It is not an exaggeration to say that such deliberate manoeuvring of people’s minds is at the root of most international disputes. The governments that perpetrate are primarily responsible for this state of affairs; and so are the easily gullible masses of citizens who lack critical perspective.
The Second World War and the holocaust associated with it shook up the conscience of the international community. The result was the declaration by the United Nations of Universal Human Rights in 1948. Ever since, all alleged human rights violations were judged on the basis of the provisions in this important document. While erecting a common platform for justice to all humanity is a noble idea, it has had its share of practical difficulties. For one thing, the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were conceived by the victors of the Second World War, namely the Western Democratic coalition comprising of the United States of America, Great Britain, France, etc. The Soviet Union was also a participant, but the issue of human rights was not high on its list of priorities. Moreover, the Soviet Union cannot be said to represent the entire hemispherical East. Hence, the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights essentially embody Western notions of rights and justice. This has led to several misunderstandings between the liberal-democratic West and the community-based political arrangements of the East. A case in point is China, which has long drawn criticism from British and American press for its human rights violations. But observers with wider cultural sensitivity and understanding suggest that what looks like excesses of the Communist Party from Washington D.C. is not perceived to be a hideous violation by the Chinese people. It all boils down to a matter of particular viewpoints instead of one of objective reality. The lead up to the Beijing Olympics saw such a hue and cry. But the flawless manner in which the event was organized and celebrated by Chinese citizens suggests that they are not an oppressed lot. Such cultural misunderstandings are at the core of most injustices in international relations. The solution to this problem lies in greater awareness of alien cultural norms. Nevertheless, there is no doubting the fact that the concept of universal human rights is essential for harmonious international relations. To its credit, the UN Charter and UN Declaration of Human Rights are based on some of the illustrious examples from the Western judicial canon:
“The modern rights movement has its origins in two separate sources – the tradition of ideas and political theory of the late eighteenth century, and the social reform movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Milestones of the first source include the development of the modern view of rights established with the popularity of the American Bill of Rights in 1791 and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789. Works like Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man (first published in 1791) were also important in spreading Enlightenment notions of human rights and freedom from hierarchical forms of authority such as the church. Through such means, that is, the juridical codification of rights in state law, the nation state became the body authorized to enact and protect rights”. (Raia Prokhovnik, p.230)
This crucial development in international diplomacy shifted the emphasis from individual rights that are constitutionally protected by geo-political entities to the acceptance of universality of rights as described in the UN’s Declaration. This shift has accentuated the visibility and legitimacy of rights claims within any particular nation. It has also had a significant influence on “international politics and law by setting standards or norms of conduct and treatment” (Raia Prokhovnik, p.231). Either way, it has helped foster a better world to live in.