By Grace Meredith ‘16
At some point in our education, we come to the realization that many parts of the world are not happy places to be. There is genocide happening in multiple countries, women are still being stoned for driving, and human trafficking abounds not just in poverty-stricken nations, but in the United States as well. The list could go on indefinitely. As we live in an increasingly globalized society, the citizens of the world have immediate access to information and the human rights violations occurring daily.
There has been a lot of talk, particularly in the United Nations, about the definition of human rights. The U.N. defines human rights as “commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being.”
In the aftermath of the atrocities of the Holocaust and World War II, the U.N. created the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which most major international players then adopted. Some of these countries were Iraq, Liberia, Syria, Haiti, among others. Today, these nations suffer from egregious and bloody horrors.
The U.N. is useless in enforcing these human rights laws, which have technically become international law. Only with the conflict in the Republic of Congo (which has been basically anarchic and suffered horrendous losses of human life for the past 50 years) has the U.N. finally agreed to let its peacekeepers in-country intervene when they see violence.
So the U.N. has this long list of human rights, some of which are basic: no genocide, no torturing prisoners of war, etc. Although they are unenforceable, they exist to set an international standard of humanitarianism. However, there is a gray area in these declarations, especially concerning women’s rights, gay rights, and the rights of those who are incarcerated. The predicament is such: how do you compromise cultural traditions with the goal of ending suffering?
When Western states dominate the U.N., there is a severe cultural bias with what the hegemons — like the U.S. — think is acceptable and what everybody else thinks. We may find practices such as stoning barbaric and cruel, but it has been a practice in many countries for milennia, so much so that it is ingrained as acceptable in their cultures. The permanent members of the Security Council —the U.S., France, Great Britain, China, and Russia — are almost always at odds with acceptability. How are countries like the U.S. and China, with completely different historic and cultural backgrounds, supposed to reconcile on an issue like gay rights?
Westernization has long been a complex global issue. For example, Asian nations, which are flourishing economically and socially, are spending billions of dollars a year on plastic surgery to look more Western, according to CNN. Here are booming nations with success in almost every area intellectually, but are still striving for the American/European beauty ideal.
The American media and exploitation of celebrities can be accredited for a lot of trends like this, but that just proves the dominance of Western cultures. And simultaneously there is a lot of global resentment towards “American values,” which happens all the time in the U.N.
The permanent Security Council members are totally absurd. Russia, France, Great Britain, China, and the United States will almost never agree on anything, and thus important measures are almost never passed. Not only is the context of the lives of the delegates incomparable, but the historic and cultural backgrounds ingrained into these countries cannot be ignored. These countries were selected because they were the victors of WWII, but modern Germany certainly has more international influence than modern France.
Vladimir Putin and the Chinese government both hold intense resentment of American policies, so politics is driving all of the motions that go through the Security Council. China’s transformation to modernization is unprecedented, but is so much different than it was when the U.N. was formed in 1946. Russia, previously an ally to the United States, became a country with a dictator equal to or more damaging than Hitler under Josef Stalin.
It has often been said that Russia’s hatred of the United States, although fueled by many fires, stems from the U.S. often taking credit for “winning” WWII. In reality, it was Russia (who lost 20 million people during WWII — almost three times as many lost during the Holocaust) who pushed back the Germans and stormed Berlin.
America’s help was sorely needed, yes, but we entered the war late after years of watching our European allies being decimated.
Personally, as a government major and secretary of our own Model U.N., it is easy to understand why so many Middle Eastern, African, and Asian nations resent us. Our thousands of human rights violations (we have yet to join the International Criminal Court for fear of our presidents being persecuted) and judgment of other cultures makes it easy. We are constantly trying to impose our Western values on countries that have no desire to be Westernized.
As international politics continue to be studied and examined, it will be interesting to watch the U.S. as nations like the Asian Tigers rise in power. Maybe one day, it will be Americans paying money to look Chinese.