Saturday, April 26, 2008

"Human rights isn't a zero-sum game"

IntLawGrrls readers may recall last Saturday's post regarding the U.N. General Assembly speech in which Pope Benedict XVI endorsed the promotion of human rights. A key element of was the pope's support for the view that civil and political rights are indivisible from economic, social, and cultural rights.
Cross-posting of the report at Slate's Convictions drew response from my fellow blogger Eric Posner, a University of Chicago law professor whose scholarship often concerns international law. His post, entitled China, Human Rights Champion?, began:

If Diane and the pope are right that we shouldn't privilege civil and political rights over social, economic, and cultural rights, and maybe they are right, then we should give credit where credit is due, and crown China the human rights champion of the last thirty years.

It concluded:

We needn't declare a winner; but out of respect for China's achievement, we should at least let it relay its Olympic torch in peace.

FWIW, here, in full, is how I replied:

Eric, nothing that the pope said Friday favored one set of rights over another. Indeed, as my post stated, his speech to the U.N. General Assembly included "a tacit reprimand to those who would privilege civil and political rights over economic, social, and cultural rights -- or vice versa." (emphasis added) The point I'd intended to underscore was that the pope had reaffirmed the indivisibility of both sets of rights, the civil/political, on the one hand, and the economic/social/cultural, on the other. Indivisibility was inherent in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but frayed when Cold War geopolitics pushed the U.N. Human Rights Commission to separate the 2 sets as it began the process of drafting treaties designed to make binding all those rights that states had endorsed in the nonbinding Declaration. That separation, which seemed essential at the height of the Cold War, may be less so today: 160 countries are full members of the 1977 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, while 157 countries are full members of the 1977 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. That means that 3/4 of all the United Nations' member states are firmly in each Convenant's camp. Vestiges of Cold War concerns may be found, however, in the fact that the United States is not party to the latter Covenant and China is not party to the former.
As for China: application of the concept of indivisibility means that China is no more a "champion" of human rights than any other state. The role that the Chinese state has played in alleviating poverty deserves attention. Indeed, how each country addresses the basic needs of persons within its jurisdiction deserves note, as I've argued with regard to the United States in a forthcoming essay just posted at SSRN. But the costs of such programs also must be assessed, respecting matters as wide-ranging as the health problems and the repressions of civil liberties that may result from economic development at all costs. (Here, too, insert a "vice versa.")
On 2 points, it seems, we agree. 1st: Athletes honored to carry the torch a bit of the way toward the 2008 Olympics should not have to fear anger and assault as they run through the streets of their home country. 2d: Comprehensive, critical comparison of the nature and extent of states' programs to protect human rights rarely will yield a clear "winner."


Blazingcatfur said...

Canada is a signatory of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.

For the last 10 years the Canadian Human Rights Commission has been attempting to have "Social Condition" included as a prohibited ground of discrimination. Thankfully they have been unsuccessful.

The ramifications of its inclusion are potentially devastating, granting the CHRC power to subvert our elected parliament for starters. It is viewed as a huge power grab.

Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms failed to include property rights - oh oh!. The US was wise not to sign the Covenant, "Social condition" is social engineering on a grand scale and if implemented will make martial law seem like anarchy;)

Trust us in Canada on this one, Human Rights Commissions simply become the servant of whatever idealogue assumes the helm.

redwood said...

here we go again with the threat-to-our-castles-and-women argument. "grab your guns (and marbles)!"

Diana, you're trying to be civil with junkyard dogs holding on to the primacy that their pathologically extreme notions of liberty have held for the last 30 years.

can you imagine how it must be for Barak?