Archive | December, 2018

On the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

10 Dec

On the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

[Prefatory Note: Responses to questions relating to the Universal Declaration of Human Right addressed to me by the journalist Rodrigo Craveiro on behalf of the Brazilian newspaper, Correio Braziliense. I am posting slightly modified responses today, December 10, the 70thanniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN General Assembly. This Declaration was a notable step in the direction of asserting that persons by virtue of their humanness are entitled to protection in the exercise of a broad spectrum of rights, and hence, that sovereignty is subject to certain constraining limitations. Much progress has been made since 1948, although we live in a period of mounting pressure on human rights deriving from a surge of right-wing populism combined with the effects of an insufficiently regulated capitalism. We also live at a time of expanding ecological consciousness, which includes a more serious concern about animal rights. Perhaps, the time has come to propose and draft a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Animals.]

 

1– How do you see the meaning and the importance of  Universal Declaration of Human Rights? What are the main parts of the Declaration in your point of view?

 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was a historic document as it represented the first time that an authoritative and comprehensive conception of internationalhuman rights was formulated and agreed upon by the leading governments of the world. It was also significant that rights were formulated as inhering in being ‘human’ rather than as a matter that was to be determined in accord with national or civilizational norms. Even so this historic text was set forth in a declaratory form that meant that it was not obligatory, and the implementation of human rights standards remained essentially voluntary. While affirming human rights, governments were not ready to make legal commitments that could weaken their sovereign rights to have the final say in state/society relations.

 

However, the UDHR had more political traction than anticipated in 1948. Opposition groups in East Europe found it useful as a way to assert the legitimacy of posing demands to their governments. NGOs formed in the West, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, did their best to persuade governments throughout the world to live up to human rights standards partly by relying on the authority of the USHR. Furthermore, the UN anti-apartheid campaign was based on a human rights rationale, and proved eventually effective in inducing the South African leadership to change course and dismantle their racist regime. These developments established the political relevance of human rights as something more than a pious declaration of good intentions.

 

Furthermore, the Western democracies found the UDHR a useful propaganda instrument in their ideological rivalry with the Soviet bloc countries. This gave human rights a prominent role in the foreign policy of the Western democracies. At the same time it weakened the authority of human rights to the extent that it became an attack weapon rather than a source of self-criticism and self-correction.

 

The UDHR is partly notable for its inclusion of economic, social, and cultural rights alongside civil and political rights. Article 25 contains a revolutionary norm to the effect that everyone is entitled to a standard of living that meets basic material needs. Article 28 even promisesas a human right, an international order capable of providing satisfaction of the various distinct human rights as coherently set forth in the UDHR.

 

It is important to appreciate that governments did set about the task of translating the UDHR into a treaty form through negotiations that lasted almost two decades, and featured the split between the capitalist countries of the West and the socialist countries of the East. The resulting compromise was a rather awkward split of the unity of rights as set forth in the UDHR into two treaty instrument reflecting this Cold War ideological division: Covenant of Civil and Political Rights reflective of the values of liberal individualist societies and the Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressive of the collective identities fostered by socialism.

 

It is notable that in the UN Conference on Human Rights and Development held in Vienna in 1975 the indivisibilityof human rights was reaffirmed, reflecting a revival of the unified approach of the UDHR and a rejection of the fracturing of the two categories of human rights into parallel covenants. In this respect, although the UNDH was only a declaration it may be more expressive of the true nature of human rights than are the 1966 treaty instrument, the Covenants being a product of the temporary Cold War atmosphere, but also, of the incompatibility of the protection of economic and social rights with the logic and operation of the neoliberal economic order that emerged on a global scale after the Cold War.

 

2– Do you believe the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is being fully accomplished by all nations which signed it? Is it actually a very important guideline for all nations?

 

I think it is helpful here to distinguish between governments and societies. Social forces in society found the UDHR incredibly helpful in assessing whether their own government was living up to proper standards in state/society relations as measured by law and morality. It has also proved to be a useful yardstick within the UN System to determine whether states are in compliance with fundamental human rights.

 

In the present period when many important countries are governed by elected autocrats, there has been a notable decline in the observance of the standards embodied in the UDHR. There is no doubt that the status of human rights of a political character is dependent upon the quality of democratic governance. If democracy declines, so does the observance of human rights, and vice versa. We are presently living through a period of decline, especially with respect to civil and political rights, less so in relation to economic and social rights, but not much less so as capitalism is in a predatory stage due to the absence of normative and ideological challenges since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the adoption of a market approach to political economy by China.

 

3– What are the main violations of Universal Declaration of Human Rights you could point as most serious ones? Why?

 

It is not possible to give a complete answer as different countries and civilizations are inclined to violate different categories of human rights. It is possible to offer some generalizations, but these need to be adjusted to various national conditions.

 

Countries committed to market driven forms of economic practice tend to be weak when it comes to the observance of economic and social rights. For instance, some of the richest countries in the global North have huge pockets of extreme poverty. Neoliberal globalization has accentuated various forms of inequality that have led to widespread violations of economic and social rights.

 

Islamic countries do not adhere to those aspects of human rights that mandate equal treatment of women in all sphere of public and family life. Such discrimination may be also present in the treatment of sexual identities that deviate from the mainstream dualist norm such as are associated with the identities of persons of gay, lesbian, and trans persuasion.

 

Countries governed in an autocratic manner tend to encroach upon freedom of expression and suppress journalistic and media dissent, as well as interfere with dissenting views in universities, labor unions, political parties. There are currently campaigns in various Western countries to treat criticism of Israel as a form of hate speech that has been labeled as ‘the New Anti-Semitism’ causing punitive reactions to opinions that should be protected by canons of freedom of expression in a manner consistent with the guidelines of the UDHR, as well as the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

 

4– Do you think the Declaration is quite obsolete due to the fact it didn´t predict digital privacy challenges, artificial intelligence and climate changing? In spite of that, is the text still a very important tool?

 

I do not think the Declaration is obsolete or even anachronistic, although it needs to be updated in various ways to take account of the distinct human rights challenges posed by the realities of the digital age. My responses to earlier questions suggest the important relevance of the UDHR to contemporary non-digital conditions of life throughout the world.

 

I would suggest the preparation of a new consensus international legal instrument with the title Declaration of Human Rights Pertaining to the Challenges of the Digital Age. This Declaration could address issues of privacy, surveillance, robotics, artificial intelligence, and genetic engineering. It might prove difficult, if not impossible, to find sufficient common ground among leading governments and other stakeholders to reach a consensus. Even so, the fact that a negotiating process leads to a declaration rather than an enforceable treaty might facilitate reaching a framework agreement on fundamental principles, which later could be formalized in an obligatory form and given greater specificity.

 

 

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Sputnik News Agency Interview on G20 Meeting and U.S./Russia Relations

2 Dec

 

Sputnik News Agency Interview on G20 Meeting and U.S./Russia Relations

 

(Prefatory Note:What follows are my responses to questions addressed to me by Sputnik News Agency in Moscow. These responses were submitted on December 1, 2018. Although the focus was on the ongoing G20 meeting in Buenos Aires, the real concern was the future of U.S./Russia relations and how these relations should be managed to avoid arms races, geopolitical rivalry, and ideological tensions. Ironically, of all the weaknesses in the Trump approach to the world, his apparent wish for a normalized relationship with Russia was what most antagonized the American political class, whether Democrat or Republican. Indeed, it so antagonized the established order in this country to such a degree as to undermine Trump’s apparent intention to downgrade NATO and Atlanticism while normalizing and improving relations with Russia. It is always uncertain to assess the real motivations of Trump, which here may involve some kind of vulnerability on his part for undisclosed and awkward economic entanglements or embarrassing personal behavior, but whatever the explanation, the world would be better off with a positive geopolitical atmosphere, and that means cooperative behavior with Russia and China. In our delegitimizing of Trump it is important not to lose sight of the ingredients of sustainable world peace. The Sputnik text is slightly modified.)   

  1. The talks of G20 leaders led to a possible breakthrough on the global trading system. How likely is any progress to be achieved? Will the US be onboard with this?

 

I would be very surprised if there is any outcome of the G20 meeting that can be properly called a ‘breakthrough.’ The leaders of these governments do not have a shared understanding of what would constitute a mutually beneficial world trade framework. Perhaps, such a consensus never existed, yet in the period after World War II, the United States leadership of the West was able to generate what has alternatively been call ‘the liberal economic order’ or ‘the Washington consensus.’ These arrangements rested on giving the World Bank and IMF a central role in stabilizing global conditions, including currency markets, and rested on a rule-based set of procedures. Its performance was assessed almost solely by the rate of global economic growth, which overlooked both issues of the equitable distribution of the benefits of growth and the regulation of adverse ecological side effects.

 

Since the Trump presidency, there has emerged serious ambiguities as to whether the United States, the leading world economy, was itself willing to participate any longer in the liberal world order. Such doubts arose after Trump rejected the Trans Pacific Partnership, sought the renegotiation of North American arrangements set forth in the NAFTA agreements, and adopted a series of protectionist measures inconsistent with the promotion of the most efficient use of capital, a major guideline of the neoliberal ideology that guided American foreign economic policy ever since 1945.

 

The United States, in particular, during the Trump presidency regards world trade as a s sequence of transactions rather than as systemic aggregate of institutions, rules, and procedures by which to regulate and facilitate transnational capital flows and trade relations. By this I mean, that the U.S. wants now to proceed on the basis of economic advantage for itself in each economic policy context rather than promote an overall framework that benefits all participants in the world economy. Under Trump the United States no longer perceives the more structural advantages of having a global trading system that provides a framework that binds together all countries that adhere to principle of market economics on the assumption of shared interests. Of course, such a framework is only a practical possibility if there is a strong political will on the part of leading governments to proceed in this manner. It is difficult to be confident about making assessments of government intentions, but I think most governments would still like to retain a systemic framework for the world economy with the exception of the United States, which wants to leverage its strength in a more flexible and muscular diplomatic atmosphere. We should await the final declaration from Buenos Aires before reaching firm conclusions as to whether this cleavage will be exposed or hidden from public view.

 

This is a different cleavage than existed during the Cold War when fundamental ideological differences led to dual structures for international and transnational economic relations. During the Cold War the market economies organized their trade and fiscal relations within the liberal framework established under American leadership. The Soviet bloc of countries was neither invited to join this liberal world order nor did it seek entry, but rather maintained its economic relations based on the orientation of state socialism as tempered by Soviet hegemonic leadership and the pursuit of national and regional interests.

 

  1. Meanwhile, Trump is reportedly ready to hold talks with Putin after Russia releases Ukrainian sailors. How high are hopes that the two leaders will sit down for talks in the future given the development?

 

It is important for Russian society to understand that Trump seems to be handling diplomacy particularly with Russia, but also with other countries, mainly on the basis of his calculations of domestic politics in the United States as connected with his ‘America First’ mantra. Anti-Trump forces in the U.S. have, wrongfully in my view, concentrated their criticism of Trump, including the apparent focus of the investigations of wrongdoing by the Special Counsel, on the supposedly improper relationship between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 presidential elections. In doing this, it overlooks the importance of establishing peaceful and constructive relations between Russia and the United States, keeping in mind that these two dominant states are the world’s leading nuclear weapons states. World peace depends on avoiding a second Cold War in any form, and this reality is obscured by the focus on alleged Russian interference in the American elections and Trump’s supposed collusion in this process.

 

Some degree of interference no doubt occurred, but it should have raised few eyebrows in Washington, have been a staple instrument of American soft power intervention in many countries over the course of several decades. Furthermore, the belligerent tone of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, as well as the outlook of her closest advisors, gave good reason for Moscow to fear a Clinton victory in 2016, and do their best to avoid such an outcome. This is not intended to reject efforts to insulate American elections from manipulation from without or within. When thinking of the wrongfulness of Russian tactics we as a country tend to overlook the wrongfulness of gerrymandering, racial bias, special interests and money being used to manipulate election results in the United States. Both types of interference are incompatible with a legitimate democratic political process.

 

On the immediate prospects for productive relations with Russia following the Ukrainian incidents, I think it is likely that bilateral talks can be held in coming months, maybe even in coming weeks. It should be realized, however, that the main American focus now is in resetting the economic relationship between the United States in China in ways that avoid a trade war and do not make either side appear to be the loser in this important confrontation. In actuality, most attention at the G20 meeting in the West was given over to the question as to whether the U.S. and China could use the occasion to agree on a political compromise, which would undoubtedly benefit the world as a whole. The failure to reach such a compromise could produce detrimental effects for the world economy, as well as raise political tensions and risks of regional, and even global warfare. Therefore, the so-called ‘truce’ reportedly agreed upon by Trump and Xi Jinping were viewed positively at the G20 as constituting an informal agreement to defer American tariffs on Chinese metal exports in exchange for a Chinese commitment to purchase more exports from the United States. It is notable that this stepping back from an economic confrontation required China to make a gesture of acceptance of the American complaints as well as deferring indefinitely American efforts to gain short-term advantages by raising tariffs on goods imported from China. The central drama on the global stage is now how the United States and China will handle their conflicts in the South Asia islands and with regard to trade. The relationship of the West with Russia is of secondary importance. The status of Russia as a major political actor has been significantly restored in the era of Putin’s leadership, but it remains secondary except in certain limited spheres, such as Syria or along its own borders.

 

Unfortunately, the relationship between Trump and Putin is seen by a broad spectrum of political opinion in the West as one where the challenge being posed is how to stand up to perceptions of renewed threats of Russian expansionism. This is why the Ukrainian incident is viewed as something more serious that the event itself. There is a fear, whether justifies or not, of Russian territorial ambitions that is being relied upon by militarist forces in the West to generate anti-Russian sentiments and expanded defense spending.

 

Unfortunately, President Putin did not help those seeking more benevolent relations with Russia by his unseemly show of friendship when greeting Mohammed bin Salmon (MBS) at the G20 meetings. These images were caught on camera by journalists, and widely shown here in the United States evoking commentary that interpreted this greeting as a cynical indirect endorsement by Putin of the gruesome murder of the Saudi journalist, Kamal Khashoggi. Trump has been under pressure to react to this murder, and widely criticized for reaffirming close alliance ties between Washington and Riyadh in the aftermath of the murder, but at least in the G20 context he displayed the good sense to keep his distance from MBS at least when cameras were around, and avoided any public or personal display of friendship for this discredited foreign leader.

 

At this point, the relationship between Putin and Trump are on the American side primarily reflections of political calculations about the effects on the upcoming 2020 presidential elections. Although still two years away, these forthcoming American elections are already shaping the behavior of Trump on such delicate matters as relations with Russia, and the American mood seems now to favor the adoption of a more confrontational approach toward both Russia and China.

 

  1. What is Trump’s earlier move to cancel the meeting indicative of?

 

As I have indicated, Trump’s recent behavior is responsive to growing pressures on his leadership from within the American political system, especially due to his low popularity with the public, the prospect of a damaging report by the Special Counsel investigating Trump’s alleged improper behavior, and the loss of control of Congress due to the outcome of the recent midterm election. He no longer acts as if free to pursue a policy of accommodation with Russia even if this is what he would wish. It is true that when he ran for president in 2016 Trump’s outlook dramatically contrasted with that of Hillary Clinton on the question of relations with Russia. Many Americans then worried about a new Cold War, voted for Trump solely to avoid a rise in tensions with Russia that seems certain to have followed had Clinton been elected. At the same time there remains a strong consensus that is bipartisan in character, and included the Pentagon and CIA, that leans toward a more aggressive approach toward Russia, even more so than toward China. It is in this general atmosphere that it is best to comprehend and interpret Trump’s behavior with regard to Putin and Russia generally. The revelations of Russian interference in American elections further hardens public attitudes in an antagonist direction.

 

On the other side, it is not clear what Russia seeks to achieve during G20 meetings and in its relationship with the United States at this point, although Moscow clearly seemed earlier to be receptive to the Trump approach, and gave many indications of wanting to restore normal peaceful relations. It also seemed that Putin would have welcomed a positive political atmosphere and encouraged robust economic and cultural interactions between the two countries.

 

The fault associated with these deteriorating prospects is not only with America. Russia could achieve a more favorable image in the world if it made some constructive initiatives such as the renewal of nuclear disarmament negotiations or the establishment of a nuclear free zone in the Middle East or the establishment of a global migration compact. Perhaps, we in the West are not aware of Russian attempts to contribute to a more peaceful and just world order, in which case a greater effort needs to be made to set forth the positive content of Russian foreign policy. As matters now stand, the Russian role is viewed through the prism of bullying the Ukraine and propping up the criminal Assad regime in Syria.