Currently, there is a huge debate over the meaning of ‘Human Rights’. But considering the current international climate, rife with violence, famine, disease and political injustice, it would be rich to assume Human Rights are more than just an idealistic theory.
First, there is a clear gap between Human Rights being written in law and them actually being implemented in real life. Since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 was signed, most of the ‘Human Rights’ listed in the legal document have been disregarded or violated at some point and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. For example, the right to be free from slavery has been so unsuccessful that the International Labour Organisation estimates 20 million are still in forced labour. In addition, the right to life has been violated drastically in the Syrian conflict alone, with roughly 500,000 innocent civilians being killed since 2011. UNICEF also estimates that 50 million primary school children are out of school; thus violating the right to education. These clear case studies illustrate that despite Human Rights being international law, it is far from being successfully implemented over the globe.
Human Rights are even absent on a national scale in the UK. The UN’s declaration states that we have the right to a healthy lifestyle, for example. This is certainly not being implemented. The NHS state that 27% adults were classified as obese in 2016, proving that a large proportion of the UK population alone do not have their basic Human Rights stated in this 1948 declaration. Though this right does not seem as urgent as the basic right to be alive, it still illustrates the extent to which there is a gap between Human Rights law and implementation.
The second reason why Human Rights are not universally successful is because they are viewed by many as a ‘Western’ concept. Admittedly, 58 states in various continents signed the Universal Declaration in 1948, yet this still does not mean that Human Rights laws are culturally inclusive. Human Rights originate in the UN, which – despite being an international organisation – is largely influenced by Western states. This causes friction, particularly amongst many developing states in African and Latin America, because historically the West colonised them for slavery and resources. It is therefore quite condescending for the West to now demand that the whole world should live up to their standards of Human Rights, considering their previous actions.
Furthermore, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not inclusive of all cultures over the globe. Politician and author Shashi Tharoor highlighted that in some African cultures, community is prioritised over the individual. This notion clashes with the articles set out in the UN declaration of Human Rights, where the individual is entitled to rights above anything else. Therefore, although the idea that everyone should be entitled to Human Rights is admirable, it has not be planned or implemented well at all.
Overall, therefore, it is clear that Human Rights are just a theory. The prevalence of global catastrophes demonstrate that Human Rights are neither universal, nor successful. There is a definitive gap between what we understand as Human Rights under the law, and what we actually get in practise. The only conclusion to take from this is that Human Rights are only an idea, and unfortunately not something we live with.
Image by Nick Youngson