No Rights Left
In A World Of Diverging Values, Human Rights Are Openly Breached Without Consequence
Amid a new phase of strong-state politics and deepening domestic polarization, it becomes easier for governments to sacrifice individual protections to collective stability. This already happens widely: lip service is paid to human rights that are breached at home or abroad when it suits states’ interests. What if even lip service goes by the wayside, and human rights are dismissed as anachronisms that weaken the state at a time of growing threats?
In authoritarian countries with weak human rights records, the impact of such a tipping point might be one of degree—more rights breached. In some democratic countries, qualitative change would be more likely—a jolt towards an illiberalism in which power-holders determine whose rights get protected, and in which individuals on the losing side of elections risk censorship, detention or violence as “enemies of the people”.
Battles are already under way among major powers at the UN over the future of the human rights system. In a multipolar world of divergent fundamental values, building far-reaching consensus in this area may be close to impossible. “Universal” rights are likely to be interpreted locally, and those interpretations then fought over globally. Even superficial changes might be of modest help, such as new language that is less politicized than “human rights”.