Human Rights are a body and corpus of rights that accrue to men and women on account of being human. These rights are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the world body, the United Nations, in 1948. The sentiments and ideals underpinning human rights are noble and laudable. But, in practice, it would appear that the concept of human rights is an “ideal type. That is, from a Weberian schema, human rights are more abstract, hypothetical constructs, than anything else. This assertion may sound counter intuitive and rather controversial given the progress mankind has made, in historical and contemporary terms. However, there are innumerable instances in and from the real world which, in the least, lend credence to the more or less hypothetical nature of human rights.
The unfolding tragedy in Syria serves as an eloquent example and instance of this.
It would not constitute an exaggeration to state that hundreds and thousands of people, including women and children have been killed in the hell that is Syria. The Syrian tragedy unfolded soon after the so called “ Arab Spring” when Syrians took to the streets and protested against the Assad regime. The regime responded brutally and crushed the incipient uprising. Coeval with the “Arab Spring” was the withering away and crumbling of the post colonial Arab state which was given a shove by America’s “War of Choice” in Iraq. These complementary trends and developments created power political vacuums in much of the Arab world which, in turn, led to free for all anarchic, violent conditions.
The stumbling and bumbling behemoth, the United States, which went after Saddam Hussain, and by extension , the Iraqi state, under dubious premises, exited and then actually abandoned the Arab Muslim world. The country ostensibly orchestrated the Second Gulf War, in the name of democracy and democratization of the Middle East but when the price became rather intolerable, it scrammed for an exit. The price over the United States misadventures was paid by the people of Iraq and Syria( which has now become a geopolitical arena where different states vie for power, territory and control through either proxies or other forms of influence and interventions).
As the Assad regime with the help of other powers attempted to consolidate its hold on Syria and as hundreds and thousands have been and are being killed, the world watch(es) as a mute spectator. If, human rights were actually real and states and Great powers adhered to them, both in principle and practice, things would not have been allowed to come to a pass as they have, in Syria. But, nay, states and especially Great powers’ animating premises are sovereignty, power, security and interests. The Syrian saga and tragedy again constitutes a case in point here. Human rights might not even figure in the secondary and/or tertiary interests of states. However, status is accorded to human rights, in theory and in the rhetoric of states. The question is why?
A cynical response might be paying lip service to human rights is lip gloss to the dark reality and raison detre of states. Or, perhaps, human rights, in the modern sense of the concept and term, being a Western construct are actually meant for Westerners. However, in terms of this latter assertion, the human rights record in and across the West is patchy. Consider the United States. One reason for the emergence of Trump and Trumpism is that the human rights and its concomitant, justice, in the expansive sense of the term, were elusive for many white Americans. Herein then lay the appeal for and of Trump’s populism. ( As far as blacks in America are concerned, the lesser said the better).In Europe, broadly speaking, human rights might be real for most of the white superstructure of its constituent societies(especially in European social democracies), for the immigrants and asylum seekers, human rights remain rather distant, especially if and when they fall afoul of authority.
There then is a load of hypocrisy when it comes to the issue of human rights in practice. This is not to state that human rights do not exist. They do but mostly in theory, in the ivory towers of the academy and perhaps in conference and seminar halls. All in all, if a balanced score card of human rights is to be adduced, in all fairness, it would appear, that while the scope of human rights as a theoretical and hypothetical construct is broad, wide and deep, but the practice and reification of these rights is patchy, skewed and zig zagged. Can there arrive a day when human rights become real for every human being? Not as long as the primary interest(s) of states merely lie in power, security and raison d’etat.
—The author can be reached at: [email protected]