Feb 8, 2007

human rights: not just for western liberals

In an essay relevant to the current LD UN resolution, Jerry Pubantz argues that the UN can and must move beyond "western values imperialism." (From "Constructing Reason: Human Rights and the Democratization of the United Nations," found in the Dec. 2005 issue of Social Forces.)
Somewhere between the facts of state-dominated international politics and the norms of a universal human rights regime lies the burgeoning discursive politics of contemporary international organization. While the UN system is surely not what Habermas (Bohman and Lutz-Bachmann 1997, p. 126) would call a "cosmopolitan democracy," it has served as the primary forum for global human rights formation. In the deliberative process of UN negotiation disparate actors - national government representatives, individual activists, NGOs and other international organization delegates and bureaucrats - craft human rights and attempt to extrapolate them to real life experience. In a world of "clashing" civilizations it is this discursive rights-formation that holds the greatest hope for lifting human rights out of their traditional western paradigm and providing them with universal legitimacy. Universal human rights then become less a form of western values imperialism and more a collective framework that even limits western actions while simultaneously expanding global conceptions of what is a "right."...

The expansion beyond western liberal conceptions of what we understand to be human rights is a product of three historic forces, all converging in the institutional decision-making structures of the United Nations system. New rights are the outgrowth of the fight for selfdetermination by formerly colonial peoples, the pursuit of power by the helpless and poor in the developing world, and the inclusion of nongovernmental organizations in UN deliberations, leading to a broad democratization of the world organization.
Under Kofi Annan's leadership, the UN's values have shifted toward what Pubantz calls "individual sovereignty."
According to Annan there must be a new understanding of the charter's charge to "maintain international peace and security." He wrote (2000, p. 48). "Once synonymous with the defense of territory from external attack, the requirements of security today have come to embrace the protection of communities and individuals from internal violence." He argued for the defense of "personal sovereignty" by the United Nations. Defending the new era of peacekeeping, humanitarian intervention and nation-building, he made the case that "surely no legal principle - not even [state] sovereignty - can ever shield crimes against humanity." There is a "moral duty" for the United Nations to intervene on behalf of the individual.
Individuals, not nations, are paramount. Pubantz concludes with questions and recommendations.
First, we must ask ourselves which human rights issues are not being addressed sufficiently in the United Nations. Immigration and criminal justice rights come quickly to mind. second, how do we more effectively include the poor and the weak in the deliberations that lead to the construction of rights? Too often the NGOs and state representatives that construct and then endorse new rights reflect only the perspective of the powerful and of those for whom the loss of rights is not a personal concern. Third, the global community must find ways to tie national and sub-national policy-making to UN constructed international standards. Domestic governments, not intergovernmental organizations, impose laws that affect people. Too often those laws demonstrate no inclusion of the principles that those same governments have endorsed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Millennium Development Goals, and human rights conventions and plans of action. In this regard, domestic interest groups with ties to the international community can be particularly effective in pressuring governments to abide by universal human rights standards. Fourth, ways must be found to level the power differentials among the stakeholders who participate in the UN democratized process. Precisely because there is no global electoral process to ensure that the voices within the human rights community at the UN are speaking for representative constituencies, means must be found to make sure that voices heard on matters of importance are not only those of the entrenched interests who best understand how to maneuver politically in the intricate web of UN agencies and committees. Most importantly, as the Cardoso Report encouraged, the United Nations must continually find ways to reform its decision-making structures and rules to incorporate more elements of international civil society in the democratic determination of rights. Only then can those recognized rights become universal moral standards that citizens of the world can accept as legitimate because those rights have been made by the will of all.
For the aff, Pubantz's piece suggests that potential negative claims that the UN is ethnocentric can be rebuffed by pulling the "ought" card. Also, the entire article details how human rights are the foundation for the UN's mission to promote peace (even though peace was the original raison d'etre.)

The neg will have to answer Pubantz's claim that promoting human rights actually could reduce conflict, or that the UN has the moral authority to do so, or that doing so at the detriment of sovereignty wouldn't create some sort of tyrannical world regime, or... well, you get the drift. Plenty of options on either side.

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