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Human Rights: The Past, Present & Future

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The field of human rights has continually grown in scope since its inception after the World War II. Whereas primordial roles of the United Nations and other international organizations have never been in any doubt at all, what has sometimes not been remarkably clear is the exact extent of the role for the said international organizations. Moreover, in this regard, there has been a question of how the international community’s role interfaces with that of the state in the realm of human rights.

Many countries around the globe have consistently been involved in violations of human rights in high magnitudes. According to Hannum (2002), violations of human rights come in different measures and scope, since there is no standard measure of the evaluation. However, the United Nations has provided an elaborate list and description of actions that amount to the violation of human rights. Some of the fundamental crimes that amount to violations of human rights include rape, torture, genocide, forceful transportation of persons, human trafficking and child abuse among others. Furthermore, pertinent examples of countries that have perpetuated the violation of human rights include Rwanda, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan among others. However, this essay will explore the origin of policies of human rights, and the role played by global organizations, such as the UN, in regard to the conflicts in Syria.

The Origins of Policies on Human Rights

According to Dunne & Wheeler (1999), principles of human rights must be seen as being uniform to all people and races, notwithstanding ethnic and racial diversities. Therefore, from this perspective, human rights are considered to have near absolute attributes like universalism and inalienability. On the other hand, the human rights concept of cultural relativism is the belief that there is actually nothing in human rights, which is absolute, and that human rights ought to be considered within the backgrounds of frameworks founded upon each group’s cultural experiences and practices.

Therefore, from the foregoing, universalism presupposes that rights of all people in the world are standard, and the same must be realized irrespective of any cultural considerations (Draper, 2002). In this regard, therefore, cultural practices that are considered as not being beneficial to the rights and interests of people would, thus, be considered as being an abuse to the rights of humanity. The international human rights movement was given impetus only subsequent to the end of the World War II and the establishment of the United Nations. The international human rights law sets the obligations that states are duty bound to respect whenever these states become parties to the international treaties.

The human rights movement was strengthened with the implementation by of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN General Assembly) on December 10, 1948. Although the UDHR is only a declaration, most of its provisions have been provided for within the different international human rights conventions, whose provisions touch upon civil, political, economic, cultural and social rights (Martin, 2006).

The backbone of the international human rights law instruments is made up of the international treaties, customary law, declarations, guidelines and principles, which are adopted at the international level. The rule of law within the national and international level is a requisite element in respect to human rights. Martin (2006) contends that when a state signs international treaties and agrees to become a member, a state party assumes the obligations and duties to respect, fulfill and protect human rights within their jurisdictions. A state party’s obligations to protect requires that the state undertakes certain measures to protect people within its jurisdiction against human rights abuses, while the corresponding obligation to fulfill requires that a state party to a treaty acts positively in order to facilitate the observation of human rights. Lastly, a state party’s obligation to respect requires that the state refrains from interfering with the human rights of people and the state.

The Role of United Nations in Protecting Human Rights

Human rights are fundamental concepts that are enshrined in the constitution of many states. As a result, all countries are expected to sign the international agreements to bind them to national standards. The United Nations has been on the front line in enhancing, protecting and safeguarding human rights in virtually all nations in the world. The issues surrounding human rights are wide and diverse, thus, attracting a lot of attention in the global spectrum. The mandate of the UN in advancing the human right issues is enshrined in the United Nations Declaration for Human Rights charter.

Since its inception after the World War II, the field of human rights has continually grown in scope. Whereas primordial roles of the United Nations and global organizations have never been in any doubt at all, what has sometimes not been remarkably clear is the exact extent of the role for the said international organizations. Moreover, in this regard, there has been a question of how the international community’s role interfaces with that of the state in the realm of human rights. Over and above the United Nations, other fundamental organizations that help in advancing and protecting human rights include the European Union, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International among others.

The United Nations is guided by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and it has advanced the aspect of human rights and democracy throughout the globe. According to Donnelly (2012), the UN advances the aspect of human rights in three key areas. Firstly, it uses its Voluntary Fund Programme to offer technical assistance and advisory services in cases that concern human rights. Secondly, the UN makes use of special rapporteurs, whose main function is to monitor the exercise of human rights and their protection in certain countries. An excellent example is the war-torn countries, where the UN sends rapporteurs to monitor human rights issues. Thirdly, the UN establishes legal and binding treaties, committees and conventions that guide member countries on issues of human rights.

In promoting and protecting human rights, the UN has established numerous intergovernmental bodies to propagate its mandate, such as the General Assembly, the Social and Economic Council, the Commission on Human Rights, the Sub-Commission on Prevention and Protection of Minorities, the Commission on the position of Women and the Commission on Criminal Prevention and Provision of Justice (Hass, 2008).

The UN is a significant organization in safeguarding human rights at the international level. Hass (2008) observed that one of the primary objectives of the UN under the European Charter of Fundamental Rights is to protect human rights. In protecting human rights, the UN uses the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) as a strategic approach to achieve its objectives. This initiative works in partnerships with NGOs in enhancing and protecting human rights. The UN also works in conjunction with such NGOs as the Red Cross (ICRC).

In protecting human rights, the UN is guided by basic documents, such as the Council of Europe and the European conference on Human Rights (ECHR), which came as a result of international treaties. The European Commission integrates human rights with the dialogue and cooperation through community aid programmes. The presence of the European Union has mostly been felt in the Third World countries through its cooperation with the government (Donnelly, 2012).

From the literature, it is quite evident that the United Nations in conjunction with other organizations protects human rights and fosters peace around the globe. In this sense, both organizations are doing a commendable job, and NGOs may not be superior to them in protecting human rights. Although these organizations are governed by different documents that stipulate their mandate, they endeavor to protect human rights. Besides, these organizations work in collaboration with NGOs in terms of protecting human rights in countries, where they operate. However, it is essential to point out that the UN tends to be more conspicuous than other global bodies in protecting and promoting human rights.

The Role of United Nations in Syria Conflicts

Security for many countries means keeping their citizens from internal and external threats such as terrorists, violent gangs, drug traffickers and arms dealers. Syria provides a fundamental example of a prolonged uprising and unrest, which threatened to spill over into Turkey, Lebanon, especially in terms of Hezbollah, hence affecting the security of the international relations. The prolonged instability in Syria created a persistent uncertainty in relation to its political, social and economic future.

According to Jackson (1994), the Arab uprising in Syria only sparked because of the dictatorship, but the Syrian uprising was caused by decades of economic and sociological challenges. The wealthy class, who contributed towards expanding the gap between the rich and low class workers, frequently despised and marginalized peasants and workers in Syria. The increment in oil and farm supplies prices as from 2008 to 2011s led to a significant economic blast in Syria, in addition to a severe drought that crippled the nation. Syria has been ruled by the Asad family since 1970, and the country created economic reforms that would benefit Syria, but when the uprising began, the economic policies retracted from fundamental goals, reduced farmers and workers’ wages and closed both local and international markets due to the insecurity of free trade in Syria. As a result of the uprising, the UN employed various charters to curb violations of human rights in Syria.

According to Draper (2002), the Syrian government perpetuates crimes against the humanity that left over 6000 people dead. The UN office for human rights reported that during the conflict, about 3500 children were ruthlessly massacred, thousands butchered, and arbitral arrested were rampant. The greatest infringement on rights of humanity by the Syrian government was the use of artillery fire against civilians, raids in hospitals and clinics and mandatory curfews. Furthermore, millions of people were in a dire need of medical care, food, shelter and protection. As a result, the UN stepped into Syria to provide an adequate help to victims of the conflict. Through the use of its various organs, such as the Security Council, special advisers and the head office, the UN organized special sessions and an urgency meeting to forge a way forward to quell the violence. For instance, during the special meeting with the Security Council, it was recommended that severe actions should be imposed upon Syria for perpetuating violence against the humanity. As a result, Syria was banned for participating in bilateral trade agreements, thus, reducing its diplomatic ties. In addition, all exports from Syria were blacklisted, causing a lot of anxiety.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in Syria

In addition to the foregoing incidents of violations of human rights in Syria, another convention, which provisions are violated, is that of the ICCPR. For instance, history has shown that police officers in Syria violated the people’s privacy by entering people’s homes without a specific order from justice of the peace. Furthermore, the same police officers out rightly declined to accept complaints from victims at the police stations, especially those against perpetrators, who are considered as being powerful. This was the same in instances, where the perpetrators are people, who hold positions within the country’s security forces (Forsythe, 2000).

These actions of the police and state security organs in Syria were overly discriminatory against certain sections of the society. As a result, the key legal principle of the equality before the law was seriously compromised. Therefore, the corollary is that the police actions were in complete violation of Article 26 of the ICCPR, which requires that all people are treated equally without a discrimination of any form. Therefore, the fact that the police officers failed to deal with complaints against the powerful perpetrators of criminal activities in the country suggests that their actions were not in tandem with the principles of international human rights envisaged through the ICCPR. This necessitated the UN to come in and provide a social, legal and moral help during the Syrian conflict.

Violations of Human Rights in Syria

The first international convention, which provisions were violated in Syria, is the conference on the Rights of the Child. According to Jackson (1994), Article 19(1) of this Convention requires “state parties to put into place the necessary and appropriate administrative, legislative, social and educational measures so as to protect the child from all forms of physical and mental forms of violence, injury or abuse, maltreatment or exploitation such as sexual abuse among others”.  These actions of human rights were overly violated necessitating the international intervention.

The violations of human rights in Syria are evident through various actions, such as the initiation rite, known as the “keloid scarring”. As explained by Hannum (2002), the procedure for the rite is quite injurious both physically and mentally to the affected people. People, on whom it is conducted, are children within the age of 12-14 years. These people have not attained the age of maturity and, hence, are children within the meaning of Article 1 of the convention and, therefore, deserve the protection from practices that cause harm to their health and interests. On this front, the United Nations was pivotal in ensuring that children were kept in a safe custody and given social amenities as the conflicts escalated.

In addition to the physical and mental abuse arising from the keloid scarring, another violation of the rights of people of Syria emerged from rampant sexual abuses against them. It is indicated that both women and girls in the country had to put up with alarming levels of sexual abuse as well as other worst forms of domestic violence. Sexual abuse against the minors is a form of child maltreatment and exploitation, which runs contrary to the tenor of Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires state parties to take adequate steps to protect children against such abuses.

Furthermore, sexual abuses against women and children in Syria also violate the provisions of Article 34 of the Convention. Article 34 requires state parties to provide an adequate protection to children in order to ensure that they are protected against any form of sexual abuses or sexual exploitation (Hillary, 2006). Thus, with the alarming levels of sexual abuses committed against both women and children in Syria, it became apparent that the country failed to duly provide for its children against sexual abuses and exploitation within the tenor of the Convention.

The other relevant part of the convention is that of Article 30, which requires states parties to the convention to apply necessary mechanisms for the protection of children from the ethnic minorities and indigenous communities. This provision is further reinforced by Article 24 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which also requires that the state parties to the convention implement specific mechanisms towards the protection of children.  In this regard, the UN played vital roles in protecting, promoting and securing against the violation of fundamental human rights.

The forms of protection envisaged by the convention include the minority children’s right to the practice of their own culture, religion and language. However, the “keloid scarring”, like any other rite of passage, is an essential part of the Syrian cultural expression, which the convention seeks to protect. However, in the present context, the cultural practice of the ethnic minority that is sought to be protected violates the fundamental rights of children. As a result, if the state was to effectively provide for these two articles of this convention, then it would precipitate some sort of absurdity. This is because of the fact that within the context of the Syrian culture, keloid scarring is a part of the community’s revered cultural practices, which, however, inflict physical injuries to their children, hence, being in a conflict with certain parts of the convention.

Therefore, the question is how the state of Syria would protect and enhance the fundamental rights of children, women and the entire population under the scourge of a conflict. According to Forsythe (2000), the apparent “inconsistency” has arisen from the interplay of the international human rights concepts of cultural relativism vis-à-vis universalism. Within the context of international human rights discourse, universalism is generally understood as referring to standard human rights practices that are universal and are, therefore, not confined to limitations of the culture.

According to this school of thought, principles of human rights must be seen as being uniform to all people and races, notwithstanding ethnic and racial diversities. Therefore, from its perspective, human rights are considered to have near absolute attributes like universalism and inalienability. On the other hand, the human rights concept of cultural relativism is the belief that there is actually nothing in human rights, which is absolute; therefore, human rights ought to be considered within the backgrounds of frameworks founded upon each group’s cultural experiences and practices.

The history of internal conflicts reveals that human rights in Syria were trampled on, and the state did not provide any solutions. For instance, universalism presupposes that the rights of all children in the world are standard, and the same must be realized, irrespective of any cultural considerations. In this regard, cultural practices that are considered as not being beneficial to the rights and interests of children will, thus, be considered as being an abuse to the rights of children (Higgins, 1996).

The above position would be the case, notwithstanding the fact that certain cultures may be holding such practices in awe. In the Syrian case, the UN was pivotal in safeguarding the violation of international human rights. Besides, immigrants were the worst hit and were seen as targets of the conflict. The UN’s function was to offer safe shelter, food, clothing and medical. Furthermore, the role of the UN was bolstered by other international organizations.

On the other hand, the concept of universalism would hold that the keloid scarring among people of Syria, thus, constituting an abuse to the community’s children rights, since the practice is not in consonance with Article 19. Due to the injury caused by this rite of passage, the practice would not be acceptable universally as being cultural rights that enhance human rights. Thus, being a universal convention, the Convention on the Rights of the Child would not give much regard to the keloid scarring as being worthwhile cultural practices requiring to be protected as human rights. This is because of the fact that such practices flout Article 19 of the Convention, besides them not being in the best interests of the Syrian children as required by Article 1 of the Convention.

Rights of Immigrants in the Syria Conflict

In the past, people of Syria strongly believed in the ‘myth of return’, which meant that eventually immigrants, especially guest workers, would return to their native countries or countries of origin. Therefore, the Syrian government did not see the need to integrate them fully into the society. Thus, the government’s only concern was providing immigrants with good living conditions and eventual transfer back to their country of origin (Dunne & Wheeler, 1999). It became clear later that the immigrants’ living conditions were quite poor, and there was the government’s lack of showing any concern. They lived in congested, segregated neighborhoods and found it difficult to secure jobs. This realization triggered the first integration policies in 1970.

The ethnic minority policy of the UN was integrated in 1980, and it aimed at integrating immigrants into the foreign communities, while allowing them to maintain their cultures, religions and traditions. The aim was to promote the equality in education, labor and housing market. However, the Syrian government did not want immigrants to be awarded equal opportunities and treatment as the citizens. This was a violation of international human rights, because immigrants have the freedom of movement and association.

During the Syrian conflict, immigrants also faced the problem of overcrowding and crime. Immigrants, especially unskilled workers, crowded in ghettos and formed slums. As a result, there were issues of a poor sanitation and crime, especially in terms of young persons, who could not find jobs, because they were uneducated. Furthermore, Martin (2006) notes that crime rates were reported to be higher in immigrant neighborhoods, which was mostly because they could not get employment, since they were uneducated and unskilled. Host countries ran the risk of overpopulation as a result of immigrants flooding into the country in search of greener pastures, who were settling and even starting families.

There was a need to control the number of immigrants settling in these countries in order to guard against such an occurrence and to ensure that the country only hosted immigrants to the availability of resources to accommodate them. There were many immigrants living below the poverty line and those, whose living conditions were poor. They had a poor sanitation and were, therefore, prone to infections and diseases. Rural minority women, who lacked the education and who had a low family income, had minimal or less chance of insurance for the rest of their lives. Overall, the Syrian government did not take the responsibility as a state to address the concerns of immigrants.

The Present and Future of Human Rights

Today, states continue to sign and accede to international human rights treaties at commendable rates. By becoming party to such treaties, the acceding state agrees to bind itself to obligations attaching required documents. Hass (2008) opines that whereas obligations to the state are quite explicit, where the state becomes a party to an international treaty, there are still numerous incidents, whereby, a number of states fail to honor their obligations. It is noteworthy that treaty obligations do not only arise, where a state is a party to an international human rights treaty. There are instances, where a state may still be bound by obligations from treaties that they are not parties to, especially with regard to international human treaties that are considered to be customary. This is synonymous to the Syrian case, where the state was obliged to protect human rights, but instead oversaw the violation and mistreatment of citizens and immigrants.

By mid June 2012, it was apparent that the prospects of safeguarding human rights in Syria were far from over. According reports by the Human Rights Watch, the Assad regime remains one of the countries that have violated fundamental human rights. These sentiments were emphasized by President Obama, who warned that the US would be forced to employ a military attack on Syria in order to save people from atrocities. Consequently, other global national and members of the UN joined in condemning Syria for violations of human rights.

The current status of human rights in Syria is extremely wanting. As of February 2013, various reports by human rights organizations indicated that people are still living in a fear of repression, anguish and uncertainty. Furthermore, immigrants are facing an undue discrimination from the government and citizens (Draper, 2002). In addition, foreign missions to and from Syria are facing a repression and segregation form communities that had close ties.

There are several things that make people vulnerable to the oppression, which deprives them of the chance to enjoy their human rights. In Syria, for instance, they include the privation of choice, as well as resources. The political and economic oppression hinders citizens to express their rights and freedom of speech as it is required. They fear the political leader’s dreadful actions against them.  A mental insanity or lack of the cognitive ability makes individuals bend to the mistreatment from the high ranking official. This action equates to the breaking of human rights (Higgins, 1996).  However, the issue of human rights in Syria is taking a swift turn as numerous concerns are focusing on rescuing the country from the deterioration. The global focus has necessitated Syria to become more agile and defensive in its mechanism.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is worth noting that generally, the state of Syria has only acceded to and ratified a few international human rights conventions. Strictly speaking, the level of the country’s obligations in terms of human rights would be taken to be confined to those, arising only from these particular ones. However, the state should be made responsible for all the obligations that arise from the breaches of any international convention, whether the state is party to the treaty or not. Moreover, the role UN and other global organizations in protecting and enhancing international human rights cannot be underscored.

The issue of human rights in Syria has received a global attention as world leaders are convening urgent meetings to find a solution to the conflict. From the literature discussed above, it is evident that the intensity of human rights violation in Syria is extremely unwarranted. Millions of people have lost their lives, thousand have been injured and numerous displaced from their homes. Therefore, the regime of Assad has left a trail of destructions, thus, soliciting negative responses from world leaders.

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