Well, I rarely write anything anymore, but people keep looking at stuff on this blog. 24,000 pageviews so far! Thanks to all readers!
In this brief note, I’d like to introduce the concept of a “Collective Rights Violation”. This is in response to the often repeated statement that human rights are individual rights, as explained by the author (Jack Donnely) of our textbook, for example, on page 20. (This refers to the book Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice, by Jack Donnelly, Cornell University Press, 1989)
While it has often been stated that human rights are held by individuals, I argue that this actually obscures the reality that many rights violations affect many people at the same time. That is, it affects a large group of people at the same time and in the same way. Emphasizing that human rights are individual rights actually hides the fact that many rights violations affect many people at the same time, and therefore are far more serious than if we simply hold that it affects individuals.
Examples of cases which would be accurately described as “collective rights violations”:
~Blocking of certain parts of the internet, or certain pages on the internet, actually affects all users of the internet in that country at the same time and in almost exactly the same way.
~Censorship of the media affects all consumers of the media in a country in the same way, by denying them free access to information.
~Denial of labor rights, such as the right to form independent labor unions, affects all workers who might be unionized or carry out strike actions in almost the same way.
~Denial of the right to freedom of speech or the right to freedom of assembly, does not affect only those who attempt to express their opinions, or attempt to demonstrate. It also affects many others, who are aware of the limitations on freedom of speech and assembly, and therefore do not attempt to exercise these rights, because they know what the consequences of these actions will be (i.e. imprisonment, harassment by the authorities, etc.).
~Land-grabbing, or seizures of land affect almost all the members of the group whose land is grabbed in an identical way.
~Many economic, cultural and social rights violations are also felt collectively by an entire group of people. For example, a government’s failure to ensure adequate healthcare is felt by all people in that society, although in different ways (due for example to their individual wealth- wealthy people will be able to secure healthcare despite government policy, while poor people will struggle to do so.)
~Denial of the right to freedom of religion may also affect groups of people collectively. For example, in Indonesia, only certain religions are recognized by the government as legitimate. In Indonesia, there is one group of people called the Ahmadiyya, or Ahmadis, who consider themselves to be Muslims. However, the government does not recognize the legal existence of this group, which has made them vulnerable to attacks by other Muslim groups in society who consider them to be heretical. They have also faced pressure from the Indonesian government to cease practicing their religion on the grounds that their religion is not recognized.
Why is the concept of a “Collective Rights Violation” important?
Some powerful entities have tried to attack the concepts and the importance of human rights by saying that they are not relevant or applicable in their own societies. For example, Lee Kuan Yew and Mahathir Mohammed*, of Singapore and Malaysia respectively, have tried to argue that human rights are not important in their Asian societies. They argue that human rights are based on individualism, on the importance of the individual, while their societies emphasize the needs of society of the whole, and the necessity of individuals to sacrifice their own benefit for the sake of the whole society. It’s the idea, for example, that people should sacrifice their political rights (which are curtailed in both Malaysia and Singapore), for the sake of the greater whole of society. In their argument, the whole society will benefit from economic growth, for example. And this economic growth will come about from individuals sacrificing their political rights.
Some of their supporting arguments would be that:
Only a few people are claiming their political rights (“claiming” their rights here means that they are actively seeking to exercise their rights, or challenging the denial of their right, through for example the legal system). By trying to show that only a few people are claiming their rights, they are trying to minimize the problem of rights violations, and show that it is a minimal problem if compared to the benefits given to society as a whole (through economic growth for example.)
Individualism is a feature of Western societies, and therefore it does not apply to Asian societies. Human rights are individual rights, whereas Asian societies are more collective in their outlook- they tend to consider the good of the whole as opposed to the welfare of the single individual.
The concept of a “Collective Rights Violation” is an effective response to this argument because:
It shows that while only a few people may be actively claiming their rights, it actually affects a much larger group of people who are too scared to claim their rights, or are not willing to suffer the costs associated with claiming their rights (such as imprisonment, possibly losing their job, being investigated by the authorities, etc.) Other people might not even be aware that their rights are being violated due to censorship or the lack of freedom of information and freedom of speech (by which other members of society would be able to freely communicate to them about the existence of rights violations). Even though many people do not claim their rights, or are not even aware of them, their rights are still being violated as part of the collective whole.
It undercuts the argument that rights actually reflect individualism, by emphasizing that some rights violations are actually experienced collectively by an entire group of people. This makes it more difficult for human rights to be dismissed on the grounds that it reflects Western culture.
Conclusion: I would welcome any feedback or criticism from you on this proposed concept. Please note that this is my own concept, and as far as I know, is not part of the normal dialogue or theory on human rights.
*The claims of these two individuals against human rights are especially suspect because they gained significant political benefit by denying others their political rights.
Posted in Civil Liberties, Democracy and Elections, Government, International system and law, Issues | Tags: asian values, censorship, collective human rights violation, collective rights violation, cultural relativism, human rights, human rights and individualism, human rights Asia, human rights theory, individual rights, individualism, land grabbing, Lee Kuan Yew, Mahathir Mohammed, origin of human rights, right to freedom of association, right to freedom of expression, right to freedom of information, Right to Freedom of Religion, the asian values argument, universalism, Western, western concept
Well, another milestone has been passed- a few weeks ago this blog reached 18,ooo “hits”.
Its great to see many people checking out the blog, but only wishing that some of my more obscure posts would get more readers. Sometimes the posts that I think are best are not getting any readers, compared to more popular subjects, like the “New World Order” conspiracy or dating “rules”.
I haven’t written many posts recently, have had many ideas but some ideas were so “alternative” that I didn’t think I could post them.
Thanks to all readers who have made this blog successful so far!
There was a ‘widespread drought’ in the amazon rainforest last year, which caused a die-off of trees. These dead trees will now release carbon into the atmosphere as they decompose. Allegedly, the CO2 emitted from these trees that died will be more than the US produces in one year.
It also means the Amazon did not absorb as much CO2 from the atmosphere as it normally would.
But wait, it gets worse. This huge drought was the second in 6 years- there was another ‘once in a century’ drought in 2005.
I really worry about this problem. An old friend is a complete skeptic about global warming and the effect of greenhouse gases. I can’t understand how someone could come to this conclusion. It’s one thing not to do anything about global warming; it’s another thing to deny it all together.
Something needs to be done quickly!
Have been watching this brewing for the last few days… I see that it still has not been resolved.
Ivory Coast was to resolve the political crisis through elections, which I believe were delayed several times by Gbagbo. Now after the election, the election commission declared Alassane Ouattara who is from the north, to be the winner. Laurent Gbagbo, however, the loser in the poll, refuses to recognize the results and has continued to declare himself the President. The UN is sheltering the apparent winner, Ouattara, in a hotel, while Gbagbo has recently demanded the UN peacekeepers in Ivory Coast to leave. However, the U.N. has refused, as detailed in (this link) .
So, readers, I’d like to ask who do you believe? The entire international community, the Election Commission and the northern forces which say that Ouattara won, or just Gbagbo and the Supreme Court?
What will happen next? It’s hard to say. There’s a lot of pressure on Gbagbo to step down, but there have been cases where a country has faced down the international community, such as the Honduran crisis last year. Another common solution is to arrange power sharing agreements, where the person who should actually be the loser, somehow stays in power (such as what happened with Mugabe in the most recent elections in Zimbabwe).
This practice of arranging power sharing agreements actually rewards the people who refuse to step down, even when the evidence seems to show they lost. What I think I’m observing in Africa is that there is a real demand for democracy, but there are often these powerful politicians who end up standing in the way. Many African countries are still really run by the big man, and are centered on one person or politician. This is inherently undemocratic. Elections in which a transfer of power occurs is positive in that it separates the government from control by one person. A normal and regular process of transferring power from one leader and one parliament to another is healthy for a country in the long run. So, if the election really was won by Ouattara, I would definitely support him taking power, and feel that Gbagbo should back down.
The interesting thing about this story, when I read more about it in detail, is how much the international community now often gets involved with the internal affairs of states, especially when it is seen that there is a major human rights problem or democracy is not followed. In this case, they have put an extraordinary amount of pressure on Gbagbo to step down, and much of the pressure has come from African countries, including ECOWAS and the African Union.
Just yesterday, ECOWAS told Gbagbo to step down or expect military force. Its not clear if ECOWAS would be willing to put forward enough soldiers to actually defeat Gbagbo militarily. But in addition, the Bank of West African States, which controls the CFA, has said that only Ouattara’s representative can get money from the bank, which may start making it difficult for Gbagbo to pay the army and civil servants.
Right now its like a siege situation, which Gbagbo under siege, but still holding out with support from the military. He’s being extremely stubborn, but the pressure against him is serious. Can he withstand it or will he be forced to back down? Will it break out into a more military conflict or will it be resolved peacefully? Stay tuned to see what happens…
Update: 31 December 2010
Gbagbo’s people in Abidjan are now saying that they are going to storm the hotel in Abidjan where the supposed winner of the election, Alassane Ouattara, is being protected by 800 UN troops.
Presumably, if they did this, the UN would open fire on the crowd, which would probably ignite a large scale killing. I suspect the U.N. already has a plan to evacuate Ouattara in this case, so I doubt he would be killed.
But it would significantly increase the chances of Ivory Coast returning to civil war. Ouattara’s military support, which is based in the North of the country, must have been coming alive during this time. I haven’t been following Ivory Coast for years, so I don’t know if the Northern Forces have been disarmed, but I’d guess not, since the main Army seems to be totally Gbagbo supporters. Why would the Northern Forces disarm if they would be left with no military power?
Readers may wonder- If this guy Ouattara who everyone says won the election is so popular, and has so much support, why does he have to stay holed up in a hotel in Abidjan with UN protection? Well I’m guessing it’s because Abidjan is in the South, which is Gbagbo’s support base, and Gbagbo’s national military controls that area, so it would not be safe for him to be outside normally. Ouattara’s supporters are mainly in the North, so he would be safe if he were in that region, but much less so in Abidjan.
I know many readers will be busy reveling it up for the New Year, but bear in mind that a key election is coming up in Sudan in January. The South of Sudan will vote in a referendum on whether to remain part of Sudan or leave Sudan and become a separate country.
The stuff which countries are made of- a big deal. Similar recent events would be the vote for independence in East Timor, or the recent declaration of Kosovo as a new country (which has not been recognized by many countries).
I just want to encourage people to buy a live tree for Christmas this year, keep it in your house for a few weeks, and then plant it, possibly in your yard.
This year I won’t have a Christmas tree, because Christmas is not really celebrated here (very quiet holiday, and also no expectations). But I remember when I was younger, my family would buy a live tree, then plant it, usually in January.
Passing by our old house recently, I could see how big these trees had grown- they had really become majestic additions to the yard, street and house.
A live tree is also symbolic of a different level of consciousness, which is aware of the human impact on the environment. The gesture to buy a live tree is small, but represents something nonetheless.
Let me know if you do it!
Have a green Christmas!
It may not seem like that many really, but for those of you who do blog, you’ll know how hard it can be to get a lot of people to access your blog.
International Issues are not a big draw, necessarily, as they don’t directly affect most people’s everyday lives.
One of the things I like about blogging, is how you can put in a certain amount of time to publish something, and then just observe as it accumulates views over time, gradually having more and more impact. My research paper, for example, has slowly accumulated more and more page views, and hopefully it will have an impact on people’s thinking.
Thanks to all viewers, readers, and commenters!
Well I absolutely hate it when I don’t even get in a post in a whole month.
Have been in Burma/ Myanmar for the last week, and was having a great time at Bagan. It was really hot but somehow I managed to get around the old temples there. Other than the pesky sellers it was fine. A few days ago there was an incredible rainbow during a late afternoon rain. Burma is still a very traditional society, compared to Cambodia, Vietnam, or Thailand.
Unfortunately a few days ago I slept beneath the air conditioner and caught an awful cold. Now I have to face my long trip back home with this awful cold.
I met a few lovely people while in Bagan but not sure if I will ever see them again because of how hard it is to use e mail there. The other day it took me 30 minutes to read two e mails and send one e mail. (That’s in Bagan, not Rangoon).
Anyway, hope to write more in September!
I have a one week holiday so I decided to take advantage on the deals offered by Air Asia to fly over from Bangkok.
So far its been interesting (only one night so far), Rangoon looks very similar to how it used to look eight years ago. Very little seems to have changed, except its no longer the capital.
Internet seems even more controlled here than in China. Both Yahoo and Hotmail are blocked.
After a very stressful week before departure, I’m hoping to actually relax for a few days.
But the travel distance is long, and I’m sure to be tired by the time I arrive back home…
Well its refreshing there is finally rain here for the last few days. Taking a little of the heat off. Rain does bring the possibility of flooded streets, something to watch out for when riding an electric bike.
Have been distracted the last few days from activist work as i’ve been searching for a new flat. Have been lucky to be able to read the news.
Back to it soon i hope!
It looks like Rwanda’s Paul Kagame is becoming more repressive. US lawyer Eric Kayiranga has been arrested for seeking to defend an opposition politician Victoire Ingabire, who has been charged with promoting genocide ideology.
Although Kagame’s government has succeeded in bringing stability to Rwanda after the 1994 genocide, it has also established severe policies restricting freedom of speech about the genocide. In Rwanda, only one version of the genocide is allowed in public, and this version is taught to all students in the country.
In an interesting take on something that people often take for granted, at least in the United States, well known author Barbara Ehrenreich questions positive thinking.
In the above article, Ehrenreich discusses ways that positive thinking may have been a contributor to the US financial crisis.
In the above article, Ehrenreich discusses it in a variety of contexts, including when she got breast cancer.
I found these articles interesting because I had never really recognized how dominant this mode of thinking had become in the US. But I can see that it may be true.
At the same time, I still think that positive thinking can be good, especially when needed as a balance to negative thinking. I think I am a kind of perfectionist who often sees the flaws in various things, including around the world, so for me it is good sometimes remember the positive points in life. That helps me to achieve a kind of balanced mental attitude.
Here is the Wikipedia entry on Norman Vincent Peale, who was made famous by his book “The Power of Positive Thinking”. I didn’t realize that his book had been so strongly criticized. I also didn’t realize that he had opposed John F. Kennedy being President because he was Catholic.
Well, have to run, more later, I hope…
Well, the page views keep rolling in… Even though I’d like to have more readers of course, it is nice to see that so many people have looked at this website in one form or another over the last two years.
Its also encouraging to see how many people from different countries have been watching! So strange to be staying in one place but still have some small influence in many different parts of the world!
Lately the favorite post has been “Should a Man Always Pay for a Woman on a Date?” It seems many people are interested in this subject- it must be something which affects people on a regular basis. Another post which has been popular on a long term basis has been “Dissecting the New World Order Conspiracy”. Amazing how many people have heard of and been affected by this group of conspiracy theories!
Well, I’d better get back to writing! Happy Valentine’s Day and Happy Chinese New Year!
- activism and personal life
- Country commentaries
- Music Recordings
- Travel newsletters