Whether treaties are signed and/or ratified, or violations of them do/do not occur, human rights treaties demand and affirm the dignified rights of the world’s citizens. Further, on a principled level, they provide a glimmer of hope in what often seems to be a dreary age.
Considering the recent American elections, regardless of what party you belong to, who you voted for, and what you’re protesting now, the popular sentiment in the streets is one of certain groups of American people stripped of their rights, their voice, and their votes. Whether change can be made on this scale or not, when you feel as though your country and your government is not hearing you, it’s important that you have an international body or set of guidelines that you can turn to. As people have begun to divide along the line that is American democracy, it is clear that this is an issue of diversity, of inclusion, of justice, and, ultimately, of human rights.
Human rights are a hope; they are a necessary means for all to know and realise their potential and hold others up to the same ideals. “Human rights achieve their highest expression when understood in the context of human relationships – within the family, the community, the nations and among the community of nations,” the Baha’i International Community writes. To ensure that violation and compliance to human rights treaties were not biased and were held to this global standard, the Universal Periodic Review was created. It provided a universal character and nature for the compliance of treaties and the livelihood of humanity.
As such, when a nation like the United States of America – widely considered to be developed, a world leader, an exemplar – has come under scrutiny for violating the rights, the voice, and the vote of half of its people after an historic election, it becomes gravely important that there is hope; that there is a standard to which we all strive. However, this is not unlike the United States. The state has violated treaties of torture, has not ratified the Convention of the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, does not reprimand police brutality, and inhumanely punishes convicted criminals. How do we create a shift in our understanding of human rights and what it means to us as a universal human entity, for the “greater good”, rather than on an individual basis? Law, organization, and limitations are important to our human existence and routine. How do we elevate our understanding of law from national to international in order to rise above the barriers in a positive and holistic way?
I’ve been thinking on it quite a lot: Why did I say, when I was a little girl, that I wanted to fight for human rights when I grew up? I saw my neighbourhood and wanted to share. I looked at my community and wanted to build. I observed my country and wanted to serve. I perceived the world and wanted to change it. It was important to me to begin where I could make an effective difference and influence a person, a small group, a generation, to carry-out the lofty standards and systems we hold as ideals.
That’s what the importance of human rights treaties is: people knowing their rights and compliance happening on a personal and community-level. That’s what “think global, act local” has always meant. We can make the arguments of foreign aid and continuing violations, oppressive governments and powerless international law. However, our duty is to make change in our environments as we think about the advancement of civilization at-large. Roth writes, “[human rights treaties] codify a widely endorsed set of principles from which the conversation can begin.” This is the basis of compliance.
Therefore, I would ask, why do we need incentive? Should it not be a natural instinct and the duty of the government to protect the dignity and integrity of its peoples? The incentive should be simple. Investing in the people and their rights will lead to educational, economic, political, and social prosperity. And, if a state chooses to denounce the treaties and refuses to comply, the global standard is present and understood to, thereby, call guilty parties into question and inform affected peoples of the state that there can be an alternative. Often, it’s as simple as the empowerment an individual may gain in learning that their humanity may be protected by an international conviction of human worth.
Abdu’l-Baha, a prominent figure of the Baha’i Faith, wrote, “The wrong in the world continues to exist just because people talk only of their ideals, and do not strive to put them into practice. If actions took the place of words, the world’s misery would very soon be changed into comfort. My hope for you is that you will ever avoid tyranny and oppression; that you will work without ceasing till justice reigns in every land…”
Local action leads to international compliance.