Not because we seek to fall in line behind President Rodrigo Duterte’s ongoing debate with human rights advocates and critics of the Philippine drug war, but because we want a full examination of the issues, we call attention today to that sector of national and international opinion that has raised valid and thoughtful criticism of the human rights movement and its excesses.
For far too long, the public debate on human rights in this country has been dominated by human rights groups who espouse the ideology of human rights. It has been heavily influenced in our country by international media, whose values may be different from ours. The arena of public discussion has sometimes been closed to those voices who espouse a different philosophy and approach.
Whether wittingly or unwittingly, President Duterte and his administration have commendably provided us the opportunity and the space to debate the issue of human rights at length.
We have heard from serious and thoughtful critics of the human rights movement, whose arguments we, Filipinos, must seriously study and consider.
One such criticism, as exemplified by author, journalist and academic Stephen Kinzer, contends that groups such as Human Rights Watch have lost their way by imposing western, ‘universal’ standards on developing countries. The human rights movement has become in recent years the vanguard of a new form of imperialism.
Kinser gave this title to a strong article in The Guardian: “End human rights imperialism now.”
Another line of criticism, notably led by French international law professor Alain Pellet, takes issue with what he calls “Human-rightism” – a state of mind that has come to possess the human rights movement in general.
Pellet declared: “We should be under no delusion…The basic responsibility for the enforcement of human rights lies primarily with State action since the organs of State are responsible for the day-to-day application of human rights norms…. In this area as in virtually all others, the State has the last word.”
A third interesting line of criticism is propounded by economist and politician Václav Klaus, who served as President of the Czech Republic from 2003 to 2013.
Klaus laments that there has been a gradual shifting away from civil rights to human rights. The ideology of human-rights has taken over.
He declared in a famous speech: “Human-rightism today seeks the destruction of the sovereignty of individual countries…. Positive human rights also contributed heavily to the present era of political correctness with all its destructive force.”
What these critics bewail in common is the narrow, egocentric and dogmatic definition of what human rights are.
Dogmatism has distorted what began as a noble fight for the rights of man and citizenship. The human-rights issue today has become centered on entitlements. There is no need for citizenship.
We should guard against the confusion of categories: law, on the one hand, and human rights ideology, on the other.
The international protection of human rights is, indeed, a fine cause to champion. But this cause will not advance at the expense of state sovereignty. Leaders of sovereign states like President Duterte will not allow this.