2007/12/20

Universal human rights

Our relationship to many not-so-democratic states in the world is not the best because so many people in our Western countries demand that our politicians press for human rights in those states. The basis for this is the claim that human rights are universal.

Well, there's good reason behind this assertion, but it's worth to be discussed if the current approach is a good one even if they are universally applicable.

Let's recall what human rights are. They are the basics that we used to transform our feudal (aristocrats, clerics, commoners) societies into egalitarian ones. The process of transformation took up to two centuries for the European countries - and the enlightenment was invented there!

Transforming societies is no easy enterprise - it takes a generation at least, sometimes two or more. The old rule set needs to be replaced by new ones, and whenever that happens you have some turmoil and ineffectiveness during the transformation as new rules don't harmonize with persisting old rules.

Asking a country to adopt human rights equals the demand to transform their society, as old society rule sets cannot function anymore with human rights. Think about the prevention of sexually motivated violence, for example. Our approach is to threaten everyone with high jail sentences as we have effective criminal investigation, court and jail systems. This allows us to grant human rights and not to force women to hide their beauty.

Other cultures have a different approach - they weren't able to afford court and police systems like that in the past and knew about the severe social troubles for raped women due to all the other rules in their societies. The answer is simple; women have restricted rights - they need to minimize exposure by not leaving home without male escort and have to hide their beauty. Such a rule set works fine and prevents a lot of sexually motivated violence - without expensive police, court and prison systems. The price is instead freedom, a price much lower than to feed and equip all those policemen, judges and lawyers if you're in a society that has already troubles to sustain itself without many people in these unproductive jobs.

Well, what happens if human rights are pressed into this society? The old rule set doesn't function anymore, but the costs of the more modern rule set cannot be afforded. The state is overburdened - as can be observed in many Third World countries.

We should recognize the challenges that some human rights create and not consider human rights as something free, something that has no disadvantages except probably for those who are already in power. There's a reason why dozens of states world-wide resist our demands for more human rights.

It's a fact that pressing other countries is less in our own national interest than being befriended with them. So we shouldn't press other countries to adopt our values until they're prepared to master the challenge.

To insist that all nations adopt human right immediately is not in our national interest, and often even not so in theirs.


Sven Ortmann

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