Human Rights

A Political Race

In a recent interview, Stephen Hopgood raises an interesting question: how politically effective is human rights to a normative progress?  Although human rights are globally spread, one could easily argue that they at the same time stand on a shaky ground. There are various views on gender equality for example, there are also many aspects that determine the autonomy of indigenous peoples over their lands. In such fields, is claiming for human rights in its normative nature politically feasible?

Not an easy question to answer. Many have tried to. Normative lawyers might refer to the minimum core obligations. Others might refer to philosophical and historical basis for justice. But in realities these things often do not matter as much as in legal and abstract opinions. For many different reasons. Majority of the population might not consider it as important to promote gender equality, to respect LGBT rights, or to abolish death penalty. The government sees it as its obligation to convert native land into productive agricultural plantations, or to move people so dams or transportation infrastructures can be built. Obviously, there are many norms, rules and customs in the field, as much as there are many interests and agendas.

Does this imply a normative inadequacy of human rights? Another complex issue. To some extent, there are still strong western views in the ways human rights are constructed and challenged. Critiques on how ASEAN juxtaposes human rights and human responsiblity in one single authoritative document represent how certain standards should be maintained for human rights to work. Yet, many authors have successfully mustered the relevance of global south in the making of human rights. Although one should also bear in mind that the processes and outcomes of these endeavours are not altering the western influence in constructing and challenging rights.

Assessing normative inadequacy implies also an examination of the scope and jurisdiction of the human rights norms. Again, this is a contested territory, but one certain thing is that it is impossible to predict what each model of norms codification can deliver. Legal binding documents can have the same impacts as non-legal binding documents. The latter can face comparable drawbacks as the first one. Similarly, one can not simply gauge the extent to which monitoring-based system, penalties, or statistically based indicators can benefit or jeopardize rights holders.

Indeed, it is not easy to asses the political effectiveness of human rights in the race of normative progress.


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