Human rights in Western democracies, more prominent after the events of World War II, emerged as a political tool to serve state self-interest rather than moral responsibility. After the failed attempt of the League of Nations to protect the lives of the minorities, the superpowers decided to substitute it with the notion of human rights to create a more homogeneous and stable state and in turn gain the ability to control minorities, preventing them from exercising their fundamental human rights (Mazower, 2007). The United Nations was put into effect to accomplish this as, unlike previous and unfruitful human right advocates, the UN was state-led (Mazower, 2007).
The UN has been a powerhouse for states who wish to actualize any advantage they believe would benefit their public or foreign policy.
One example is Britain’s involvement in the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. Britain was entrusted as the protectorate of Palestine under the League of Nations mandate. After Britain decided that this did not serve its self-interest, it turned to Israel. This decision was made on the hopes that a more stable and war-free region would transpire through Israel’s military strength (Penslar, 2005). It could be used to deter the Arab regimes and the further advancement of an “anti-Western Pan-Arab nationalism” (Spyer, 2004).
However, after seeing the conflict as an economic and political burden on themselves, they decided to withdraw their troops and asked the UN to take over (Chatty and Farah, 2005). Britain started out as a protectorate for Palestine; however, self-interest changed its perception and thereby affected its involvement.
The superpowers’ interventions in the Global South solely rest upon the incentives of carrying out their political goals. For instance, although the US’ invasion of Iraq was shown to be a humanitarian intervention, on the pretext of dismantling a violent regime, it was not carried out with the intention of helping civilian lives (Human Rights Watch, 2004). The US mainly wanted to prevent other countries from gaining control of the Middle East. By retaining US troops in the region, the US would be able to gain access and control over Iraq’s oil reserve.
Furthermore, the US aimed to achieve security for Israel by preventing Iraq from acquiring weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Although the US succeeded in its aim and replaced Hussein’s violent regime with a democratic one, the invasion turned Iraq into a more fragile and unstable state. The standard of living deteriorated, and no laws were implemented for the high numbers of ethnic minorities that greatly suffered from the insurgency (Mockaitis, 2007). This stolid response to the aftermath of the invasion proves to show as to how much of a significance the lives of civilians bore.
Britain and the US are not the only two states that refuse to get involved in the aftermath of conflicts however.
After World War II, the Allied countries forced about 14 million Germans in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland to leave their places of residence and travel back to Germany, which was still recovering from the destruction created by the war. Germans who were forcibly removed from their homes faced great violence during this transfer. They were detained in camps, where they endured disease and starvation.
Although civilian lives were greatly disregarded, with the death rate ranging from 500,000 to 1.5 million, there was not an emergence of human rights regarding the horrors of this expulsion since it would harm the states’ own political interests. First, Poles, Czechs, and Slovaks did not want to undermine their national narratives in which they are portraying Germans as perpetrators and themselves as victims; second, the Allied countries, namely US and Britain, did not want to invite scrutiny of the wrongdoings of their own leaders and human rights abuses (Douglas, 2013). Therefore, this unwillingness from either end prevented any necessary measurements to be taken.
If a conflict does not involve the interests of a state, it refuses to intervene. The humanitarian interventions are commonly used as a strategic tool for a political purpose rather than a moral one.
As the examples have shown, the UN has become a cesspool of political greed and bias, solely a tool to exercise the states’ desire to materialize their self-interests. Implementing the rights of Iraqis, Germans, or the Palestinians in the preceding cases would have led to great instability, undermining any benefits the discussed states could have gained. Therefore, the act of implementing human rights has become more of a cover-up for the superpowers in the objective of disempowering minorities and gaining ultimate control.
Mazower, Mark. The Strange Triumph of Human Rights. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Froud, Noah. “Is the UN out of date for the modern world?” Cambridge Globalist. 2016. http://cambridgeglobalist.org/2016/07/23/un-date-modern-world/
“War in Iraq: Not a Humanitarian Intervention,” Human Rights Watch. 2004, https://www.hrw.org/news/2004/01/25/war-iraq-not-humanitarian-intervention
Mockaitis, Thomas R. The Iraq War. Greenwood, 2007.
Penslar, Derek. Israel’s “new history”. New York: Routledge, 2005.
Spyer, Jonathan. “An Analytical and Historical Overview of British Policy Toward Israel” Rubin Center. 2004. http://www.rubincenter.org/2004/06/spyer-2004-06-02/
Chatty, Dawn and Randa Farah. Palestinian Refugees.” In Immigration and Asylum from 1900 to Present. 2005. https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/abcmigrate/palestinian_refugees/0
Douglas, R.M. Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans After the Second World War. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013.