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Human And Ethnic Rights In Democratic Transition, Vol. 7 - 2000, No. 1

Human Rights and Great Power Politics: A Social Scientist's View

, pages: 15-24

In his famous essay, "On Perpetual Peace" (1795/1987), Kant argued that peace, freedom, and human progress were dependent on the existence of a plurality of politically competing units of independent states. In his 5th "preliminary article" he wrote: "No state may intervene violently in the constitution and the government of another state." The concept of Human Rights applies, however -- taking it literally according to our common understanding today -- to all human beings irrespective of their national or cultural belonging, or their position in the hierarchical setting of the political world system. As social scientists we must investigate the different meanings and functions this complex idea assumes under the condition of a unipolar world order, dominated militarily and politically by one single hyperpower. This contribution investigates the universalist approach to Human Rights in political reality. It argues that the inherent universalism of Human Rights is used to instrumentalise them for strengthening the hegemonic relations of modernising strata within states and their populations in western and non-western societies. That argument is by no means to be confounded with the apologetic arguments of some states (e.g., the PRC) that Human Rights are Western ideas and not applicable to non-western societies. Nevertheless, it asks for the roots of those purposeful misunderstandings. By its instrumentalisation, the concept of Human Rights may be damaged also for those suffering under its absence. Finally, this essay pleads for a policy of strict non-intervention in military terms to re-evaluate Human Rights and return their dignity as the fundamental charter of humankind. Democratic transition needs to be protected against the very denial of democracy, which is forcing on other political units the prejudices of the more powerful states.

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