Greetings again from Belgium! As our tired group made their way back from the beautiful and (too) sunny Paris to the comfortable familiarity of Brussels, we refocused our minds from discussions of foreign security matters and EU institutional concepts towards an exploration of international human rights in the context of European nations.
We welcomed Dr. Mikulas Fabry to Belgium, who is graciously imparting his expertise in ethics and international affairs through a crash course on the nature of international human rights policy and its omnipresent impact on world affairs. We began by discussing current issues concerning the European continent, including the migration of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa into EU countries, Hungary’s reconsideration of capital punishment, and ongoing war crimes occurring in the Gaza Strip. There are numerous obstacles to achieving peace in the current international system, and many center around the lack of effective enforcement mechanisms for human rights treaties, which stem from an inability of national governments and international institutions to concretely define the terms of human rights debates.
Dr. Fabry lead us through a comprehensive definition of human rights, and I especially appreciated our discussion on how human rights were developed from natural law, which constitutes an ancient moral theory that nature contains objective moral standards that are accessible to all people by virtue of their reasoning. A world that is constantly evolving and entrenched in cultural relativism contests natural law, and by extension, human rights protections. This clash between what a culture deems is acceptable for those involved and what should naturally be accessible to all peoples is still relevant in contemporary human rights conflicts.
Our afternoon lecture centered around various international institutions that contribute to the global human rights debate, including the various institutions from the United Nations and the European Union specifically. These institutions have evolved and adapted to address human rights concerns in the past, and are continuing to develop in response to recent crises such as the migration problems and rising tension in the Middle East.
The general conclusions reached after a comprehensive and engaging six hour discussion were that unsympathetic governments hinder the operability of human rights machinery on both the regional and global level, and that sympathetic governments benefit greatly from external reviews of their practices because those reviews establish a good reputation on the global stage. All of us received a solid (but firehose) grounding in human rights theory and are ready to discuss more about the International Criminal Court and other details regarding human rights institutions tomorrow.
We all look forward to using the knowledge we gained from today’s lectures and will gain from tomorrow’s as we prepare to embark to The Hague, Berlin, and Kraków in order to become truly immersed in current human rights issues through relevant site visits!