Why do Human Rights Vary from Place to Place?

International Laws and Agreements

  • The United Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a framework for foreign policies to explain economic and military intervention but not all states have signed the Declaration.
  • It states the basic rights and fundamental freedoms to which all humans are entitled to. This includes rights such as the right to education, the right to privacy and the right to clean water.
  • Reading through the rights, it is apparent that not all are met globally. This is due to access of rights as well as extraneous variables, such as government corruption, which can prevent rights altogether.
  • The European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) was created by the Council of Europe to prevent conflict.
  • This was integrated into the UK by the Human Rights Act of 1998 but some see the ECHR as controversial as it erodes national sovereignty as it is not a British concept.
  • The European court of human rights is an international court set up in 1959 and implements the ECHR. The court is responsible for monitoring respect for the human rights of 800 million Europeans within 47-member states that have ratified the convention.
  • The Geneva Convention forms the foundation of international law prosecuting individuals and organisations who commit war crimes. This convention was endorsed by 196 countries, but few cases come to trial whilst 150 countries continue to engage in torture.
  • This displays the difficulty of setting up international laws as there will almost always be conflict amongst countries and their interests. If everyone does not agree to the law, then how can it be put into place effectively?
  • The convention sets out war laws to protect civilians and minimising damage. This is taken from philosophical theories, by Aquinas in the 13th century, on Just War Theory and the conduct before within and after a war.


Differences in the Definition and Protection of Human Rights

  • In international meetings, some states invoke debates on human rights whilst others prioritise economic development, a possible example being China who is neither capitalist nor entirely communist.
  • Some superpowers and emerging nations, such as India, have favoured the democratic system but the degree of democracy and freedom varies globally. The more democratic a nation, the greater the protection for human rights and freedom of speech.
  • It has been reported that China pressurised Google to filter out search results on topics such as human rights. Is this not a breach of the nation’s human rights?
  • Levels of corruption vary and can be measured using the Index of Corruption. High levels of corruption are a threat to a country’s development and human rights as laws can be subverted and broken without punishment.
  • Some argue that corruption is part of development. For instance, both the bureaucracies, such as the police force, were corrupt in industrial Britain and Italy which are now developed nations.
  • However, the abuse of human rights is nonetheless not favourable. Development surely arises from the control of corruption via laws.


Variations in Human Rights

  • There are variations between countries in the implementation of human rights and this is due to different levels of social development.
  • In some states, particularly post-colonial states, there are groups defined by gender/ethnicity that have fewer rights than the dominant group. This has been an issue in South Africa.
  • Differences in rights correlate to differences in health and education levels, such as between the indigenous populations in both North and South America.
  • A demand for equality from women and ethnic minorities has been influential in the history of many states such as Afghanistan and Australia.