Almost everyone has heard of “human rights” but few can define exactly what they are. When surveyed, students at the University of Missouri identified them as,
“Things that everyone is entitled to.”
“Something every single human being is entitled to at birth.”
“Rights that all humans should have.”
“The rights to be able to be happy in the life that you’re living.”
These responses, while lacking specifics, each identify the fundamental components of human rights: that everyone on earth is entitled to them and that nothing, not ethnicity, sex, or religion, can disqualify someone from having them. They’re a lovely concept and they’re nice to have, but who enforces them? According to the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner,
“Universal human rights are often expressed and guaranteed by law, in the forms of treaties, customary international law, general principles and other sources of international law. International human rights law lays down obligations of Governments to act in certain ways or to refrain from certain acts, in order to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups.”
If governments are in charge of upholding laws and treaties that protect human rights, what happens if a government fails to do so?
Israel and Human Rights
Israel’s biggest struggle with upholding human rights has to do with Palestinian relations. As mentioned in a previous post, Israel’s government has done little to stop the building of settlements in the West Bank which the majority of the world views as Palestinian land. By supporting the construction of settlements, the Israeli government violates international law and multiple Palestinian rights including, but not limited to, the right to life, liberty, and personal security (Article 3), the right to own property (Article 17), and the freedom of belief and religion (Article 18). Because the government has not taken action against the settlements, other organizations continue to mistreat Palestinians. One of these groups are businesses. From real estate to utility suppliers, these businesses serve the settlements and contribute to the continued violation of Palestinian rights. See the Human Rights Watch video below to learn more about the relationship between businesses, Israeli settlements and the West Bank.
What about within Israel’s borders? Is there less discrimination in lands that Israel isn’t in conflict over? According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2015 Report of Human Rights Practices, Israel struggles with treating Arab citizens, women, refugees, and non-Orthodox Jews equally. Some organizations argue that Israel is in denial of the way it treats certain groups of people living in and around its country. In fact, the Human Rights Watch issued a statement after one of their workers was denied a working permit. In the rejection letter, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that,
“[The Human Rights Watch’s] public activities and reports have engaged in politics in the service of Palestinian propaganda, while falsely raising the banner of “human rights”
A director at the Human Rights Watch responded by saying that Israel is either unwilling or unable to distinguish between political propaganda and justified criticism.
Everything up to this point has made Israel seem like an evil country that robs fundamental rights away from anyone that disagrees with them. This, however, is not the case. In the same statement put out by Human Rights Watch, they stated that Israel officials frequently meet with members of the organization.
Israel also has laws that protect the rights of prisoners, the freedom of religion, and the freedom of speech and press. LGBT rights in Israel are also considered the most tolerant in the Middle East.
In general, Israel has laws in place to protect rights of citizens and other people living in the country. Yet, like many countries in the world, how well the laws are enforced and executed are a different story.
Going Beyond Eurocentrism
Farish Noor defines eurocentrism as a form of ethnocentrism, a form of cultural superiority. In our global network, the dominate culture is often Western: McDonald’s golden arches are on almost every continent, English is the main language used in international interactions, and many countries are now experimenting with democracy and capitalism.
Western culture isn’t inherently bad, but problems begin to occur when we view “European identity as good and all other forms as less good or less advanced” (51).
The title of Noor’s chapter, “Beyond Eurocentrism, the need for a multicultural understanding of human rights,” suggests that, to truly understand the world and what rights people are entitled to, we need to stop using European ideals and values as our standard for comparison.
Non-European countries may have different values and morals, but that doesn’t make them worse. By some scholar’s standards, they may even be better. For example, most Asian countries value community over self unlike the self-centered drive of Western countries. Noor argues that getting rid of our Eurocentric mindset will increase our understanding of why people do things, where each of us is coming from, and possible help us establish better, more inclusive, human rights.