The morphology of Human Rights is appealing-intuitively. It would be safe to posit that every human being would want her/his rights to be respected and granted. This is, insofar, as the intuitive appeal of human rights is concerned. At the same time, human rights theory and practice- accrues from historical struggles-philosophical, theoretical and practical-and are a concomitant of historical process. The question is: if human rights are both intuitively appealing and premised on a solid philosophical and practical foundation, why does a discrepancy (sometimes, wide and deep) exist in the implementation of human rights in the world?
There is no uniformity in terms of implementation of human rights across the world. The reasons are axiomatic and multifarious: sometimes state capacity and capability precludes the implementation of human rights, at times, it is the disconnect between a state and its people that explains departure from human right norms (ethnic mismatch in a state and a the ethnic group in contentions demand for self determination or autonomy is an example here), sometimes it can be ignorance and often times culture is held to be the culprit. It is held that Universal Human Rights are not essentially universal; they are Western and these can jar with the cultural practices of other (non-western cultures). All these reasons may be true in isolation or cumulatively, but they should not detract from the fact most rights are inalienable rights and that they should be implemented.
The question is how?
First, a brief assessment over the nature of human rights may be laid out. Human Rights rest on the philosophical foundation and premise of human rationality. That is, human beings are sentient beings distinguished from other life forms by their rational faculties. What flows from this is that human beings are also moral beings. Hence , rights accrue to human beings.
Human rights are rights that a state should protect and promote but , at times, states can be a source of tension and abuse of human rights. Whether the reasons pertain to state capacity or capability, value and cultural relativism or adversarial state society relations, the fact remains that a different weightage is accorded to rights by different states. The degree to which human rights norms are implemented is in stark contrast with the degree to which such norms have been codified and accepted by the international community as binding conventional law. There is consensus on the reasons for this lag: it is asserted that human rights are in stark contradiction with state sovereignty. If a state, for instance, infringes upon the rights of its peoples, it can do so with impunity given that sovereignty offers a shield against intervention by the international community. The Syrian saga-the brutality inflicted by the Assad regime towards its own people-may constitute a classic example of this in recent times. The principle of non-interference in internal affairs of states is accorded primacy over human rights. And, ironically, sovereign states are held to be enforcers of human rights. At best, condemnations and pleas can be made to states or in extreme cases perhaps sanctions imposed for violation of human rights. Beyond these, no realistic options exist. Improving human rights within a state then becomes matter of reputation for states or a diplomatic nuance. But then some states might not care and they may remain as rogue entities with no fear of sanctions or international ostracism.
Various options have been adumbrated by theorists and practitioners to make human rights real and binding on states. These include and range from international ostracism, making states entry and continued acceptance into the international state system conditional on practice of and adherence to human rights, raising the price of human rights abuses, more vigorous activism by Non-Governmental organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch by naming and shaming states. However, all these options and suggestions can be circumvented by states; and some states can remain defiant despite moral pressures.
So what can realistically be done to improve human rights across the world?
First, a consensus needs to be arrived at the nature of human rights theoretically and practically. This would, among other things, blunt or give short shrift to the imperialism of human rights.
Second, after a consensus has been reached, vigorous follow up needs to be taken recourse to. Specifically, for poorer countries, conditionality may need to be embedded in aid and/or trade programs. That is, aid and/or trade flows should be made contingent on improved and better human rights implementation and practice.
Third, a better balance between rights, freedom, liberty and the state needs to be achieved. This could fall in between the zone of Hobbesian and Lockean political theory.
These are areas that the international community can take recourse to and institutionalize. However, in the final analysis, improved and better implementation of human rights is contingent on individual states. Unless and until, states decide and work on improving human rights in their respective domains, no real and substantive improvement in implementation and embedding of human rights in quotidian lives of people can happen. The question now is: how can this happen?
States can become better and prudent in the implementation and embedding of human rights by morphing into good states. Good states may be characterized as those states where the welfare and happiness of the people may be characterized as end goals of states. Or in other words, where the state dedicates and devotes itself to the provision of the good life to its peoples. In practice, this would mean the synthesis of the Aristotelian concept of the good life where in a polis, individuals could realize themselves and Ciceros ideal of justice in the state. Self realization of/by individuals in a state and justice for all would constitute the good life for citizens of a good state. Admittedly broad, sweeping and Utopian, it is in the institutionalization of the good state that human rights can reach efflorescence. Can this actually transpire? The trajectory of the human condition over centuries has been cyclical: it has been defined by both progress and regress. However, if broad indicators are applied, then it would appear that the human condition and history is gyrating, in fits, spasms and cycles towards progress. This progress, however, needs to be given a shove and this shove can be given by people who have vantage points, moral and political Will and determination to do so. Or, in other words, we need collective action of a transformational dynamic on a global scale to make good states into a reality.
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