In 1948, the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document which was one part noble, one part impracticable and one part overly broad in terms of scope. After the manifold horrors of the wars of the 1930s and 1940s, there was clearly international momentum at an international level to promote a clear set of definitions about what human rights are and how they ought to protected. However, the 1948 Declaration tends to fall short in both of these areas.
Even from it inception, the abstention of several major countries in respect of adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the Soviet Union and its allies, Yugoslavia, South Africa and Saudi Arabia, meant that it was not going to be smooth sailing for the Declaration. This reality has been born out over the years as the UN Human Rights Commission and its successor body, the group currently know as the UN Human Rights Council have become something of a politicised laughing stock. Far from being surprising, it was inevitable that any UN Human Rights body would succumb to the state in which it currently languishes. The reasons for this is are the fatal flaws in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights itself.
Like most documents that attempt to define grandiose concepts on a universal basis, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has clearly failed to unite the world behind its articles. Instead, it has merely served to illustrate that one’s interpretation of human rights is ultimately subjective and derived from thousands of years of cultural understandings which cannot be easily supplanted by encouraging the adoption of a modern document. Furthermore, one’s definition of human rights is also derived from one’s material status. A poor person will clearly have different values when it comes to defining a human right than those who are so wealthy that what for others is a luxury, is for them, a right.
Because of this, the very phrase “human rights” has become so diluted that it has become synonymous with meddling in sovereign affairs, the screechy voices of hectoring western women condemning Asian, African and Latin American nations they know little about and an overall perverse understanding of who is entitled to rights in situations where material realities mean that the Utopian environment imagined in the Declaration is simply not tenable in any way.
Take for example the UN Human Rights Council’s unfair treatment of The Philippines. In President Duterte’s anti-narcotics battle, he is fighting to jail those whose drug fuelled existence has resulted in the rape of infants, some as young as two years old. Duterte is also fighting mass murderers, other rapists whose ghastly crimes are committed against those of all ages, he is fighting those who commit savage acts of bodily mutilation while burning or stealing the property of people who themselves are poor and desperate and those who have turned once peaceful streets into war zones. Duterte is fighting a black market that fuels both mafioso style gangsterism as well as organised terrorism including groups affiliated with Daesh (ISIS).
As a result, the streets of The Philippines are becoming safer, the young and the vulnerable are becoming less fearful and those watching the situation unfold are beginning to realise that crime does not pay. Instead of lauding Duterte for his efforts to prevent the rape of infants and the murder of entire families, the UN Human Rights Council has consistently condemned Duterte. They have done so on the basis of fake reports about the number of deaths in the anti-drug campaign and they have done so on the basis of a perverse assessment of a situation that turns the actual victims of drug selling, using and trafficking monsters into “aggressors” just because they support Duterte, while at the same time they seek to put the rights of dangerous criminals above those of normal men, women and children.
How can anyone take such an organisation seriously? Clearly those nations on the UN Human Rights Council attacking Duterte’s record are those working with a clear agenda to meddle in the sovereignty of The Philippine nation for reasons more to do with Duterte’s multipolar foreign policy than his domestic policy. But rather than attack his foreign policy directly – something that would take at least some understanding of the world, they have instead decided to attack his anti-narcotics campaign by arousing sick emotions that many liberals attach to the drug culture which they themselves have often profited from.
If this is the result of an attempt to build an organisation around a universal document on human rights, then far from condemning the United States for leaving the UN Human Rights Council, countries like The Philippines should join the US and withdraw from a body that is not only ineffective and hypocritical but one that is insulting to the true human rights of ordinary people as defined both by inferential logic and by cultural characteristics.
While I personally disagree with US Ambassador Nikki Haley’s rationale for withdrawing from the Human Rights Council, as she believes the Council is “biased against Israel”, I can respect the fact that an organisation that was designed to please everyone is actually not capable of pleasing anyone whether staunch Zionists like Haley or her pro-Palestinian opponents who often say that the Council does too little for Palestine.
This is a problem inherent in universalism. In the real world, the idea of fundamental rights is a reflection on that which one’s economy can provide and that which one’s culture finds necessary, tolerable or intolerable. Beyond basic factors including pledges to work as much as possible to avoid mass hunger, mass homelessness and mass disease, there is little that the world will ever be able to agree on in terms of human rights. This will likely never change for the same reason that cultures rarely change and when they do it is either over a long period of centuries or as a result of mass bloodshed.
Therefore, why should the world cling onto impossible universal ideals and in the process end up accomplishing little other than the betrayal of poor nations by rich ones who attempt to enforce their own highly individuated understanding of human rights as defined by their wealth and their culture, onto countries where economic and cultural realities necessitate a totally different understanding of what does and does not constitute a human right. Here one sees that the logical conclusion of pursuing universal ideas is often little more than an extension of the colonial mentality only with the added element of stomach churning hypocrisy.
Because The Philippines has been a unique victim of bias and hypocrisy at the UN Human Rights Council, it is imperative that President Duterte for his own unique reasons, follows Nikki Haley out the door while encouraging other developing Asian nations to do the same.
When the world’s richest nation and the world’s developing nations have both grown disgusted with the hypocrisy of the same organisation, such an organisation is clearly not fit for purpose. When trying to please everyone, one often ends up alienating or disappointment the same group that one initially tried to please on a universal basis.
This is the fate of the UN Human Rights Council. It is a body destined to do more harm than good because the scope of its agenda as defined in the Declaration is simply too broad to offer workable solutions to individuals problems which consequently require an individual approach. One size does not fit all and while America’s reasons for leaving might be hypocritical in their own right, in setting an important precedent, the US is accidentally helping to shed light on the living disaster that is the UN Human Rights Council.