Search This Blog

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Have human rights changed? Will they continue to change anything in this world? The debate will go on…….

by Kiran Wagle

Has there been any unified ‘international human rights movement’ in the world? Have human rights changed anything in the world so far? Or will they change the World as expected by ordinary people and organizations?

People are skeptical about this and other issues regarding human rights around the world. A debate between skepticism and optimism towards the role of Human Rights took place in The Hague Institute for Global Justice, The Hague, Netherlands on February 7th 2014. This timely and interesting discussion was made possible by Amnesty International (AI) (Netherlands) and the programme was the first of its kind in a seminar-series of AI initiated Strategic Studies Project that started last spring.  

This seminar, entitled ‘Endtimes or Breakthrough: Human Rights in a Neo-Westphalian World’ was highly thought-provoking and aimed to reiterate the changing perspectives on human rights. Stephen Hopgood, author of ‘The Endtimes of Human Rights’ was the key speaker and presented views as discussed in his book, published in 2013. Mr. Hopgood was very skeptical as to whether ‘international human rights’ dealt with the different parts of the world in an equal and similar manner. As an example, he said that local actors/people often believed that international human rights movements make no change on the ground. However, human rights are no longer marginal; they are globally practiced and mainstreamed. Human Rights have become a high-profile global campaign, yet as time goes by, this legacy (developed quickly from the 1970s) will come to an end, Mr. Hopgood argued.

He further presented critiques and emphasized that the current international human rights movement has created two different worlds; a ‘grassroots’ movement and a ‘top-down’ movement, thus he expects two major changes in the human rights sector. The first is related to the multi-polarity of human rights. Mr. Hopgood believed that the domination of the US and EU in human rights discourses will end due to the strong presence of rapidly growing countries such as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and MINT countries (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey). The second change is that human rights will include a much more diverse system due to realization and need for space for different religions, nationalities and traditional values. Additionally, Mr.Hopgood expressed skepticism as to whether there has been any real international human rights movement in the world and if anything has actually changed concretely.

Unlike the key speaker, the two respondents, Todd Landman (Professor of Government and Executive Dean of social science at the University of Essex) and Steve Crawshaw (Director of Secretary General’s office of AI), presented contrasting optimistic views about human rights.  They said that the ‘human rights regime gives us the space to work’. Both disagreed with Mr. Hopgood’s pessimism and said that although there are some challenges; there are also several opportunities waiting to be uncovered in the human rights sector.

The seminar was observed with 'new human rights skepticism and optimism'. It also highlihted the question, 'can we fix the worldwide problem in a global way?'. The debate will go on stimulating thoughts as to how changes will occur an to what extent the space in-between 'universality of human rights' will be broadened.

Disclaimer: Blog posts do not necessarily reflect the views of Global Human Rights Defence.