Human rights, as we know them, are dead.
Amid a climate emergency, seemingly endless conflict and resulting refugee crises, the glaring absence of an effective global strategy to safeguard the most fundamental rights of poor and marginalized populations across the world has clearly shown that the concept of “human rights”, as sacralized by the liberal West, has lost all meaning and purpose – for everyone, but especially for those of us in the Global South.
According to the United Nations, up to 828 million people – or 10 percent of the world’s population – go to bed hungry every night. Of those struggling with hunger, 80 percent live in areas prone to climate change – areas that are overwhelmingly in the Global South. Wars, uprisings and coups – often linked to geopolitical skirmishes between global powers – also disproportionately harm these same regions.
Unable to see an end to their misery, some of those suffering from war, famine, oppression or destitution in the Global South embark on dangerous journeys across the desert and sea to find safety and prosperity in the countries of the North. But rather than acting to protect the human rights of these refugees, Western states which pride themselves on being the inventors of the very concept of human rights treat them as enemies.
As a result, tens of thousands of people are languishing in inhumane detention centers along the borders of the United States and the European Union, and the Mediterranean Sea is now a migrant graveyard. According to the International Organization for Migration’s Missing Migrants document Projectmore than 28,000 drownings have been recorded there since 2014. The real number of deaths is impossible to know and probably much higher.
And drowning in the Mediterranean is just one way of mass deaths in the Global South, which constitutes the world’s majority, because the international community led by the West does not believe that their human rights deserve to be protected. They also die in natural disasters made worse by climate change and in wars fought to advance geopolitical agendas. They are killed by drones and burned alive by the settlers.
The signs of the death of human rights are everywhere. Western governments work hard to shield Israeli apartheid from accountability, while criminalizing Palestinians who resist Israeli oppression and those who support their liberation struggle. The North’s leading social media companies are allowing dangerous disinformation targeting already marginalized and threatened populations to spread on their platforms. European countries continue to sell a toxic pesticide – banned in the EU due to its proven harmful effects on children and unborn babies – to countries in the Global South. And the list continues.
Meanwhile, the West continues to attempt to present itself as the only true defender of human rights.
Western countries regularly condemn and even sanction countries like Russia, China and Iran for violating the human rights of their citizens and those living in their areas of influence. They often condition foreign aid on recipients improving human rights protections, and some have even launched military interventions under the pretext of combating past human rights violations.
In response to the invasion of Ukraine, a country located in the very heart of Europe, for example, northern states were not only quick to condemn Russia’s serious human rights violations there, but also implemented special programs to ensure that any Ukrainian civilian in need could find safety in another country without encountering significant obstacles. They also supported the International Criminal Court (ICC) and provided its investigators with all the assistance necessary to try and convict the Kremlin.
Viewed in isolation, this can be seen as confirmation of the West’s embrace of the international human rights regime it helped build. But for those in the South, who cannot help but compare the West’s embrace of Ukraine with the treatment of their own country, the whole episode is nothing more than confirmation of hypocrisy endless North.
Indeed, countries that acted quickly to help the Ukrainian people did not open their borders to the Sudanese in the same way when the latter faced an equally serious military threat. Nor have they ever done so for the Palestinians, many of whom still live under the iron grip of a violent invader.
They are also very selective about when they will support the ICC. Sure, they supported the ICC’s prosecution of Africans when it suited their agenda, but they never let its prosecutors anywhere near their own drone wars or illegal torture programs – in fact, the United States is not even a state party to the Court.
While they now condemn Russia and any state that continues to collaborate with it, in the Global South they themselves have long prioritized geopolitical interests over human rights concerns, supporting oppressive regimes and undermining democratic movements. This is arguably the main reason why many countries in the South are reluctant to support Ukraine’s Western-backed resistance against the Russian invasion.
This crisis of the regime and the global discourse on human rights is not new.
When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the UN in 1948, it was celebrated as a great step towards a more peaceful world. Following the horrors of the Second World War and the Holocaust, it was a beacon of hope that a better world, where the basic rights of all are respected, was possible. But this dream did not last long. The very nations that developed and pushed for the new human rights regime quickly began violating it to advance their interests, harm their enemies, and expand their interests. They even attacked several countries in the South to bring them “democracy” and protect their “human rights”.
What is new, however, is the open rejection of the Western human rights framework by populations in the South. Those who have suffered the most from Northern aggression and duplicity since the signing of the UDHR are no longer at all convinced that Western governments, institutions and organizations can – or more accurately want – to protect their fundamental rights . They now see them for what they are: ineffective, misleading and, most importantly, dangerous.
Those who demonstrate in Arab streets, who live under constant attacks from Brazilian favelas, who try to survive in the open-air prison that is Gaza, or who seek a way out of Bangladesh’s sprawling refugee camps no longer believe in do not in any way expect that the North will come forward and do something to ensure that their so-called sacred “human rights” are not violated.
Human rights, as currently understood and applied in the Global South, must not be salvaged. Contrary to received ideas which deplore the end of the era of human rights and suggest new solutions to safeguard them, it is high time to go beyond this discourse and imagine radically egalitarian and progressive principles. different, informed by the struggles and ethics of the people of the world. Global South.
The end of the human rights era must be seen as an opportunity to chart a new path toward inclusion and equity that places the demands of the Global South, the global majority, at the forefront of the building new visions and radical new frameworks.
Only by moving beyond the West’s hypocritical use of human rights as a discriminatory principle of international politics can we create a more inclusive, diverse and representative approach to defining and protecting rights. fundamentals of each.
In doing so, local communities and indigenous populations in the Global South can play an active and central role in rethinking and implementing environmental preservation and sustainable development.
As we face multiple interconnected ecological and humanitarian crises, the international community must urgently accept the undeniable demise of the current human rights regime and act quickly to build a radical alternative that would truly advance human rights and basic needs of all human beings, including those in the Global South at its core.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.