without overlooking the special needs of the poor and jobless (Falk 2000). Very important to note that “as long as human rights are conceived as universal human rights, they will tend to operate as a globalized localism, a form of globalization from above. To be able to operate as a cosmopolitan, counter-hegemonic form of globalization human rights must be reconceptualized as multicultural” (de Sousa Santos 1999, 219).

Donnelly, Jack. 2002. Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice. 2nd Edition. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

---. 1985. The Concept of Human Rights. London, UK: Croom Helm.

Falk, Richard A. 2000. Human Rights Horizons: The Pursuit of Justice in a Globalizing World. New York and London: Routledge.

Giddens, Anthony. 1998. The Third Way. Cambridge, Eng.: Polity Press.

Howard, Rhoda E. 1995A. “Human Rights and the Search for Community.” Journal of Peace Research. 32: 1-8.

---. 1995B. Human Rights and the Search for Community. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Muzaffar, Chandra. 1999. “From Human Rights to Human Dignity.” in Debating Human Rights: Critical Essays from the United States and Asia. edited by Peter Van Ness and Nikhil Aziz. London, UK: Routledge.

---. 1994. “From Human Rights to Human Dignity.” Presented at JUST International Conference, ‘Rethinking Human Rights’ at Kuala Lampur.

de Sousa Santos, Boaventura. 1999. “Towards a Multicultural Conception of Human Rights.” Pp. 214-29. in Spaces of Culture: City, Nation, World. edited by Mike Featherstone and Scott Lash. London, UK: Sage.
The following the list for May SyncroBlog:
  • Adam Gonnerman on href="http://igneousquill.blogspot.com/2008/05/may-synchroblogbloggers-
    unite.html" target="_blank">Guantanamo Bay in the eyes of God

  • Julie Clawson on http://julieclawson.com/2008/05/14/human-
    rights-and-christian-comfort/" target="_blank">Human rights and Christian

  • Steve Hayes on http://khanya.wordpress.com/2008/05/14/human-
    rights/" target="_blank">Human rights and Christian faith.

  • Steve Hayes (again!) on href="http://khanya.wordpress.com/2008/05/15/human-rights-and-amnesty-
    international/" target="_blank">Human Rights and Amnesty

  • Alan Knox on http://assembling.blogspot.com/2008/05/my-charade-
    is-event-of-season.html" target="_blank">My charade is the event of the

  • Sally Coleman on href="http://sallysjourney.typepad.com/sallys_journey/2008/05/if--bloggers-
    un.html" target="_blank">If.

  • Sonja Andrews on http://www.calacirian.org/?p=822"
    target="_blank">Human wrongs.

  • Cobus van Wyngaard on href="http://mycontemplations.wordpress.com/2008/05/15/christianization-and-
    humanization-and-our-task-in-zimbabwe/" target="_blank">Christianization
    and Humanization and our task in Zimbabwe

  • Janice Fowler on href="http://gracexpectations.blogspot.com/2008/05/voice-overs-needed-or-wake-
    up-speak-up.html" target="_blank">"Voice overs needed" (oe "Wake up --
    speak up")

  • Bryan Riley on href="http://charisshalom.fjministries.com/2008/05/15/bloggers-unite-for-
    human-rights/" target="_blank">Bloggers unite for human

  • 1 comment:

    mikeofearthsea said...

    The right to freedom from fear, poverty, homelessness, sickness and illness, recreation, a few luxuries, etc. are so important. The million dollar question is what "right" is most "valuable" and was is the "ideal" way to these rights and which rights one should have "more" of and "less" of?

    What about human "responsibilities" alongside of human "rights?" I don't blame those who don't have human rights - they are more or less powerless - but I blame those who empower those in power who suppress human rights, whether foreign powers, power brokers ion the country in question, or, in some cases, even the disenfranchised themselves?