Diversity, Human Rights and Peace. (Culture Watch)

By Singh, Anita Inder | UN Chronicle, June-August 2001 | Go to article overview

Diversity, Human Rights and Peace. (Culture Watch)


Singh, Anita Inder, UN Chronicle


If globalization is a fact of life, so is human diversity. The management of national, cultural and religious diversity is a high priority for the United Nations and national policy makers in the twenty-first century. As more and more people are brought together; voluntarily and involuntarily, by the integration of markets in the wake of globalization and the continual advances in telecommunications and transportation, many individuals encountered confusion and conflict in adjusting to a multicultural experience that for them is new. Whether people are enriched or disoriented by their contacts with the "multiculturalism of globalization" depends to a considerable extent on how their fears are addressed, what is done to make them feel less vulnerable to forces over which they have little or no control. Inspired by the UN Charter--or perhaps the inspiration behind it--human rights are of significance in helping the international community deal with the dilemmas arising from a real or imagined clash of cultures and protecting "the dignity and worth of the human person".

In practice, this means the crafting of policies that will help individuals face the radical economic and social changes that at times seem to threaten their very identity. Most problems cannot be solved entirely at the national, regional or global level; the age of globalization is simultaneously an age of interdependence. No "political command" can ensure that decisions at any level will be implemented by administrative fiat. Leaders must motivate ordinary people to participate in plans "to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom, to practise tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and to unite ... to maintain international peace and security". This is a major challenge to international policy makers. A concomitant challenge is how to give individuals a sense of involvement in shaping and controlling the course of events that affect their lives, through democratic--or good--governance, by promoting the rule of law, an independent judiciary, fr ee and fair periodic elections, political and intellectual pluralism, and respect for human and minority rights. States are a long-term fixture, and human rights are about protecting the individuals who make up States.

Democracy cannot guarantee human rights, but human rights cannot be protected without it. The UN Commission on Human Rights affirms "the indissoluble links" between the principles underlying the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and "the foundation of any democratic society".

Democracy and human rights are about individuals-every individual is unique-and in one sense about the expression of that uniqueness. It follows that individual or national identities cannot be replaced by a monolithic "global" identity. But they can coexist with one another. Cosmopolitanism literally means "of being of many cultures". The challenge for the United Nations and national policy makers is to create institutions through which cultural, intellectual and political diversity is best articulated, tolerated and reconciled.

The protection of the human person is a top priority of the United Nations; human rights are interwoven into all aspects of its work and cover a broad spectrum of issues--political, economic, social, cultural and individual. They are universal rights and represent the consensus of the international community. They do not exclude any culture or region and are flexible enough to be relevant to diverse cultures. The Vienna Declaration of 1993 was clear, that the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind. The challenge for the international community is to help national authorities, where necessary, to enforce human rights in their own countries. It is probably for national leaders to decide whether human rights issues will widen or narrow the gap between leaders and ordinary people. …

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