Sunday, June 17, 2018

Human rights and national sovereignty

This is a bit from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (Zeid Raad el-Hassan), who was recently given an award by Foreign Policy magazine.  He discusses the recent turning of many people and countries away from the principles of liberal democracy, into a flirtation with fascism, nationalism, and dictatorship.

I've heard that some countries (presumably human rights violators) have accused Zeid Raad el-Hassan of meddling in their internal affairs.  I understand that this is a touchy subject, and that the UN is founded in part on respect for the sovereignty of each nation.  But an even more fundamental principle of the UN and of government itself is the protection of the people.  If a state is neglecting its duties to protect basic human rights, or even worse, if it is actively undermining human rights, then it has effectively ceded at least a part of its rightful demand to sovereignty, and can't in good conscious or coherence protest when a higher body (in this case the UN) attempts to protect the civilians that country is not protecting. 

So to me, this banner of sovereignty held up in response to UN calls for respect of human rights, rings as hollow as the demands of Jim Crow states that the federal government respect their states' rights to oppress certain citizens.  My very basic understanding of the principle of subsidiarity (which underlies any federal-type system) is that affairs should be handled to the extent possible by the lowest, most local administrative level that can adequately handle them.  But a corollary of this is that, if a lower administrative unit (like a state) is failing in some way to fulfill its responsibilities to its citizens (whether this is because the task is too grand for the administrative unit to handle, or due to malice, as was the case with Jim Crow laws), then that same set of federalist or subsidiarity principles demand that the higher administrative level step in to set things right.

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