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Friday, 29 July 2011

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The issues concerning universal laws

The UN was formed in 1945 to save nations from war and effectively there haven’t been wars in the scale and nature of the World War I and II for the past 65 years. The truth however is it is the stockpiles of deadly arsenals of weapons including nuclear capacities of powerful nations, more than the UN, that prevented large scale war during the past 65 years.

Yet there have been wars, death and destruction all the time during the past 65 years, of a limited but continuing nature and more interestingly those wars have been confined to emerging nations. The irony is that many of those conflicts have been fought in developing countries but perpetrated by the developed nations in the name of ‘saving the world’ either from communism, unauthorized weapon stockpiles, religious bigotry or violations of human rights etc. Thus effectively the rivalry that existed, pre UN, between advanced nations have now been transformed into a rivalry, post UN, between developed against the developing.

Big power

As the Foreign Minister of Philipines once remarked about the UN, “if the issue is between a big nation and small nation the small nation disappears; if the issue is between two small nations the issue disappears and but if the issue is between two big nations then the UN disappears’. That in short describes the post UN world order where developed countries have got together to protect their own interest against a possible threat from emerging nations.


United Nations building, New York.
Pic. courtesy: Google

The main reason for this didactics of the developed nations have been the alleged violations by the less developed nations or their rulers of the very universal laws that the UN was formed to uphold. For instance, America fought in Vietnam for 25 years to give democracy to Vietnamese people and in the process killed millions of Vietnamese bombing the country in to stone-age. At the end they lost the war and withdrew but now there is democracy, human rights and ‘what have you’ in Vietnam without no pseudo concern for those by any big power. On the other hand in a country like Iraq, people could not resist the big power interference on various ruses and today it is anarchy instead of democracy that reigns in that country.

There are 193 states in the world today and they are all members of the UN. Thus they have all taken the pledge to abide by the universal ‘value norms and practices’ that guide the world body. But the trouble however is that these universal norms and values are rather loosely drafted and differently interpreted to suit occasions. For the past 500 years the Western nations had held sway over world affairs and hence these universal norms often happen to be Western norms lacking in capacity to accommodate diversity.

The West had no need to understand their subjects, pre UN and hence it would be a strange experience for them to give in to different norms and values which they often considered as ‘weird’. For thousands of years, countries and continents grew and existed separately developing their own unique civilizations with values endemic to each. Thus forming a world body requires more appreciation for diversity and less prejudice for differences. For instance, a Westerner would be prejudice against a Korean for eating dogs and a Muslim against the Westerner for eating the pig and a Korean against the Muslim for the cruel halal practices. Yet they all do the same thing in killing and eating animal flesh but yet with different values. Universality in laws is not where one wins over the others but where all are accommodated into one broad platform.

Islamic laws

More of these differences could be witnessed in the area of crime. Crime is an offence against the collective law of the public and that law is a manifestation of the particular society’s fundamental values, morale and belief system. Thus sometimes a crime in one society may not be seen as an offence in another society because those definitions rest on different socio-cultural values, religious beliefs and political ideologies.

Homosexuality is a punishable offence in Iran and gay people are considered criminals and upon been declared guilty could be sent to jail. Yet in Western societies gay people have rights like anybody else and any attempt to discriminate them can be challenged in a court of law.

Bigamy is an offence in the West and thus those who violate marital law could be punished heavily. However in countries like Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen polygamy is encouraged and regulated by Islamic laws interpreted by the religious head.

Paedophilia is rejected by most of the contemporary societies treated as a crime but in the Muslim religion paedophilia touches a religious code as according to Quran Mohamed’s second marriage was to a girl of 12 years.

Human rights

Again the West may identify cultural conservatism with prudishness and opt for liberalism to take care of socio-cultural development.

Their culture, like their commerce is laisser-faire but the Easterner would always believe in a degree of control especially where the young are concerned to mould their character and values. In Sri Lanka just as much as the parents have a duty by the children, the children too have a duty by their parents. In the West, a minor could sue the parents but such a prospect is unimaginable in Asia and would be an extreme situation. Yet the West believes that those who do not abide by them are either violating human rights or are ‘backward’ in their thinking.

Hence in world affairs conflicts in values are often misconstrued as ‘violation of rights by a particular country’. World civilization certainly has to evolve towards betterment, but such evolution should rather be through consensus and compromise than through coercion, conflict and elimination. Perspective could blind you from seeing beyond yours!

palitha-senanayaka@yahoo.com
 

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