Thursday, January 29, 2015

How ignoring human rights has moulded today's world crises

There are times when I box "human rights" into a little, separate compartment of my overall fascination with global politics, seeing it as the well-meaning pursuit of a handful of liberals who are banging their noble heads against the brick wall of political realism.  Yes, it would be nice if everyone's rights were respected, but no they can hardly be expected to get in the way of the often unpleasant and dirty business of keeping afloat in the mucky world of international relations.  If I keep failing to make the link between an increasingly volatile, war-strewn world and a general western disinterest in human rights, then yes, go ahead and condemn my superficiality and short-sightedness.  But then reflect on the unhappy fact that it is shared - sometimes cynically so - by most of the western public and its duly elected leaders.

This keynote post by Human Rights Watch director Ken Roth on their World Report 2015 has been a real wake-up call, not least because he has so persuasively rooted the continuing abuse of human rights in the unfolding political tragedies around the world.  And its persuasive because, really, we know that the tragic equation he is articulating is right.  It isn't just blind fundamentalism which is driving ISIS's many followers - look at the world they are escaping from and fighting against.  People do usually act from rational motives, and what can be more rational than the desire to fight for your rights and your well-being against oppressive, murderous states.  Does it really surprise us that ISIS's principal theatre of operations, and success, is in two countries whose regimes have relentlessly and brutally suppressed the rights of their minorities?  That Boko Haram might just be a response to the corruption and abuses of the Nigerian government?  That maybe the pro-Russian fighters in eastern Ukraine have legitimate grievances against abuses from the pro-western militias? 

Roth's article is a must-read for a better, more nuanced, and morally based understanding of world affairs.  And then, when you've done with that - and it's a long, wide-ranging read - have a look at another piece by an HRW operator, this time on the forgotten war that Russia is waging in Dagestan. 

Human rights becomes more than a decent liberal pursuit; it becomes a crucial prism through which to understand the turbulent 21st century world. 

No comments: