Constituting Human Rights: Global Civil Society and the Society of Democratic States

By Mervyn Frost | Go to book overview

2

Individual rights in world politics

Central not marginal
In the opening chapter I argued that when faced with the imperative of action in international affairs we, who consider ourselves rights holders, often find ourselves confronting difficult ethical choices. Many of these, I pointed out, seem to arise from an apparent incompatibility between what is required of us in the practice of rights holders (civil society) and what is required of us as members of the system of democratic and democratizing states. A typical set of such ethical problems which we encounter might include the following:
• Refugees: Like all people, refugees and migrants have a set of fundamental basic rights which includes the right to freedom of movement. Yet we seem to act contrary to this right when we acknowledge that sovereign democratic states may legitimately close their borders to refugees and migrants.
• Nationalism: Ought we to support nationalist movements (individuals freely associating around cultural icons) in their quest for self-determination (the people of East Timor, for example) if the majority in such movements are engaged in curtailing the liberties of other people (the so-called ‘minorities’) in their areas?
• Secession: What is the ethical way to think about the problem of secession (a problem made urgent with the break-up of the Soviet Union)? On the one hand, we acknowledge that states have a right to maintain order and to protect their own citizens within their sovereign territories (by force if necessary), while, on the other, we acknowledge that individuals may use their right to freedom of association to form national groups which may wish to secede from the state within which they presently find themselves.
• Global distributions (maldistributions) of resources, technology, education, wealth, etc.: With regard to these we recognize that individuals may use their rights to live their lives as best they can, yet their ability to do this appears to be infringed by sovereign states which often block their access to resources, job opportunities, and so on. States do this by erecting border controls. Yet we acknowledge that the first duty of states is to look after the interests of their own citizens. This often seems to require that outsiders be denied access to certain key resources. 1

-17-

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Constituting Human Rights: Global Civil Society and the Society of Democratic States
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - Individual Rights in World Politics 17
  • 3 - Foundational Practices 40
  • 4 - Individual Rights in Conflict? 48
  • 5 - Civil Society 67
  • 6 - Rights in the System of Democratic and Democratizing States 97
  • 7 - Civilians and Citizens 128
  • Notes 139
  • Index 156
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