The Future We Need: A Vision for Human Rights

Illustration by Armine Shahbazyan.

When I started to write this article about a desired future for the protection and development of human rights, it became evident that words and concepts have become meaningless, empty; their underlying meaning once and for all shattered during the events of 2020-2022. Peace, equality, human rights, freedom… all of these concepts that humanity gave meaning to for centuries, for which progressive philosophical thought and creative potential toiled, do not inspire anymore. They lack energy and ring hollow. 

Thus, this article is about dreams, because knowledge and experience are no longer enough, and analytical thinking only leads to apocalyptic visions. 

Why did humanity reach this point? Although many legal approaches were formulated, secured in international conventions and national laws, boundaries were set, which could not be transgressed, humanity submerged into the slumber of neoliberalism, which seemed so sweet. Consumerism, market relations, human-workforce-labor-market relations have been normalized; people are competitors and adversaries; public pressure to succeed in a competitive environment has become indisputable, and the simplest assumptions that we can be caring towards each other and cooperate have been erased. This has become the natural and normal condition. 

The war came to remind us that, as professor of clinical psychology Paul Verhaeghe very pointedly said, “An economic system that rewards psychopathic personality traits has changed our ethics and our personalities.” During the three decades of neoliberalism humanity has steadily walked on the path of division, hatred and taking from one another. Neoliberalism, although considered a liberal ideology, acts from a position of absolute truth and does not leave room for any alternative, any other economic system; living under any other configuration of relations is thought of as unrealistic. 

And now, when one looks back at all the values—democracy, freedom, human rights, equality—one sees that the market has ruthlessly stripped these concepts of their meaning, using them for the victory march of aggressive and wild market oriented liberalism and unjust competition. This explicitly unjust and exploitative economic system has led to inconceivable human rights violations, the most “justified” of which is inequality in favor of capital. 

Inequality Kills

Every day, inequality kills 21,000 people or someone dies because of it every 4 seconds. Instead, the ten richest people in the world doubled their fortune during the pandemic. 

“If these ten people were to lose 99.999 percent of their wealth tomorrow, they would still be richer than the other 99 percent of the world’s population,” says Gabriela Bucher, the executive director of Oxfam International. “Currently they have six times the wealth of the world’s poorest 3.1 million people.” 

The justifications and explanations for such inequalities of wealth are often vile. Market relations, free competition, protection of capital, and its convergence with political and social systems have led to what we have now. The massive social polarization cannot be justified with a liberal economy, property rights or the laws of business; social justice is more imperative than ever. 

In fact, the lack of a proper social environment is directly related to the Right to Life. Although all international legal instruments since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have declaratively enshrined the provision of right to life, it is still not respected by social guarantees. 

The first of the UN Sustainable Development Goals is to end poverty. The United Nations is set to eradicate extreme poverty everywhere and for everyone by 2030; extreme poverty is currently measured as spending less than $1.25 per day. However, in the entire document there is not a single reference to inequality and social injustice, or the issue of systemic exploitation, which is the main cause of extreme poverty. The document addresses equality only in the context of gender, which is one of the manifestations of the same oppressive system and by separating it from the economic system an attempt is made to speak about the issue in a safer way. 

Social Justice: A Classless Society 

If competition breeds aggression, cooperation provides a solid foundation for the common good and distributes it based on need. The basis for social justice is a classless society where there will be no one who exploits and no one who is exploited. Inequality is created by the unequal distribution of material goods and when there are a handful of people in society who control most of the social and economic resources. 

A change in the public mindset is first of all necessary for creating a classless society and establishing social justice, for it has historically been proven that social ideologies cannot be established by force nor by the ascension to power of a group of similarly minded people. Power itself is a manifestation of inequality for a classless society, thus public attitude toward the government system will also be transformed. For the public that is caught in a state of consumerism any kind of protest is not for changing the social structure, but is an attempt to become part of the group of the privileged, because modern perceptions about power projection  are still in place, which contradicts approaches of cooperation, justice and empathy.  

While the issue of equality is touched upon in the UN document in the context of gender, the concept of justice appears only in the penultimate goal of the document, in the context of peace. Moreover, all the processes that are taking place today illustrate that peace is an ultimate goal and the basis of sustainable human development. By not taking into account the indisputability of peace in today’s world we do not realize the importance of that right. In the absence of peace no human right can be protected. 

The Right to Peace: Demilitarization 

The right to peace is a fundamental right; in the absence of peace, it does not make sense to speak about ensuring any other right. 

In a state of war, which we saw in 2020 with Artsakh and are witnessing now with the war in Ukraine, the volume of human rights violations is so staggering that it becomes impossible to even distinguish them. Those include the violations of the right to life, the right to protection from torture, the right to education, health and social rights and the supremacy of the right to peace becomes indisputable. 

In this context, the human philosophical mind, throughout the centuries, has tried to find the answer to one question: How to prevent war? And if Thomas Hobbes considered conflict to be a characteristic of the natural state of man—“the war of all against all”—for which the State was critical as a restraining and restrictive force, Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued that in nature there was no war among people, as they have a innate sense of kindness and compassion. The state of nature is not a war of all against all, war is a conflict that entails social organization. A state of war, which is not natural for humans, emanates from precautions taken for ensuring long-time peace. In fact, according to Rousseau’s approach, peace is being imposed through war, which is already a deadlock. 

Peace is not imposed, rather it should be acknowledged that there can be no other way of life than peaceful coexistence and cooperation. Peace cannot be established through weapons; weapons are already a threat to peace. It is always possible to create and use more monstrous weapons and an arms race can always lead to new war, it does not play any deterring, preventive role. The human race can only have a future if there is global demilitarization. Humanity must come to understand that weapons, force and the balance of power do not provide guarantees for peace, it is just a temporary ceasefire that can disrupt the relative and apparent peace any moment. The issue of peace is directly connected with the future of humanity, the formation of a new world and social order, which is imperative, especially when the current system is crumbling day-by-day and finally it is in the spirit of the human desire for happiness. 

How to establish peace and overcome the calamity of war? This is the most pressing issue that mankind is facing today and it is directly related to the concept of the protection of human rights. 

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