Some might say there is no such thing as ‘human rights’ and the concept itself is merely a made-up human construct. After all, humans, like any other animal on the planet evolved with the law of the jungle, a view most commonly cited by atheists. Most people now believe there are certain human rights, although what is considered and not considered a human right varies widely.
Here in the U.S., our very wise founding fathers came up with the concept of ‘inalienable rights’ and reasoned these rights were granted not by government, but by the creator and a birthright to all. At the time this was considered a brilliant innovation for the cornerstone of our government, a guiding light for us to aspire. Today, we have grown accustomed to freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In fact, we expect and demand it.
Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Policy
When it comes to human rights and U.S. foreign policy pragmatism is more commonly practiced rather than sticking to any sort of straight definition. This was recently noted in a well-penned Op-Ed on ‘where human rights come from’ in the Wall Street Journal. Although we often perceive that the countries we trade with or align with have common values when it comes to human rights, all too often we allow exceptions when it is politically expedient in achieving a different goal such as winning a war, preserving peace, improving economics, acquiring resources, or involving issues of national security.
There are endless examples of the United States letting human rights violations slide in order to negotiate a peace accord, secure oil, or bring a somewhat rogue nation back into the fold of the international community. Still, our record on human rights has been pretty strong overall, comparatively speaking.
What Are Human Rights, Who Decides and Why Does It Matter
Recently, Secretary of State Pompeo asked about Human Rights. He put forth a number of questions. He explained the problem in making policy without any clear definitions, explaining that it gets complicated when there is such a diverse view of just what ‘human rights’ is actually supposed to mean. The definition varies greatly between nations and amongst human rights’ organizations, or organizations parading around as human rights groups.
What is included and not included in these definitions are also often contradictory and puzzling. Even more problematic is the ever-changing nature of what human rights encompass, and how fervently politics come into play when the topic comes up.
Should the United States take a leadership role in fostering a set of standards for human rights around the world? Should the U.S. focus on this now? If not the U.S. then whom, if not now, then when? One of the biggest challenges in international diplomacy is that when the United States makes a stand against human rights violations, we often test the strength of our alliances. All too often we end up making an enemy, and other nations who could care less about human rights go out and make a new friend of that nation or nation’s leader which we’ve inadvertently alienated.
Walking the Talk
Standing on the moral high-ground can serve our nation well and do a great service to all of humanity. Are we up for the challenge or will this latest push for human rights come across as a threat to the leaders and cultures of other nations far and wide? Is it possible to get everyone on the same page? Is it a fool’s errand to try? Clifford May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies analyzes human rights and breaks down the politics, conflicts, and reasoning behind how we got here and how we must proceed.
The leading researchers on human rights aren’t just looking towards the past for answers to humanity’s future. Now they are also focusing on better-defined definitions void of political agenda and based on discussions from human rights experts. There appears to be a good opportunity here. That is ‘if’ we can get everyone on the same page and ditch some of the dark political agendas behind the scenes.
According to the latest news on foreign policy and human rights, the Trump Administration’s Mike Pompeo is serious about taking this dialogue to a higher level. Considering the past failures on human rights issues at the United Nations, it is about time the pendulum swung back in favor of humanity. All too often the biggest abusers of human rights violations were enabled by the very groups claiming to uphold those values. Maybe it is once again time to start calling out these abuses when and where they occur.