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International Human Rights and Political Realism in the 21st Century Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Nima Shirali, Canada Oct 24, 2003
Human Rights   Opinions
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Recent trends, which have contributed to shaping prevalent, universalized norms, are of significant importance, upon pursuit of the study of human rights in an international context. Such trends have been formed, and accredited with the introduction of the concept of international governance. Thus, has as one of its central goals the preservation, and protection of human rights. Simultaneous with creating such arrangements, attempts have also been made to promote an order, by which states can be held answerable for violating these universalized human rights. However, recent history suggests that the attempts since the creation of the United Nations have been skillfully manipulated by prominent states to advance, and actualize their national agendas. Many scholars have attributed this to the complete failure of the U.N. to make applicable its universalized principles, and that this failure can be appertained to U.N.’s endeavors on empirical grounds. However, it is important to point out that the manipulation of the concept of universalized human rights principles can also be implicated with the U.N.’s stark success on normative grounds. This paradox, which is due to a juxtaposition of success and failure in two disparate realms, has indeed served to act as an effectual tool in realizing the economic and political goals of prominent states, which have benefited from consequential membership in the U.N.

It would be logical to assert that such exploitations of the concept of human rights can be simultaneous with witnessing a lucid contradiction of its fundamental convincement. This article will commence by attempting to illuminate the root causes, which foster state manipulation of the concepts in question, and will subsequently proceed to illustrate this contradiction employing two instances. The two instances, namely that of U.N. resolutions against Iraq, which have been a cause of action (commission), and U.N. resolutions against Israel, which have been responded to with inaction (omission). After a thorough analysis, it will conclude with a succinct proposal, which could be utilized to prevent repetition of trends, which have materially contradicted the principles of human rights.

As indicated, the first section of the paper will be devoted to elucidating the root causes of the failure in empirically applying universalized human rights. The results of careful observation would support the notion that this failure has indeed been the result of success. This paradoxical assertion has as its grounds for justification the (seldom) universal acceptance of the human rights doctrines on a normative level, which signifies success, and their violation, which signifies failure on an empirical level. In other words, in the context of international human rights, failure in application has ironically been the result of success in promotion. This ‘success’, which is alluded to, can be illustrated through state ratifications of numerous human rights treaties, which signifies their acceptance of the content of the treaties on a normative level, and their violations of the treaties, which signifies a failure for the treaties to become applicable on empirical grounds. To illustrate this point, one can view Malaysia’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child as a suitable example. Malaysia’s delegation to the U.N. made his country a signor to the Convention in 1995, five years after it came into force, and by doing so put forth the symbolic image of Malaysia’s respect for the Convention, and the country’s willing to adhere to its content.
This having been mentioned, it is also worth mentioning that not only has the government of Prime Minister Mahathir failed to adhere to the content of the Convention, yet has materially contravened it in many significant respects. The most significant respect, by which the Malaysian government has contravened the Convention, is by its receptive stance pertinent to allowing foreign investment into the country. The paper does not argue that foreign investment into developing countries like Malaysia is always in opposition with the protection of human rights, but will attempt to point out a clear violation in the case of Malaysia. The government of this country has welcomed the investment of transnational corporations such as Nike and Reebok, which in turn have unlawfully exploited Malaysia’s children. This has been the case with respect to compelling a large portion of them to toil in factories under unjust conditions for long periods of time, at times twelve hours a day, with scheduled bathroom breaks. This is starkly in contrast with Section 1 of Article 19 of the Convention, which explicitly states: “State Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment, or exploitation”. It is unquestionable that the exploitation of a child in Malaysia, which is the direct result of unlawful child labour, formulates a stark encroachment of this section of the Convention. Yet, the Malaysian government has not been threatened with the imposition of economic sanctions, nor has it been threatened on military grounds for its blatant breach of the Convention. This example corroborates the assertion that there has been inadequacy in terms of adhering to an international treaty on empirical grounds, and that this inadequacy has been subsequent, and the result of, the success of the treaty on normative grounds. The failure has been made manifest through the stark violation of Article 19, while the success through the acceptance of the terms, and the ratification of the treaty.

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