We hit the ground running for our second day with Dr. Markley! To get our minds warmed up, we took a short quiz on the readings and some of the material covered from our first lecture. The five question quiz was based on the Donnelly chapters we read before the class began. The questions covered topics from characterization of periods in our history, to different models of human rights, to ways in which human rights are used as a foreign policy tool.
After the quiz we continued lecture from yesterday. We began by discussing the whether an international human rights regime has developed after WWII and the major issue that national implementation of international human rights is a slow and difficult process. There were a variety of opinions about 172 countries agreeing to International HR being a regime. I personally believe that out of the almost 200 countries on the globe, the current 172 countries agreeing on a set of rights is an accomplishment, especially with such differences among all of us. There is of course always room for improvement—one day I hope that all humans, regardless of nationality, race, gender, sexuality are granted equal rights across the globe.
A question that garnered a lot of attention in our class was “Why do countries ratify conventions but don’t apply international human rights laws?” We concluded that many do it for political and international validity. Signing on to a convention also holds the country accountable to their citizens. Another topic of discussion is why we should be concerned with other countries human rights practices. It’s important here to emphasize that we are discussing human rights. Therefore, we should value all human lives regardless of nationality. We also have to remember atrocities in our history, such as the holocaust and Rwandan genocide. Many countries turned a blind eye to what was happening in these countries and countless lives could have been saved.
We followed this with a couple of open discussion questions regarding the division of human rights, and how to define them. We ultimately came to the conclusion that human rights can be divided into social and economic rights versus civil and political rights, and this often dictates how countries implement human rights policies. Some value civil and political rights over social and economic rights. However, Donnelly says that we need to value both equally. This brought us to the term cultural relativism— you have to understand human behavior in the context of its own culture. Countries often cannot come to a consensus on what rights should be established and how to enforce them. That’s what makes it so difficult to implement human rights legislation and policy on an international scale.
The discussion on human rights was wrapped up with a review of the three models of human rights—cosmopolitan, statist, and internationalist. We discussed how these play a role in an anarchic international system, or a system where the actors are states and there is no supranational organization. The class was broken into two groups who compared and contrasted cosmopolitan and internationalist and statist and internationalist. Cosmopolitan is more individual focused, human rights should be implemented by the individuals, while statist argues the states are the primary enforcers of human rights, and internationalist argues for a supranational organization to enforce the human rights that are determined by the states. We also pointed out that implementation of an international human rights law takes some sovereignty away from states, and this can be a major problem for states.
The final activity of the day was to prepare a presentation for Thursday. Our task was to find a human rights violation in the member state that we were assigned and then to find other member states with a similar political background or in the same region and make a presentation on these violations. My member state was Finland, so I grouped with Gemma, Shekinah, and Hamid who worked on Ireland, Denmark, and Sweden, respectively. We decided to make the focus of our presentation Finland and their violation of the right to privacy—both in the physical and digital worlds. Finland does not require a court order for search and seizure of property, and they are now implementing a legislation that allows for civilian and military surveillance by the government. This requires altering the constitution, and violates the right to privacy that is important to citizens. It draws to many people’s attention the fact that human rights need to be extended beyond just the physical world, as much more of our lives is playing out in the digital sphere.
All in all, day two of human rights lecture with Dr. Markley was full of introspection, discussion, and a new understanding of how complex human rights is. She creates a safe space for us to express our points of view, and challenges us to think differently. I can’t wait to visit the council of Europe and for our site visits in Brussels where we will hear about how these human rights theories are put into practice!