The sociopolitical history of human rights is anything but admirable. The loudest and most suspicious of all its “champions,” the United States of America, is probably the most hostile state to ignore human rights globally. Evidence of this is the never-ending cycle of foreign aggression and economic intrusion that the US has practiced for decades. Irony of ironies, the US is often touted as the perfect democracy because of how its intelligentsia can articulate human rights utopianism perfectly. But in practice, this country is the most savage of global war dogs.
At key points in history, the US has muted its pro-democracy and pro-human rights stances when a foreign state needs to be carpet-bombed, invaded and restructured under the banner of neoliberalism.
There should be no question about it: the United States should never be the model for upholding human rights because of its bloody record that it doesn’t even seriously acknowledge.
And let’s not forget: alongside brutal McCarthyism in the 1950s was the anticommunist “human rights” rhetoric used against any and all states that did not follow the footpath of global capitalism. Cuba, then struggling against endemic plantation culture and the economic hegemony of the US, also became a target of this rhetoric.
Fidel Castro was branded a communist human rights violator while its nearest neighbor placed harsh embargoes on it – effectively to starve the Cubans. For if the US wanted only to get Fidel (as evidenced by more than 600 attempts on his life) then why would a state-wide embargo be put into operation? Wasn’t this too, a clear case of state-sanctioned violation of human rights? In this light, wasn’t China and Russia during the Cold War more ‘humane’ than a neighbor who effectively wanted to starve a tiny island nation that was Cuba?
Perhaps, Cuban human rights didn’t matter much to Pres. Kennedy and the rest of the gang?
World capitalism hijacked the discourse of human rights and for the most part, associated foreign aggression with “bringing democracy back” to “failed states.” It was as if carpet bombing and munitions brought with them a satchel of human rights for everyone.
If we look closely at how human rights have been appropriated in industrial states such as the US and the UK, one would easily see that human rights are highly abstracted concepts and they tend to protect the privileged, white male population the majority of the time. Historically speaking, “human rights” as a legitimate point of contention came about because the ruling elite wanted another measure of protection against the government. And the elite, representing the scum of the private sector, abhorred state violence and intrusion as much as the next guy.
In the Third World, we can no longer afford to follow the muted and ineffective chanting of the elite as they ‘struggle’ for human rights.
The battle for legitimacy of human rights of the downtrodden and the oppressed should gain more traction. Why? Because they are the easiest targets of all kinds of oppression. They who are unable to understand the rhetorical machinery of the state are often its victims. In the Philippines, the chronic voicelessness of the poor and property-less can only be mitigated by organizing against all forms of violence emanating either from the sovereign state itself (the government) or the parallel narco state run by the private sector and members of the government. Civil society must continue to condemn what harms and threatens it but in a way that takes into account the reality of class lines in the current necropolitical orientation of the state.