Human Rights in the Context of Changes in the World Order

Jaanika Erne |

In the end of the year people tend to reflect on the passed year. I chose to reflect the main ideas expressed by me at a lecture about human rights that I read to my students on the 18th of November 2011 at the University of Tartu which lecture partly reflected on my participation at King’s College London and available during my research period academic lectures at other universities in London, Westminster Abbey, and Europe House.

Why talk about changes in the World Order?

The basic legal documents of the contemporary Western World reflecting understandings of human rights have been worked out by the Founders of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of the League of Nations, the UN, the European Convention on Human Rights, (and Defence Treaty of Europe). Consequently one may ask whether the approximately 60 years old understanding of the World and its processes is able to completely correspond to the modern developments, and how does such thought interact with understandings of what rights are in the parts of the World not directly Members to a named afore documents (not to talk of imbalanced representation).

The solution cannot be rough abandonment of the UN system or /and European human rights’ protection system, therefore the International Law Commission is trying to codify existing customary law, and develop existing customary law. What could be the dangers accompanying rough abandonment of history and “ultra vires” development? – If the Mankind would loose its connection with history, it would become what the Bible articulates as “sand in the wind”. Consequently a solution seen is extension of understandings.

At King’s I attended seminars on Chinese Philosophy – conducted by professor Chung-ying Cheng, University of Hawaii (Honorary President of International Society for Chinese Philosophy) on Contemporary Chinese Philosophy, and by professor Nick Bunnin (Chairman, China-UK-USA Philosophy Summer School in China) on Classical Chinese Philosophy. The contemporary Chinese thought reflects upon understanding by Chinese thinkers of development of Western values and thoughts, reflected in Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative but also the thought of other Western philosophers from Socrates-Plato-Aristotle, and Thomas Acquinatus  to contemporary Foucault, Wittgenstein et al. The classical Chinese philosophy lectures reflect more upon what Chinese own though diversely influenced thought is about but the lecturer here also tried to build bridges with Western thought. – This was a thought about understanding of interrelation of Chinese thought with Western thought in order to overcome some of the contemporary World’s ideological problems.

Ideological problems, however, cannot be viewed separately of strategic problems such as balancing of power. If we try to map the power-positions in the bipolarized World, divided into Western (the US and her allies) and Eastern (China and her allies, one example being the BRICs-States as rising economies). [Although the picture is not that simple because the both sides have their allies in the territories of other side.]

In the middle of that we have the EU who is trying to get out of its financial crisis. We may ask to which side does the EU belong, i.e. to which side does the consisting of 27 Member States with influence from both sides EU belong – as some of EU Member States belong among the former Eastern block and directly participate in formal EU decisionmaking, as well as informal influencing such as lobbying.

That way the EU is balancing between the World’s two power sides and this is what two-speed European Union means.

This is the question indirectly addressed also by the US President Barack Obama on the 4th of November 2011 while criticizing EU decisionmaking: “the bloc’s multitude of institutions and its unwieldy decision-making procedures have hampered its response to the debt Crisis“ (See: The Wall Street Journal at ).

Note! – EU decisionmaking was criticized by the President of the United States – a State not belonging among the EU Member States – which also means third State (informal) influence on the EU. But why?

And how does such balancing influence / appear in economics? For example the US is trying to rebalance World’s economic in cooperation with the EU as the “developing countries” increasingly control the large share of the world’s economic wealth, (the IMF report on 7 January 2011 on possible replacement for the dollar as the world’s rescue currency by the SDR). At the same time, China whose yuan is connected to US dollar, is against the described decline and trying to free yuan from USD (as if the USD falls inevitably also the yuan should fall at the time where the Eastern economic allies are interested in weakening the USD), and trying to disconnect yuan from the USD China offered loan to the EU. What would that geostrategically mean? Acceptance by the EU of such loan with such (hidden) disconnection plan would weaken the  US economics, but the picture is not so simple that simply euro goes up and USD down but there are economies of the US allies within the EU – the UK, Germany, France, etc. and outside the EU that more depend on the USD, and although the acceding to the EU in 2004 and 2007 Member States have been integrated into the mainstream of transatlantic commerce, third State influence of the opposers of the US occurs through those Member States.

Military decisions also base on balancing between the afore named two power sides – for example, bombing of Iraq cost money, as well as attacking Libya did (military conflicts always cost, and military expenses have been and are the highest expenses in the World not to talk about the accompanying human losses). Today, the Western World is discussing whether to destroy the nuclear bases in Iran. At the same time it would be very difficult for the US and her allies to maintain, even harder to raise their military expenses. On the other hand Iranian nuclear power means for the World stronger shift of balance toward East (=loosing more power from the West to the East) but in the current economic situation that seems to be a solution for some Western decisionmakers as some of the leading political flows had already started to talk about the more diverse World where more power is belonging also to the Arabs and other representatives of the World cultures. One might ask here – why are some leading politicians from amongst the US allies following this thread – are they actually forced to loose power and why?

What to do? – As the understanding by Western journalists of peaceful democracy talked about during the Arab spring cannot help here because first, my argument is that Islam as political religion has always meant democracy from its root as it has always contained the right to revolt; second, the observers of the Egyptian elections may have noticed that representatives of more radical Islam got to power.

What about democracy in the EU – Embracing 27 Member States with strong Third State influence meaning that also Russia’s (which State does not belong to the EU) influence could block any EU decisionmaking. At the same time the EU is an ally to the US. Understanding the developments here requires knowledge of the whole geopolitical picture of the World.

So the EU is splitting into the Western EU and the Eastern EU.

What is the role of human rights in all that?

Starting with the role of common people – if the EU cannot connect euro with the Chinese yuan and has to raise military expenses this means continuance of the EU’s financial crisis and more sustainable living (included recycling).

Who decides?

I have attended several EU-related conferences organized by or in cooperation with the largest political party in England, the conservatives, also events organized in cooperation with the liberals. Within such political parties exist sections working inter alia with foreign issues. I was thinking about the role of lobbyists in all that. What if the lobbyists come from Third States?

Protection of human rights against this background?

One can distinguish between three lines of human rights developments as constitutional developments in the EU:

1)      The 1950s model with strong monitoring intervention power of the EC within the Member States. [Today the existing constitutional framework limits and restrains the powers of the EU in human rights review within the Member States];

2)      The 1950s model with close relationship between the on the one hand EC and ECJ, and on the other hand the ECHR and the EctHR, also wit regional and international human rights systems. [The today’s constitutional system stresses autonomy and separation of the EU’s human rights regime];

3)      The 1950s model with promotion and protection of human rights in internal and external EC policies and relations. [Today the EU focuses besides internal human rights protection dominantly on external human rights areas empowering and even obliging the EU to promote human rights actively in international politics.] (See: Grainne de Burca, “The evolution of EU human rights law” in Craig’s and Burca’s new edition of Develoment of EU Law.).

One may notice here strong declines of the EU:

1)      integration into the bipolarized Europe (accession of the EU to the ECHR);

2)      spread of external dimension of human rights (establishment of the Personal Representative on Human Rights to advise the High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy);  

3)      toward autonomy and sepation of its human rights regime (Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU).

The development toward greater autonomy could also mean protection toward Third State influence after the accession of the EU to the European Convention on Human Rights.