How Universal is the UN declaration of Human Rights?
Secretary General – EMISCO
President- Advisory Council – ENAR
Nowadays Human Rights are discussed in almost all political and social forums of debate in Denmark and in the Western World. Politicians, the intellectuals, scientists, students, craftsmen and the man in the street, everybody talks about Human Rights in China, in Pakistan, in Nigeria and every other country outside this Western World. The discussion usually ends up in raising more questions, than answers.
People in the West are asking:
Why people of the developing World do not respect Human Rights, and the sanctity of human life?
Why are they so undemocratic and why are these cultures oppressive and violent?
Compared to these Western questions, people outside the western World, and some progressive people living here in the Western World, ask many basic questions:
Since the foundation of the United Nations in 1945, the protection of Human Rights have been one of the corner stones in the work, politics and the practice of the UN. The UN High Commission for Human Rights have been an active and very vocal advocate for these rights and almost all the Western democracies have been especially proud of their role as the true protectors of this UN declaration. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the New World Order, all nations, especially the nations of the Third World are told to respect the Human Rights, and establish democracies with more than one party political system. Human Rights Conventions arte many and varied. UN Convention on Children’s Rights from 1989, The European Human Rights Convention from 1950, the UN Convention on Abolition of Racial Discrimination, The European Council Convention from 1994 on Protection of National Minorities in Europe, the UN Convention on Civil and Political Rights from 1966 and the UN Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights from 1976 are some of the more visible ones.
What are the Human Rights?
I will only take a starting point in the two last Conventions. First the UN Convention on Civil and Political Rights from 1966. In this Convention, the individual’s rights are established- freedom from suppression, and right to full participation in the social life. The right to live, right to think and speak, right to choose, the right to self determination are amongst the main points in this Convention. It is these rights the West prefers, when they talk about violation of Human Rights.
The second UN Convention deals with Economics, Social and Cultural rights, that is, freedom from hunger, food on the table, cloths on the body, roof over the head. And betterment of mans life conditions, the right to work to earn to uphold life, and the right to education.
The Convention says that all people have the right of self-determination, that is, the right to determine their political, economical, social and cultural development.
If the spirit of this convention is to be kept intact, then it means that Denmark can not say to Pakistan or China, that they must chose a Western political model.
What Western attitudes lie behind the Human Rights?
Few years ago a meeting was held in the Council for Ethnic Minorities, which is a democratically elected advisory body to the Ministry of Interior, with the support from approx. 150
non-governmental ethnic minority organizations. The Council had invited a minister for consultation to discuss Danish media´s unbalanced and biased coverage of the ethnic minorities in Denmark. A united Council encouraged by a newly released media report, requested the
minister, to consider taking up their worries with the responsible people in the media world. The Council for Ethnic Minorities asked for a dialogue with the media, in order to direct their attention to the fact that the often-misleading information have and will continue to have a considerable negative effect on the process of integration. The minister not only was totally dismissive to the suggestion; she also gave the following remark to the members of the Council:
"Denmark is a democratic society. Here a minister can not dictate anybody anything. Many of you who come from undemocratic countries should understand this."
For a long second, there was a pin drop silence in the room. After having heard this remark, I thought: We have not asked the minister to dictate or order the media. The only thing we suggested was a dialogue through her. Why did she ascribe our wish for a dialogue as an undemocratic intention? Pakistan, where 3 of the Council members came from, had for example, an elected, popular, internationally respected, female head of the government-Benazir Bhutto, at that time. I asked myself if the minister´s reaction was caused by the fact that she was being poorly informed, or if her response was a typical Danish minister´s non-committal arrogance which is obstructing her clear understanding of the problems of ethnic minorities, or if it just was a normal West European knee-jerk reaction to a group of ethnic minority representatives. She apparently considered us as coming from primitive, underdeveloped and uncivilized societies.
The example is unfortunately not unique. In the modern information society, there are a lot of comfortable myths about the Non-Western world, floating in the Western World. In literature, the educational system, the media and the political discussion, there is a clear pattern: The cradle of the western democracy was in Greece, and the modern Western democracy has grown directly from it with refined version coming later out of the Judo-Christian renaissance. It´s assumed that this form of democracy should be universal. Since everybody outside the European sphere have not been obeying this dictate, thus they are considered barbarians. With the expeditions under the colonial times, a need to justify the supremacy and exploitation of the other civilizations and countries arose. When people in the West today talk about European democracy, tolerance and Human Rights, they have very conveniently chosen to forget about the horrors of the crusades, the Inquisition, the colonialism, the slave trade and the 1st and 2nd World War.
It is a puzzle to me and many people in the non-western parts of the world, that despite this disgusting display of oppression through out history, why it is so important for the West, to maintain the fiction that it is only here, the true democracy functions.
Why nobody questions on how this democracy is practiced. To me the foundation of democracy is that all are equal and have equal rights and possibilities to participate in the democratic processes of decision making. In this relation, the democracies in Western Europe are far from perfect. Here the talk is much about the right to speak, especially as a contrast to the Non-Western countries. But this freedom to free speech the West has, does not ensure that all citizens have equal access to real information about the society, or to participate in the public debate. As mentioned before a major part of the media are highly subjective in some fields, amongst others in the treatment of the ethnic minorities. At the same time there are some social differences, i.e. the level of education, which causes not all to have equal possibilities to keep themselves informed. A Dane who only reads Ekstra Bladet or an Englishman who gets his daily doze of information from Daily Mirror all his life, does not have a real basis from which he can form his own opinions and make his decisions. On top off this, when one then observes that the politicians do not refrain from using populistic arguments, in order to win votes, even if they all should know that this is an undemocratic trait.
Who decided the context of the Human Rights?
From the outset of UN, it was the USA and it´s Western Allies, who dictated the agenda, substance and tone for establishing the Human Rights Conventions. Their intentions were to create instruments of justice and clear guidelines to follow for states and governments as to how to treat it´s citizens. This was the direct result of the lessons learned from the Second World War and the establishment of many new national states in the World.
With such a convention in hand, it would be easy for the initiators of the convention the Western Powers to use the good offices of UN to further their own political and cultural interests. A sort of an American moral crusade was in the making. The cold war between West and Soviet block was a testing ground for this.
In recent years there have been a renewed focus on "a New World Order". In 1990 George Bush declared that no aggressor in the future, should go unpunished- that occupation by military force would not be permitted - that international borders are not to be changed at random - that the Human Rights must be respected by everybody and that violations of the Human Rights
must be stopped. And finally, that Mankind is on its way into a new era of democracy and security. Who will not consent to such high ideals? The crucial question however is, if those in control
of the political power in the world: UN, The Security Council, The World Bank, IMF, NATO and EU, take their own principles seriously, or if these principles just is an alibi to further the interests of the West. Algeria is just one example of the
double standard of morality regarding democracy.
Here a religious based political party, FSI, won a democratic victory by election. But because the party represented the big enemy picture of the West-Islam, then this democratic victory came in the way of the wishes of the West. France supported the military regime of Algeria hereafter, who then simply cancelled the result of the election, and arrested the leaders of FSI. Here a unique chance to establish a democracy, that suited Algeria, was sabotaged by the great spokesman of democracy. A similar example is the change of government in Turkey. Prime Minister, Erbakan was forced to resign, by Turkey military even if his Refah Party won the most mandates at the elections. Not even one of the democratic countries in the West have protested or complained. When you ask the Turks, they openly say that it is the West, that have pressed the Turkish military to commit this blunder. They are very fearful of the disastrous consequences this military intervention may produce in the future.
Speaking of Turkey, one is reminded again and again about Human Rights violations committed in that ancient land. Now, there is much talk about the Turkish ill treatment of it´s Kurdish minority. This focus is not for the brown eyes of the Kurds, but for the economic and political interests of the West. At the same time, nobody reacts to the murder of 45.000 kashmiri civilians in Indian occupied Kashmir who wants to have a chance to vote for their destiny. Another example is the massive critic of the Atomic weapon program of Pakistan, while
at the same time the atomic weapons of Israel officially do not not exist. The whole of the Western World allied to protect the
undemocratic despots of Kuwait against Iraq. At the same time, we saw the complete lack of intervention in Ex-Yugoslavia. Despite having surefire information on organized murder, rape and abuses of civilians as well as the existence of inhuman concentration camps, they waited 4 years to intervene. Not even after the end of the war have they managed to bring the guilty politicians and generals to court.
Have the West, and thereby Denmark, the moral integrity to demand respect for the European defined Human Rights from other countries?
Seen from the outside, it seems remarkably as if the west only intervenes, when it is political and especially economical convenient. It is not the democracy of the big principles, that are being exported by the west. It is rather the economy and the power, that speaks. But despite that one can still sell the goods. What prays on my mind is, that I came to the west in order to meet and learn from democracy. But after having lived most of my life in the west, I am still looking for the democratic ideal. I see a lot of moralistic index fingers, repeated instructions on the true nature of democracy and constant reminders of me coming from a part of the world, where Human Rights are not respected.
But when I compare these Western democrat`s instructions with their actions, then I mostly see paradoxes and double standards of morality. This is maybe especially clear to me, because I live as part of an ethnic minority in Europe.
Mahatma Gandhi once said: "If you want to evaluate how civilized a society is, then one has to look at how it treats its minorities". After 45 years of economic progress in Europe, and the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the so-called victory for democracy, the daemons of Racism and Fascism again have popped up in the European psyche.
According to common sense one should think that the prosperity, individual freedom and political stability, Europe have achieved, would work as a vaccination, protecting Europe against hatred against strangers, and paranoid nationalism. But it is obviously still necessary to focus on the conditions of the ethnic minorities and democratic rights in Denmark and in all of Europe, and on the lack of protection of the minorities under the EU legislation.
The Maastricht Treaty only have a three-line paragraph on racial discrimination, and it is also in relation to sex, political and religious discrimination. The atrocity from the police reflects the growing wave of racism in Europe. Amnesty International have registered a rising amount of cases, where racism seem to be the background for torture and mistreatment from the police and other official departments in Western Europe. Despite this, it is very few governments, that acknowledges the increasing threat against the Human Rights in Europe. Since 1992 the UN Human Rights Commission have approved more than 72 resolutions against different countries. They have almost all been directed against Developing countries. This is not by chance. You can ask why are only the developing countries judged?
The majority of the industrial countries, sitting in the Commission, have no decent past in regard to Human Rights. Under the industrialization, these countries systematically violated the Human Rights in other countries. France, Great Britain, Germany, Portugal and Spain are some of these countries. The Western countries, including Denmark was involved in the slave trade during a period of 400 years.
According to the estimate of the well-known Afro-American historian W.E.B. DuBois, more than 3 million black people lost their lives during shipments, and several millions during the history of slave trade. It is one of the darkest periods in the history of Mankind, and a disgrace for Western Civilization. The terrible consequences from this, are not yet defeated. Africa, South Asia and Latin America are still the poorest areas of the world. Have the West in this great materialistic times of surplus, thought about giving these countries compensations for what they have plundered, exploited and stolen from them?
All Western Capitals have great museums filled with priceless stolen properties. The Western industrial countries have the full responsibility for the Human Rights problems, the world faces today. According to the UN reports, 1.3 billion of the worlds 5.7 billion inhabitants are starving, while the food warehouses are bulging with surplus butter, meat and corn. 40% of the EU budget is used as subsidiary to the agriculture sector. Farmers first produce milk, wine, corn etc. to then destroy their production. Try to explain the hungry people of the 3rd world this insane policy, erupting from the power of money over human life.
The Western World only make up 25% of the worlds population, but is using 75% of the energy resources
of the world, raw materials and minerals. New York City use more energy than all sub-Sahara countries in Africa, exclusive South Africa. How can it be that billions of people live in poverty, while the West are living it up (la dolce vita)?
Is it not connected with the earlier colonial masters exploiting, underpayment of their raw materials, odd agreement for trade, sales of weapons and support of Dictatorial governments. One of the best examples of the Western double standards of morality regarding Human Rights, is the Western support of Saddam Hussain and his oppressive regime throughout 10 years, while he fought Khomeini.
He was supplied with modern weapon, missiles, loans and moral support. No one in the West mentioned his violations of the Human Rights, but just as soon as he took over Kuwait, and threatened the commercial interests of the West, he was promptly called Hitler no. 2 and enemy no.1 of the West. In USA, the so-called Godfather of the Western World, 25% of the young blacks
are in prison. It is double as many as the ones going to Collage. According to newspaper Information, dated 12 April 97 the Amnesty International´s fight against the death penalty in USA is a failure. They say that they can not move authorities or population one inch, and most of the ones executed, are black.
Why do people from the Western World want to impose their individual-oriented values and concepts of freedom onto other cultures, and why does the West maintain the politics of confrontation towards the developing countries, and always use the Human Rights as an excuse?
Many geo-political reasons can be mentioned in this connection, but the most important ones are:
- The West wants to resurrect the old dream of the colonial powers and their supremacy in the World. The thing that worries them are not the condition of the Human Rights in the developing countries, but their own exercise of political power. Old fashioned violence and gun boat powers are substituted by incessant talk about Human Rights, media propaganda through satellite channels and culture combat. With the Western control of the mass media, it is convenient for them to stamp the developing countries as violators of the Human Rights, and in this way they avoid the public attention
on the debate on racism, discrimination of women, xenophobia and bad treatment of immigrants and refugees.
The West is very selective when they talk about Human Rights. For example, EU and USA have mounted a campaign against child labor in Pakistan. There have been sanctions towards the Pakistani carpet industry and textiles. They have made films on child labor practices by the land owners, and stamped Pakistan as a country that does not respect children’s rights, but it is suggestive that the neighboring country India was until recently rarely mentioned in the same connection. The Genaral Secretary from
the Free Professional International Association, P. Haridasan, stated to Fri Aktuelt (DK Newspaper) on April 19th 97 "Indian factory owners are breaking both Indian laws and the UN rules on child labor, when they hire children for professional work in mines and the match industry. India have mafia like conditions in the child labor area. In all off India, there are about 44 million children at work, thus making the country into the world largest consumer of child labor".
Are Western Human Rights models applicable for the developing countries?
I will give two examples, that will show that Human Rights, as the West emphasizes, not necessarily are a good idea in the poor countries. Let us take the example of India and China. India had it´s independence in 1947 and chose parliamentary democracy, free press, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and gave people the right to vote. In contrast to this China chose another political system, where the central management determined the economic and social policy. After 50 years with democracy, 80% of the population in India lives below the poverty line. Millions of people sleep in the streets, while few live in luxury. There are extensive drug problems, prostitution, and suppression of minorities. Thousands of people die every year in ethnic conflicts. In China the authorities-described in the West as dictators, have eliminated hunger, been giving food, clothes, education, and medicine to 1,2 billion people. This is what I call a miracle. Before the communists took over the power in China, hundred of thousands of people died from starvation, earth quakes and inundation. Now these catastrophes are eliminated. I do understand why China is furious about the accusations from the West regarding breaches in Human Rights. You could ask why does the West not value the colossal progress China have made in the last 50 years, even if the West have done what they could to destroy the country through opium trade, support of civil wars and occupation policy.
The founder of the modern China, Chairman Mao Tse Tung, several years ago defined the first and foremost Human Right, to an English politician, as being "The possibility to provide himself and his family with the daily bread and a reasonable habitation".
Ex-Chancellor Helmuth Schmidt on a friendly visit to Denmark stated to the newspaper Aktuelt "I have been to China several times. The first time, 22 years ago and the last time in Autum 96. My own experiences tell me that 99% of the Chinese prefer economic reforms to political ones".
It is widely known that the Western educated intelligentsia in China are the only ones demanding democracy as the first thing. China have gone through incredible changes. Deng Xiapeng did this by opening for economic reforms. The rest will come later.
In Russia they have made it the opposite way, and we know the result. The same can be said of the Philippines and Malaysia. A short time back I spoke to a Danish industrial executive, returning after 12 years residency in the Far East. She told me, that in the Philippines they have relative freedom of speech, where you could talk freely about politics and other matters. The result is that people now are confused, and disturbances and social unrest is rising. In Malaysia they have a prime minister, ruling with an iron fist. No freedom of speach, but no social unrest, and the population are behind their government, because they can see the results of their hard work. The welfare society in the country is developing.
What can we do?
I am a great supporter of the Human Rights. I do not want a single person or group being exploited, suppressed or tortured. Respect for Human Rights must be a basic principle for any society. But it is up to each single society to decide, what are their needs, problems and what models for a solution they must use. If the West wants that other countries should be just as democratic and human as themselves, then it is necessary that:
To establish a cooperation between rich industrial countries and poor 3rd World countries at socio- economic levels. The West can give technology, money and knowhow without these countries
have the feeling of being pressed. When these countries have solved socio-economic problems, it will further democratic processes.
All trade agreements, that benefits the West must be renegotiated so the countries of the 3rd World receives fair payment for their raw materials and products.
The West must stop selling weapons to the countries of the 3rd World. Currently this is the largest commodity, which have very devastating consequences for other countries.
The rich countries must participate in a big educational campaign in countries in the 3rd World. Instead of useless projects, schools and technical institutions should be opened.
An educated people will be more open to democracy and less inclined to be suppressed from within and from the outside.
Denmark should not play with its muscles and be a scout for the US global ambitions. It is funny and painful. Denmark are greatly respected in other countries, because she stays neutral and helps without unnecessary demands. This position we shall keep instead of being ruthless towards the colossal problems of other countries. Western arrogance often results in resentment on the part of the receiving countries, therefore it is necessary to give with a smile and receive with kindness.
This policy will change the relation between the developing countries and industrial countries. Today I am a European citizen in a Europe that can bring about peace and welfare for all its citizens and take its responsibility for the surrounding world upon its back, and that is what I want from a democracy.
Men must live together in respect for each other, and on this background create relations, cultural and trade wise, instead of becoming involved in cultural imperialism.