Saturday, 7 November 2009

Your Views on the Scope of Human Rights

There are various regional human rights instruments, such as the European Convention on Human Rights; the American Convention on Human Rights; The African Charter on Human and People's Rights; and the well known Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Then there are various international human rights instruments, mainly legislated by the United Nations, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; Convention Against Torture; Convention on the Rights of the Child; and so on and so forth.

The critical analysis of the effective protection and enforcement of human rights provided by the above instruments can be debated; however, that is not the focus of this post. I personally would like the readers to please offer their views on how much of human rights they believe in, and how far would they apply such instruments if they were empowered to do so. It is quite easy to believe in the unconditional application of human rights to all members of the human family; however, what if one of the persons concerned was a serious offender of human rights? Would you still want to see that individual enjoy the protection of human rights?

In illustrating this with some basic examples, if you were to apprehend a man who had raped a virgin before executing her in order to 'prevent her going to heaven', would you accord him the protection of the human right to life, or the protection of the right to be free from torture?

Or would you argue that he forfeited his human rights when he violated another's?

What about in the case of a father who stoned his daughter to death in public, simply because she fell in love with a boy from another culture - would you accord the father with the protection of his human rights, or would you let him experience what you would call 'justice'?

The list of examples could go on forever, including governments who silence protestors with brutal and sometimes fatal force; arbitrary detention, and torture in prison etc.

Please convey your views on this, as I am interested in exploring whether the application of human rights could ever reach a limit. Can one use and apply reason with somebody who is unreasonable, or ought they resort to using the language that may be the only one the offender can understand - violence? There is no answer that I have for you...yet.

Please debate this in the 'comments' box below; you may post as 'anonymous', provide an alias, or enter your actual name.


  1. Dear Mehrtash,

    You raise a very good issue that is certainly relevant. It has much to with the nature of the international system and with it’s limitations. Off course, there are standards and even some mechanism to enforce them but the track record is far from satisfying. Where was the world when 30 million people were killed in China in the 20th century for political reasons? The Soviet Union liquidated 20 million between 1918 – 1945 and little was done to prevent that. The 'Killing Fields' of Cambodia, by the communist Pol Pot consumed about 3-5 million people. And I have not yet mentioned 10 million Congo and millions of others in Sudan, Rwanda, Nigeria, Ethiopia, China, Iran and elsewhere. In some cases, the workd intervened but often too late.

    The international is system is strengthening vis-à-vis the state system but a new balance is still far away and much politics is in between. It is was weak to handle these genocides and mass murderer campaigns and it is not strong enough to handle many issues of human rights. This is why we have NGO’s who try to help the international system play its role. This is why your work and that of others is important.

    Nir Boms

  2. Nir Boms,

    Thank you for honouring me with your comments. I agree that the track record of human rights law enforcement has been far from satisfactory. Yes, NGOs contribute to paving the way for enforcing/protecting and promoting human rights.

    However, my question is of ethics: Does the human rights of the serious offender of human right become forfeit - that is, when law and reason do not work, is violence justified?

  3. Dear Mehrtash,
    On the issue of ethics, we can not change the minimum standards of the Human rights with exceptions, one wrong does not make another wrong justified.
    If you start medeling where do you draw the line?
    After some 2600 years struggle for the individual rights, starting wiyh the Cyrus Cylinder, Magna Carta, Us bill of rights, french revelution, Universal declaration, and follow up un mandates against Torture and civil rights etc etc... we are where we are .
    We can not take a step backwards and bring national security concerns and so on, but we have to improve on them and find ways to enforce them not to take away anything away and claim this guy is a serial killer or that guy....
    Everybody has to have the protection of the law even the worst among us, then we can look for ways how to reduce the violance against human beings

  4. I totally agree on that argument too. However, I mean to enquire whether violence can ever be used in defence of someone's human rights; allow me to illustrate with the following example.

    A thug attacks a women by beating her on the head with a baton, causing her to bleed at the least. He does this because she is taking part in a non-violent protest against an unpopular government. This would constitute a violation of human rights on two levels - i) her right to be free from torture and to have her personal integrity protected from violence; ii) her right to exercise the right to freedom of speech.

    Now, in order to protect this woman from the continuation of the thug's attack, one would have to intervene. However, the thug will not be talked out of his attack, so violence is used in order to stop his attack - he is pushed, or struck with enough force to stun him in order to buy time to get the victim away from him.

    Thus, in an attempt to protect a victim's human rights, one has to cross the line to stop the assailant/offender...No?

  5. Homayoun, if some one slap rape, tortured you or your childeren would you hand shake with them or turn your face away or make speach for them to wake up?.. ? I will break their neck... those animals are develes slave... remember that.

  6. Anonymous, You are right about this and I will do the same but we belong to a civilized society and nations of laws, hopefully police would have arrested the thug before I could commit such a vigilante act.
    Violence breeds violence
    Just look what happened and happens in Iran, few month ago. a poor young man was hanged in Iran the mother of the victim of the crime for which this kid were found guilty of, pulled the stool.... is that the type of society we want to have and live in? we want to live in a society that beheads in public square and stone to death ?......
    What you say is out of pure emotions and one has to harness his/her emotions and use it for the good of the society

  7. Well said, Mr Homayoun; I couldn't agree with you more.

    Whilst it is only natural for civilians to seek retribution, it is the authorities' responsibility and duty to ensure justice is served outside the scope of emotion, and within the remit of reason. If governments armed their civilians with the gun to seek revenge, then the whole concept of law, order and ethics would collapse, taking humanity with it.