After two world wars, the first world elite realized the necessity of a global human rights movement, and cooperated with each other to bring that about. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a product of this imagination and determination not to allow past rights violations to recur. Subsequent UN conventions all followed from this imagination.
Unfortunately, today, that imagination is no longer manifested in the first world. The political elite in developed countries is now dominated by a narrow perspective that does not consider the conditions of the third world, where life is truly nasty, brutal and short. The first world is willingly turning a blind eye to the massive loss of human rights in the third world. Their attitude is almost cynical. This is most clearly noticed in the bilateral ties first world countries have with developing countries, all but ignoring human rights concerns. It is also visible in current UN forums, including the Human Rights Council. As Human Rights Watch noted in a statement earlier this month, when states with poor human rights records were joining the Council as members,
“The Human Rights Council should not be a place where violators come to seek shelter. It should be a profoundly uncomfortable place for rights violators; a place where they know they will be held to a higher standard and put under the spotlight for their abuses. Membership has its consequences.”
There are several probable reasons as to why the first world has become so indifferent to the human rights violations in the third world. One reason may be the end of the Cold War. When the Cold War prevailed, there was a fear of a territorial shift in favour of Communist opponents. This threat no longer exists, with the elite in the first world and former Communist countries now sitting at the table together. The first world is therefore willing not to make any fuss about the suffering of the ordinary folk living in these countries.
The economic crises affecting the first world could be another reason for its myopia. With first world countries all preoccupied with their own problems, and an increase in isolationist practices, there is little united leadership toward human rights issues shown by the first world.
Aside from any other reasons, it is necessary to note that there is something radically wrong with the imagination and leadership regarding human rights in the third world. It is ironic that while today the first world knows more about the third world than ever before with the advancement in world communication networks, this very knowledge that the world possesses may be producing negative results. It seems as though the more the problems of the third world become known, the more pusillanimous and insular the first world becomes. Perhaps the feeling is that it is not within our power or capacity to deal with such horrendous violence and human rights abuse.
The result of this attitude is that people in third world countries who are fighting to improve their rights are today more isolated than ever before. As governments of third world countries are fully aware that the first world is turning a blind eye to the human rights violations in their countries, they are emboldened to attack their poor and marginalized communities. The present global impunity for human rights abuse creates political leaders who violate the rights of their own people without any fear or shame.
The few fine individuals and intellectuals in the first world who are concerned with global human rights situation are disoriented due to a lack of support in their own countries. Critical discourse is therefore necessary regarding the Human Rights struggles throughout the world. American lawyer Gary Haugen has captured this situation marvellously in his book, The Locust Effect. In spite of a few who are making strong efforts, the general situation of the first world is that it does not care about the global human rights situation anymore.
It is this that needs to become the focus of discussion among those who care for the lives and rights of everyone, in order to fire up new imagination on this issue.