Human Rights – A journey, not a destination

Interesting article from a columnist appearing in The Star. However, IMHO emphasising too much on rights, with little or no attention being paid to responsibilities  don’t seem right too.
New threats have emerged. New demands and expectations have arisen. The felt necessities of the times require fresh thinking.
DECEMBER 10 was Human Rights Day. As we contemplate human rights for the 21st century, we must remember that human rights is a journey, not a destination. 
New threats have emerged. New demands and expectations have arisen. The felt necessities of the times require fresh thinking. 
Rights of future generations: Contemporary jurist John Rawls advocates “rights of future generations”. He propounds a “just savings principle” to cater for the needs of those who will inherit the earth from us. 
“Each generation must not only preserve the gains of culture and civilisation and maintain intact those just institutions that have been established, it must also put aside in each period of time a suitable amount of real capital accumulation” for the benefit of future generations.
Third generation rights: Beyond political and civil liberties, human rights theory is now articulating the right to peace, the right to a healthy and ecologically-balanced environment and protection against development activities that destroy or diminish the natural resources on which the survival and sustenance of the poor depends. 
Poverty eradication: The international discourse on human rights has broadened its horizons to encompass theories of poverty eradication and development planning.  Social hierarchies and social structures that contribute to poverty are being examined. The concepts of “development”, “progress” and “poverty” are being viewed afresh.  According to Amartya Sen, winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, the economic progress of society “is more plausibly judged by the reduction of deprivation than by the further enrichment of the opulent”.
Human development: There is more to human development than mere economic development. In the view of Amartya Sen “economic poverty is not the only kind of poverty that impoverishes human lives. Politically unfree citizens – whether rich or poor – are deprived of a basic constituent of good living”.
Economic vulnerability: Reducing political deprivation can help to diminish economic vulnerability. Political and civil rights can help to generate economic security by giving voice to the deprived and the vulnerable.
K-economy: The rise of the k-economy is undermining the right of workers to organise and to be heard. Networked or virtual firms do not provide a stable environment for collective bargaining.
Right to privacy: The triumphs of technology have put the right to privacy under severe pressure. The Internet is being used mercilessly by “spammers” to bombard us with information we do not seek.  Purveyors of obscene materials flood the air waves with materials we can neither censor nor stop. 
Our private lives and reputations can be spectacularly violated by any one who has a grudge in his heart and an e-mail account at his disposal.
Indigenous resources: Our indigenous resources are being mercilessly pirated, and the international regime of patents and trademarks is being employed to enrich multinational corporations at the expense of struggling, small-scale, third-world businessmen and farmers. 
Private sources of tyranny: Threats to human rights come not only from government agencies but also from private centres of power, whether local, regional or international.  Regrettably, due to the public law-private law dichotomy, the protection of the Constitution, and of the principles of public law, are often excluded from employer-employee, contractual and private relationships. 
Cross-border violations: The 20th century saw concerted international action to protect individuals against the authoritarian power of the nation state. 
The 21st century needs similar determined action to protect developing nations (and their citizens) from cross-border violations of their basic rights by the more developed nations of the world.  Regrettably, international watchdogs like the UN, ICJ and the ICC appear to be helpless when rich and powerful nations of the North Atlantic play predatory roles against the nations of the South.
Globalisation: Human rights are also being threatened by a new wave of colonialism that has anointed itself with the name of “globalisation”. In the social, cultural and economic arenas, globalisation is the vehicle of monoculture and the means of commercial domination. 
Globalisation compels the nation state to submit to the dictates of international financiers, transnational corporations, credit-rating institutions like Moody’s Investors and bodies like the IMF and the World Bank.   Globalisation rejects subsidies, abhors programmes of re-distributive justice and frowns upon social welfare policies.
Elusive peace: The promise of peace as the Cold War came to a close has failed to materialise. Instead, the arms race has reached new heights and acquired new forms. In the 21st century, voices must be raised against militarism which fuels conditions for the neglect of human rights and for the deprivation of life, liberty and human dignity.
State terrorism: In many nations, the war on terrorism is being waged in total disregard of the rule of law and in violation of international standards of humanitarianism. In the disguise of combating terror, some erstwhile democratic nations are condoning torture, religious and racial profiling and illegal renditions. 
Democracy between nations: The human rights quest in the 21st century must address itself to the glaring political and economic inequalities and injustices between the rich and poor nations of the world. 
Third World debts: The debt stranglehold by the North over the South is crippling many Asian and African economies and preventing governments from supplying the basic necessities to their populations.
Environmentalism: Environmental destruction, over-logging of forests, over-cropping of lands, over-grazing of pastures, over-draining of wetlands, over-tapping of underground water and over-fishing of the seas necessitate the realisation that if we are to survive on this planet we shall have to move away from the “corporation-based society” and build a world in which economic activities can once again be brought under social control.
Transnational corporations: The pervasive domination of Asian economies and social life by transnational corporation poses a serious but unacknowledged threat to the independence, dignity and well-being of Asians. 
In sum, human rights violations come in many forms: development paradigms that harbour the roots of marginalisation and inequity, environmental degradation, landlessness, homelessness, exploitation of labour and women and oppressive practices in the name of culture or religion. 
The human rights movement in the decades ahead must be prepared to “rethink” human rights; articulate alternative approaches to the dominant concepts, interpretations and practices spawned by mainstream Western capitalist society; and to formulate a more holistic understanding of human dignity founded upon social justice.
Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi is Professor of Law at the Faculty of Law, UiTM.

About kchew

an occasional culturalist
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