New threats to human rights

Source_Star: New threats to human rights. REFLECTING ON THE LAW By Prof SHAD SALEEM FARUDI

Human dignity and social justice are under siege predominantly from the West’s so-called New World Order that holds poorer nations hostage to the economic and political clout of the developed world.

HUMAN Rights Day on Dec 10 reminded us that some fundamental, natural and inalienable liberties and entitlements are inherent in our status as human beings and are our birthrights. They do not depend on the charity or generosity of the state or the existence of a constitution. They enjoy an authority independent of government.

Though there is some disagreement on the fountain of freedom from which human rights flow – whether from God, nature, reason, intuition, self evidence or popular will – it is agreed that human rights are derived from a source superior to state-made law.

As Ramsey Clark once said: “A right is not what someone gives you; it is what no one can take from you.”

The belief that human rights were born in the crucible of Western civilisation is a historical distortion. In fact, human rights are as old as the times and part of an evolutionary process that has been going on for centuries.

As Clark said: “The history of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of freedom.”

All the ancient religions of the world promote an ethic of humanity and are deeply concerned with human dignity and social justice.

As we contemplate human rights for the 21st century, we must remember that human rights are a journey, not a destination.

New threats emerge, new demands and expectations arise. The felt necessities of the times require fresh thinking.

In the decades ahead, the following issues need to be at the forefront of our consciousness:

> 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 weak, under-developed nations from cross-border or international violations by the more developed nations of the world.

Regrettably, international watchdogs like the United Nations, International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court appear to be helpless when rich and powerful nations of the North Atlantic play predatory roles against the nations of the South.

For instance, the bestialities committed by the Americans at Guan­tanamo Bay and Abu Gharaib and the crimes against humanity in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and Afgha­nistan have escaped international sanctions.

Northern global domination of world politics and global institutions ensures that Third World concerns about Iraq, Palestine, Iran, Afgha­nistan, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Kashmir, Chechnya and other theatres of Western-inflicted suffering are marginalised.

Some years ago when Nicaragua won a judgment against the United States in the International Court of Justice, the United States rejected the verdict and vetoed a related UN Security Council resolution.

Israel, with the complicity of the United States, habitually defies the Security Council and the UN General Assembly and with religious fervour persists in a war of aggression, genocide and economic pillage in occupied Palestine;

> Democracy. International institutions like the Security Council, World Bank and International Monetary Fund must be reformed to shed their colonial and racist make-up and their hegemonic policies.

If equality and democracy are desirable ideals for national systems, they must also be beacons for the international system of relations between and amongst nations;

> Colonialism. A new era of Western colonialism in the form of “regime changes”, humanitarian interventions and pre-emptive wars is dawning. Freedom against colonial conquests and the right to self determination in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan needs collective international action;

> Elusive peace. The promise of peace, as the Cold War came to a close, has failed to materialise. Instead we have an era of pre-emptory military strikes, colonial conquests and the murder and maiming of millions to save them from a ‘dictator’;

> Weapons of mass destruction. The world needs to abolish nuclear weapons before they abolish us. The hypocrisy of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty must be exposed. The world needs to be protected against the military-industrial complex and its vested interest in wars and weapons of mass destruction. If the nefarious drug trade can be controlled, why is the murderous arms trade not regulated? Merchants of death who sell weapons of war must be condemned. War must be criminalised.

In the 21st century voices must be raised against militarism which fuels conditions for the neglect of socio-economic rights and horrendous violations of life and liberty;

> State terrorism. In many erstwhile democracies, the war against terrorism is being waged in total disregard of the rule of law and in violation of international rules against torture, illegal renditions, targeted killings and mass reprisals;

> Economic globalisation. Nor­thern domination of the global economy has severe human rights implications for five-sixth of humanity. The pervasive domination of Asian economies and social life by transnational corporations poses a serious but unacknowledged threat to the independence, dignity and wellbeing of Asians. Indigenous, small scale and family businesses that have roots in the community are unable to compete with efficient but impersonal retail giants from abroad.

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. A new Global Economic Order is needed. The Millennium Development Goals should be pushed vigorously;

> Indigenous resources. Third World countries are in danger of losing their indigenous cultural artefacts, their plants and seeds, their herbal medicines to the Western regime of patents and trademarks. A National Heritage Protection Law must be passed by the United Nations;

> Racism. Religious and racist bigotry in Asia and Africa are condemned and rightly so, but racism in the United States, France, Germany and Australia are gaining respectability. Racial and religious profiling is being permitted and hate speech is being condoned;

> The media. Due to the pervasive influence of Western media, Asian and African cultures and lifestyles are in danger of annihilation. Citizens of Asia and Africa are being “coca-colised” and “Mcdonaldised.” Diver­sity in matters of culture and politics is waning;

> Environmentalism. A catastrophe is around the corner. Those in the West most responsible for it have successfully defied international opinion. At home, too, we need to recognise that environmental destruction, over-logging of forests, over-cropping of lands, overgrazing of pastures, over-draining of wetlands, over-tapping of underground water and over-fishing of the seas pose a threat to our survival.

It is time to move away from the corporation-based society and to put economic activities under social control; and

> Intellectual hegemony. Accord­ing to Mohideen Kader, colonialism ruptured our links with our indigenous knowledge system, cultural traditions and values. It connected us to the hegemon’s world view. It caused an atrophy of our laws and institutions.

We need to reconnect with our rich heritage by overcoming forces such as transnational corporations, Hollywood, Bollywood, international institutions, laws and policies. We need to educate national elites who promote Western hegemony and Western intellectual imperialism and provide fodder for enslaved minds.

Though the tasks are multiple and the challenges seemingly insurmountable, none of us are exempt from the effort. It is around tiny blades of grass that mighty sand dunes grow.

Shad Saleem Faruqi is Emeritus Professor of Law at UiTM amd Honorary Legal Advisor to USM.

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