Human Rights and the Harmonious World – A Brief Perspective
By Inonge Limbambala, from Zambia
A Harmonious world?
How possible is it for the world today to ever experience a time without conflict in its various dimensions? Is a "harmonious world" a tangible possibility or mere utopia? The word harmonious, an adjective, can be defined as "friendly". Its synonyms include peaceful, rhythmical, unison, compatible and concordant. The word "harmony" can also be described as the art of using chords in music.
Broadly speaking, the word harmony is likely to bring to one's mind the thought of serenity and orderliness. Therefore, the idea of peace and security is greatly intertwined with a perceived harmonious world, one that is not void of the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms, which form part of the core of human existence. A harmonious society, in essence, could be thought of as one that holds in very high esteem the rights and equality of all people while abiding by the principles of human civilization and the laws of nature.
Recent Trends in Armed Conflict
The armed conflicts that continue to ravage many parts of the globe essentially erase what would be desired components of a harmonious world. According to the first Human Security Report released by the Canadian organization Human Security Centre, armed conflicts, genocide and politicide have declined sharply since the early nineties. Also in a fifty year time span, the number of war causalities, coups and other war-statistics have gone down, often dramatically.
A sample of stats from the report's overview is as follows:
* The number of armed conflicts are down more than 40percent.
* There were 25 ongoing armed secessionist conflicts, the lowest number since 1976.
* The number of refugees in the world dropped by 45percent between 1992 and 2003.
* The post WWII peace period between major powers is the longest in several hundred years.
* The average number of deaths per conflict fell 98 percent between 1950 and 2002 (from 38,000 people to 600 people).
* The United Kingdom and France have engaged in more international conflicts since 1946 than any other countries.
Commenting on possible reasons for the decline, Andrew Mack, the principal investigator behind the study, stated, "We no longer have huge wars with huge armies, major engagements, heavy conventional weapons, most of today's wars are low-intensity wars fought with light weapons, small arms, often in very poor countries, they are extremely brutal but they don't kill that many people."
According to the report, most wars today are fought in small, poorly-equipped countries. While acknowledging that human rights abuses do occur in these conflicts, these wars produce far fewer casualties than the major wars of 50 years ago. Other factors affecting the decline of deaths (both military and civilian) is the emergence of high-tech war making and the overwhelming military advantage enjoyed by some countries - precision guided missiles and overwhelming numbers have led the United States and its allies to quick victories in conflicts such as the Gulf War, Kosovo, and Afghanistan.
However, many these armed conflicts have been viewed by many as a major contributor to increased human rights violations. The continued prevalence of horrific sexual violence against women in conflicts has been a constant reminder of how consistently women and girls are dehumanized and subjected to unimaginable acts of violence.
Poverty and Human Rights
Poverty still continues to wreck havoc among more than a billion of the world's population-meaning around a sixth of the world's inhabitants are living in extreme poverty. The ever-widening gap between the rich and poor directly contradicts the notion that all human beings are born equal in dignity and rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights treaties hold out the promise of life with dignity, where every person enjoys adequate standard of living and access to those essentials that give practical meaning to such a life, including food, water, shelter, education, work and health care.
The UN Millennium Declaration and Millennium Development Goals include the halving of extreme poverty, promoting women's equality by the year 2015. It would be desirable for many if the MDGs, in this regard, could be seen as a stepping stone towards broadening the range of economic and social rights obligations applying to all, as well as to providing the context for the promotion of transnational human rights which should in turn enhance international decision-making on policy and practice in the areas of debt, aid and trade.
Disarmament and Human Security
Another dimension of a harmonious world could be viewed from the perspective of general and complete disarmament. This is an issue that has and still continues to be high on the agenda of the international community, considering the recent trends in terrorism and the horrific effects of the use of weapons of mass destruction. This has in effect resulted in the negotiation and conclusion of a considerable number of bilateral, regional and multilateral agreements. From the human rights point of view, efforts to address the issue of protecting civilians and their rights in time of international conflict really began to bear fruit after the Second World War.
It was during and subsequent to this time that a number of international legal instruments were concluded on the subject. For instance, During the 1990's, due to the dramatic increase in the number of civilian casualties caused by landmines, the international community made systematic efforts to address the humanitarian problems associated with landmines-anti-personnel landmines in particular. The negotiation and conclusion of the Amended Protocol II to the Inhumane Weapons Convention (CCW) and then the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Landmines later followed.
In recent times, it has increasingly been recognized that humanitarian concerns and human rights are really the core of peace, security and disarmnent. Human security is now deservingly seen as a broad and comprehensive paradigm incorporating all elements of life and ensuring a decent human existence. It should be appreciated that the international community still endeavors to align the process of disarmament with the pursuit for human security by exploring ways to avoid recourse to arms and create conditions for individual security, especially when the State provision of security for its citizens is lacking.
UN Human Rights Council
The recent establishment of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which United Nations Secretary General Koffi Annan in his address to the Council on 19th June 2006 described as a "great new chance for the United Nations and for humanity to renew the struggle for human rights" formally assumed all mandates, mechanisms, functions and responsibilities of the UN Commission on Human Rights. This also included the Sub-Commission on Human Rights, whose main function was to undertake studies on human rights issues, to make recommendations concerning the preventions of discrimination of any kind relating to human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as the protection of racial, national, religious and linguistic minorities.
It is hoped that the Human Rights Council will execute this mandate most efficiently, taking into consideration provisions such as the Universal Periodic Review, as stipulated in the UN General Assembly resolution A/Res/60/251 which provides for periodic reviews of Member States with regard to the upholding of human rights. This would indeed be a great compliment to the unrelenting global fight, in its numerous dimensions, for a better, and indeed harmonious world through the upholding of human rights and freedoms.
Amnesty International (2005).Report 2005-the state of the world's human rights
"Human Security Report". Human Security Centre
"Peter Heinlein "Report: Political Violence Down Since End of Cold War". Voice of America, 18 October 2005
United Nations (2003). Disarmament Yearbook-Volume 28
Wars 'less frequent, less deadly'". BBC News, 17 October 2005