Home > General Politics > Dismantling the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

Dismantling the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

Swords and PloughsharesIt seems that the successor to the UN Commission on Human Rights will be forced to examine abuses of freedom of speech. One may be forgiven for thinking I mean that the new Council on Human Rights will be forced to examine those cases where freedom of speech is curtailed. Au contraire. The Council will be examining those cases where freedom of speech is taken too far.

As a socialist, I do not believe the state has a role to play in curtailing freedom of speech. Though I occasionally gloat when the far right fall foul of the law, in truth I should restrain my urge to see the bourgeois state lock up such ignorant excuses for human beings. That is not to say that I think that anyone should be allowed to say anything. The question is, allowed by whom?

If we’re intent on building a conscious, political, workers’ movement, then we should be encouraging that movement to police for itself those areas over which it has control. For this reason I support the NUS denying fascists the right to speak at NUS events. Similarly, for this reason I support election candidates who refuse to share a platform with the fascist BNP. Similarly organisations like Searchlight and Unite Against Fascism.

This is a qualitatively different issue from the state taking a hand in determining who can say what. It is also different from allowing a multi-national organisation to take a hand in condemning those people who dare to speak out against Sharia law and other such occasionally barbaric practices. Doubly so when the self-same organisation is at best measured in its criticism of inhumanity in the Islamic world.

Don’t get me wrong, as I’ve said before I don’t accept this notion of ‘rights’ and the only sense I use the word in is entirely superficial. The underpinning logic of the modern world is that one gets the rights which one can grab. Having rights handed down from above creates faith in institutions, such as the UN, which do not justify it. The UN, after all, was founded as the voice of the four world powers.

For the international labour movement, this change is superficial, representative only of the increasingly reactionary nature of so many national regimes. While our soldiers are off crusading in Iraq and Afghanistan, under the guise of ‘multi-polarity’ nations like Russia and China are strengthening themselves economically, politically and militarily. It cannot be long until each side renews its special brand of imperialism.

This is a real danger, something which we need to be waking up to. Against such powers the force of arms can do nothing. This is only highlighted by the lamentable fiction of success in Iraq, the truth of which is revealed with the disintegration of British efforts in Basra into violence. If a peace is re-established, it will be because it is in the interests of the Islamic clerics who run the fanatic militias in the region.

Having outlined the difference between bureaucratic superficiality and the real issues, I shouldn’t care about the change in the Council on Human Rights. I do though. I grew up with Model UN Conferences and the belief that the only thing stopping the United Nations from being an overwhelming force for good was the Security Council vetoes. None of that is true of course, but youthful ideas, however unworthy, die hard.

Categories: General Politics
  1. March 31, 2008 at 9:40 pm

    I agree with you: largely. The reasons you give for supporting no platform are the same I use myself. I find them to be overlooked in favour of more unthinking arguments altogether. There should certainly be no state ban on fascists.

    However, as a reformist who seeks to use the state as a tool (where appropriate and viable) I am in favour of legislation against the incitement of violence based on discrimination.

  2. March 31, 2008 at 10:12 pm

    Surely a better bulwark against the incitement of violence would be a powerful trade union movement that pulls together both white and non-white communities? I mean, all the laws in the world haven’t stopped the fascists. We had race discrimination laws before Burnley, Oldham and the rest.

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