Skip to Content

Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 732

Human Rights under a cloud in Afro-Asian countries

By Jagdish P. Sharma - Syndicate Features

For Iran’s Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi "Human Rights are a package ……….. a way of seeing the world, a culture, which cannot be imposed with cluster bombs" and brought to countries in "tanks."

"The world is turning into a unified village. We can see that in finance borders are eliminated. But when it comes to humanity the borders are still intact. And the problem is here. What needs to be globalized is human rights," the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, said in a conversation with Indian journalists while in New Delhi recently.

Known for her crusade on human rights, Ms. Ebadi, who practices law in Teheran, is particularly critical of the U.S. sponsored "war on terrorism" and its effect on human rights. "Violence always brings violence. Have we found the roots of terrorism," she asked.

"Unfortunately today fighting terrorism has become a pretext to violate human rights. And states use national security to increase their power and control of the people. None of this will reduce terrorism," Ms. Ebadi observed. And put the question in perspective. "America invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. Has terrorism been reduced? Unfortunately it is only increasing by the day. This can only mean that they have forgotten addressing the roots [of terrorism] and focusing on the end results…," she remarked.

In her considered view – a view shared by millions at home and here in India, "we need to fight terrorism at its roots. Humanity is now on a boat. Every one’s fate is inter-related. Controlling the lives of citizens, listening in to their phone conversations, interfering with the private lives of people and limiting social and individual freedoms are not the answer."

Human rights are inextricably linked with the question of democracy. Today the US claims it is in Iraq because it wants to put democracy on the pole. There is no question that Saddam Hussein was a dictator but my question is: was Saddam the only dictator in the world? Don’t we have many dotting the world? What is the difference between those countries and Iraq? Well. Iraq has oil. They don’t.

The concern of the international community over human rights violations is understandable because such violations are giving rise to many a problem. Civil wars, refugee problem, inter-state conflicts, and retarded economic and social development can all be attributed to HR denial. The greater the respect shown to human rights, the greater will be peace and stability not only within a nation but also between nations.

Some international organisations such as Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) are particularly active campaigning for Human Rights. They are keeping a close watch on HR violations everywhere. Through their periodic reports they are exposing the countries with dubious HR track record. The United Nations is especially concerned over widespread HR abuses and has been repeatedly demanding the restitution of human rights by national governments so that all people might live in freedom and dignity.

Since 1948, that is, after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all countries including those that had not gone through the long historical process of formation of the modern liberal-democratic state have at their disposal an international code on the basis of which they must decide how to conduct themselves and how to judge others. Today, the international rules on human rights impose modes of behaviour by requiring governments to act in a certain way, and at the same time legitimize the complaints of individuals if those rights and freedoms are not respected.

Human rights are the very basic rights which every person is entitled to like freedom to speech, freedom to practice any religion, etc. It is these rights which are also termed as fundamental rights in the constitutions of the different countries. Most nations guarantee these rights to their citizens. In the case of violation of these rights the judiciary intervenes to ensure these rights. However, human rights and justice are very abstract terms. Different countries use these terms to suit their political and social situations. What may be called a just law in an Arab nation may be termed as inhuman treatment for the Americans. But, a country like India has tried to give a true meaning to terms like HR and justice.

The Indian Republic, pluralist in many senses, has inscribed secularism as a constitutional fundamental in its preamble. The presence of significant minorities and the contamination of society by communalism and casteism make secularism face difficulties to sustain itself and survive. Despite the Constitution and its declared objectives, the hard reality is that secularism and communalism compete for dominance. The future of secularism, in the current context, is hard to predict and every patriotic Indian is now summoned by the spirit of the constitution to do his duty by his country. The minority perspective of secularism has much confusion on the future of secular citizenship as a component of nationalism.

Freedom can never flourish where the rule of law is under attack. That is why founding fathers of Indian constitution looked at the rule of law in its positive dimensions and conceived of the statute as an instrument for creating a radical social order. In the context of fight against terrorism in India, there are those who think that when the security forces are engaged in a life and death combat against terrorism, human rights should not be reduced to rights of wrongdoers. But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is clear that police and security forces should ensure that ordinary civilians are not be harassed or harmed in their operations against terrorists.

At a recent international HR conference in Jakarta, former Indonesian President, Suharto, said in developing countries the implementation of human rights more or less depended upon the economic development of the particular countries and the basic question was not only limited to its implementation but went far beyond that, up to the creation of conducive environment for the development of human rights. Most other participants – all policy makers –said pace and stage of implementing Human rights will vary from country to country.

Often it is said the developing countries have to give equally urgent attention to other fundamental rights such as the right of the vast majority of people to be free from want, from hunger, from ignorance, from disease and backwardness, the right to development, the right to be free from political and economic exploitation and the right of pursuit of their development in an atmosphere of peace and national stability. There is another argument which is even more compelling: the absence of civil rights has, in some cases, caused the death or impoverishment of large groups of people. Civil and political rights become, therefore, not a luxury, to be granted after a certain level of economic well-being is attained, but the foundation on which subsistence and survival may, in fact, depend.

Further, it can be said that actually human rights are indivisible and can’t be compartmentalised into the distinct classes of socio-economic rights and politico-civil rights, as the developing countries seemed bent upon to prove. The point can be illustrated and better proved by looking at the example of famine, land alienation, protection of the environment and labour rights, which are closely linked with the basic and much talked right of subsistence. As far as famine is concerned, in no country has there been a catastrophic famine due to crop failure or drought alone, rather, famines are caused by restrictions on freedom of expression, or the inability to communicate accurate information to the authorities or absence of democratic accountability or the absence of pressure on governments to act responsibly in crisis.

Examples of the absence of civil liberties leading to starvation can be found in Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia. In these countries, food shortages, drought, resource crunch, poverty and governmental inactivity led to famines and neglect. In India, by contrast, the functioning of democratic institutions, especially a free press, has ensured that when food shortages occurred, the government has been able to move supplies quickly to the stricken area.

China is considered the fastest developing country. But it has still not been able to provide sufficient human rights to its people. China has no concept of free press. People in China cannot directly protest or criticize the policies of the government, or engage in a movement against the system. There is a single party system in China, i.e. the government without the opposition. It would be very painful for the Chinese establishment to hand over the fundamental rights to its citizens. However, due to global pressure China is slowly opening its economy; and, hopefully, it will lead to some changes in its political system.

For countries like Ethiopia, Eritrea, Niger, Sudan and Somalia the path towards human rights is very difficult. Firstly, they are very poor; with limited resources it is very difficult to provide other rights except food for hunger. Secondly, their system of government is yet to evolve in democratic sense. Most of these countries don’t have an effective constitution. The international organisations like the World Bank and the IMF have to lend a big helping hand for their development. Moreover, the UN should try to facilitate steady political and democratic changes in these countries. Only then, human rights can be implemented in these African nations.

- Syndicate Features -

Share this


.