Should human rights be universal?
My quick answer to this question is yes, they should be. I am all for advancing universal values of human rights in the world. It should be the shared goal of every nation; humanity’s coveted “Holy Grail.”
However, there is a huge “but.” Society’s recognition of human rights values does not exist in a vacuum.
Historian Barbara Tuchman, as quoted by Stephen Kinzer in his article on The Guardian, couldn’t have articulated it better:
“Humanity may have common ground, BUT needs and aspirations vary according to circumstances.”
Human dignity precedes ‘human rights’
Human rights and human development are indivisibly linked. They have the same final objective to improve well-being and freedom of individuals, based on the inherent dignity and equality of all people. When human development is crippled, so is society’s appreciation of human rights.
Therefore, it should not come as a shock when advocates preach human rights on a gravely unequal society like the Philippines–whose politics has stunted human development and undermined human dignity–and experience resistance.
In an article by Mendy and Flannery, they mention:
“Without dignity, none of the protections of the various legal human rights mechanisms can have real meaning.”
So when your politicians lack the commitment to create conditions under which individuals can develop a sense of self-worth and dignity; when inequality remains unchanged and economic growth is less effective in reducing poverty; expect the crusade for human rights to take society’s back burner.
Matthew Lower, in his essay on E-International Relations, states:
There are arguments that economic development must precede human rights, believing that human rights are too expensive and too risky for poor countries. In poor states – particularly with ethnic divisions – human rights can “subvert social order and thus hinder development.” Advocates of this view again cite Asian ‘Tiger’ economies where strong economic growth is credited to authoritative rule.
Key is human and economic development.
If the present administration could facilitate this by making the economy attractive for business, foreign and local (using its solidified political power to lift constitutional economic restrictions just as Lee Kuan Yew did for Singapore), and thereby generating jobs and promoting prosperity for all, it will have the people’s support for a very long time.
And this achievement of improved human development and dignity will eventually impact on our standards of human rights as a nation.
Motives always matter
I, too, consider myself an advocate for human rights. But after getting to know the positions of most human rights activists in this country and intuiting their motives with the cognizance of their backgrounds, I have realized that what they have is a narrow, self-serving view of human rights.
Most of these “activists” and “advocates” come from backgrounds of wealth, power, elitism or mere intellectual snobbery. Because their basic rights are already guaranteed, it sure makes sense for them to defend their secondary rights. And because in the Philippines, there’s few of them than many, their actions could be more destructive than constructive.
Indeed, according to Kinzer:
Want to undermine governments that are raising their people up from poverty because they don’t conform to the tastes of upper west side intellectuals? Use human rights as your excuse! This has become the unspoken mantra of a movement that has lost its way. [...] All promote an absolutist view of human rights permeated by modern western ideas that westerners mistakenly call ‘universal’. In some cases, their work, far from saving lives, actually causes more death, more repression, more brutality and an absolute weakening of human rights.
The human rights debate needs to pivot around evolving time and context, achievement of greater ends rather than adherence to a dogma.
I mean, surely, your idealism and naïveté, Filipino liberals and progressives, can be cute. But they won’t spare you the barbs of reality. Worse, they can cause all kinds of problems because you have a faulty interpretation of what’s real.
Finally, to those people who would be happy to see the government falter and our economy destabilized; who rejoice at the sight of our stock market losing just because they do not like President Duterte; to the media who would rather see the international reputation of the country tarnished rather than spend more time researching, from the bottom of my heart, shame on you.
You are the real human rights violators because your motives are inherently self-interested and are meant simply to ego-stroke yourselves.
Shame on you and your soul.