Rights and Responsibilities in Fighting for Global Justice
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Whether censorship in China, woman’s rights in Afghanistan, or genocide in Darfur, there is plenty of injustice in the world. I understand that these issues all have contexts that must be taken into account, but the reality of the situation is that our world is not perfect and human rights violations are not uncommon. I often wonder about what action can be taken to alleviate these issues, and this consideration has led me to the following questions: where does our responsibility as a nation lie in preventing human rights violations abroad? Furthermore, do we have a right to impose our form of government on other nations if it will presumably stop these injustices?
America often goes to war under the pretext of ‘spreading democracy’ to other nations, and in turn bringing freedom and representation to those who don’t have it. Ignoring America’s ulterior motives, clear examples include America combating fascism in Nazi Germany, communism in Soviet Russia, and other forms of government in the Middle East. As a life-long citizen of a democratic nation, this seems like a noble cause, as it is hard to see the right in any other way of rule. Yet if we strip ourselves of this bias, could there be another approach? Could perhaps a socialist government, or even a Hobbes-ian government, work towards the same goals just using different methods? From where did we conclude that we have the right to choose other nations’ governments for them?
Now, the obvious answer to this is that when a government abuses their power and violates the rights of its people, we have a right to intervene. As a powerful country with resources, perhaps it is more than a right but a responsibility to bring security to those whose rights are being violated. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders advocate strongly that one should act against unjust laws. While this often applied to instances when an individual’s own rights are taken away, I think that many of these leaders would agree that we have a responsibility to our fellow global citizens as well.
On the other hand, many believe that we must focus on solving domestic issues before we can turn abroad. Especially with America’s economic downturn, poverty, unemployment, and hunger are prevalent issues in our own backyard. Often people argue, with much justification, that we have to fix ourselves before we can turn our efforts elsewhere. To examine further, one could ask how much weight does this ‘’neighbor factor’’ carry? Does genocide abroad not hold precedent over domestic poverty? When thinking about these social justice issues, I often find it nearly impossible to prioritize.
In deciding where our rights and responsibilities lie, one must also ask what constitutes a violation of rights. While Locke outlines every individual’s rights to life, liberty, and property, it is often not that simple. Finding the right answer becomes increasingly difficult when you take into account different societal and cultural norms. For a more recent definition, human rights are also described in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Regardless of where the answer is found, it seems that as a society, we must draw the line at what we simply can and cannot accept if we are to be responsible local and global citizens. Even Hobbes, who argued that individuals essentially relinquish their rights when entering into a social contract, agreed that the government is there to provide safety and security. Perhaps when a foreign government (or our own for that matter) no longer fits within this role, we have a right and responsibility to step in. In any case, it is an issue we should constantly be aware of and be questioning.