Feb 15, 2007

which human rights?

One way the Neg can approach the resolution is to force the Affirmative to precisely define which human rights the UN has an obligation to protect--and then show how either those rights are not justifiable, are logically inconsistent, or, possibly, are dependent on the existent of a viable, legitimate state.

So, which rights? Alan Petigny and Joshua Zeitz, examining the historical origins of the UN's commitment to human rights, note,
[Eleanor Roosevelt's] efforts found reinforcement in the work of an extraordinary panel of philosophers gathered by the UN's Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Under the capable direction of the Cambridge University historian E. H. Carr, the Committee on the Theoretical Bases of Human Rights asked a group that included Aldous Huxley, Mohandas Gandhi, the Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the Confucian philosopher Chung-shu Lo, and the Bengali Muslim poet Humayin Kabir if it was possible to identify values that cut across all national, ethnic, religious, and regional boundaries. Much to the surprise of many, and to the delight of Eleanor Roosevelt, their answer was an emphatic yes.

"Varied in cultures and built upon different institutions, the members of the United Nations have, nevertheless, certain great principles in common," the committee reported. It went on to identify specific values that were shared across cultures and continents. Mary Ann Glendon, a scholar of human-rights law, sums them up as "the right to live; the right to protection of health; the right to work; the right to social assistance in cases of need; the right to property; the right to education; the right to information; the right to freedom of thought and inquiry; the right to self-expression; the right to fair procedures; the right to political participation; the right to freedom of speech, assembly, association, worship, and the press; the right to citizenship; the right to rebel against an unjust regime; and the right to share in progress."
Already we can see problems: is there truly a "right to work" and a "right to share in progress," either of which may have socialist implications? Doesn't the right to citizenship presume national sovereignty? Doesn't the right to rebel mean there's no good reason for the UN to violate sovereignty, since (in a Lockean perspective) sovereignty belongs to the people?

There's much more worth examining in the article, which is a decent primer to the controversy, and which takes a rather pessimistic stance toward the UN's ability to effectively keep peace and maintain a balance between rights and sovereignty.

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