The Human-Right…

The Human-Rights Challenge

It is trite to observe that the enjoyment of democracy and human rights is a distant hope for many people in the world. But human rights are threatened not only when they are systematically violated — as in, inter alia, China, Russia, and many states in the Middle East and Central Africa. Other developments threaten human rights not in politically backward societies but in liberal democracies. One is the continuous inflation of the concept of human rights, dissociating it from its core function of safeguarding freedom. At the same time, we are seeing the erosion of belief in these principles.

Since the 1960s, human rights have expanded beyond recognition with respect to both the number of human-rights instruments produced by international bodies and the scope of what some of these bodies would cover under the heading of human rights. This expansion has weakened, not strengthened, democracy, because human rights have been distorted into something often at odds with the tradition of liberty from which human rights emerged.
The website of the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights lists more than 90 human-rights instruments (some binding, others non-binding). U.N. member states are now discussing the adoption of a new convention on the rights of the elderly, and the Human Rights Council has adopted thematic mandates (so-called “special procedures”) dealing with topics such as “the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order” (sponsored by Cuba) and the “human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment.”

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