The issue of human rights is one of the most fundamental human issues and also one of the most sensitive and controversial. During the recent decades, this problem was more political than either ethical or legal.
Although the influence of political motives, rivalries, and considerations have made difficult the correct formulation of this problem, but this should not prevent thinkers and genuine humanists from probing into this problem and ultimately obtaining a solution.
In the West, though the issue of human rights was raised by the thinkers of the post-Renaissance period, it is only since the last two hundred years or so that it became an issue of prominence among the political and social issues of the Western society and an issue of fundamental significance.
We Muslims, of course, know it very well that if the Western world and the Western civilization have paid attention to this matter in the recent centuries; Islam has dealt with it from all the various aspects many centuries back. The idea of human rights as a fundamental principle can be seen to underlie throughout Islamic teachings. And this does not need any elaboration for a Muslim audience.
That the verses of the Quran and the traditions handed down from the Prophet (SA) and the Imams of his Household (AS), each one of them emphasizes the fundamental rights of man something which has caught the attention of men in recent years- is known to Muslims, and there is no need for the scholars to be reminded about this fact.
However, I would say, that today it is big responsibility on the shoulders of the Islamic society to make this reality known to the world, and not to allow those essential teachings of Islam to be lost in the storm of political clamor and ballyhoo. There were some questions which can be raised in this regard, and to answer them is my principal aim today.
Have the efforts made during the decades since the Second World War, in the name of human rights been successful in their purpose?
The addresses, the assemblies and the sessions held in the United Nations, and the claims made regarding human rights have they succeeded in bringing men closer to their genuine rights, or to at least the major section of the deprived humanity?
The answer to this question is not so difficult; for an observation of the present world conditions is enough to prove that these attempts have not been successful till now. A glance at the conditions of the underdeveloped societies of the world, who form the major part of the human population, is sufficient to reveal the fact that not only the major part of humanity could not achieve their true rights during the last fifty years, but the methods of encroaching upon the rights of the deprived nations have become more sophisticated and complex and more difficult of remedy.
We cannot accept the claims made by those who claim to be champions of human rights, while the bitter realities of the African and Asian nations and the hungry millions of the human race are before our eyes, and watch the constant spectacle of violation of the rights of several nations. Those who have been outspoken in advocating human rights during these last forty years have themselves grabbed the most fundamental of human rights from the people of the Third-World countries.
It is with their connivance that certain governments and regimes that deny men their most primary rights have managed to survive. The dictators of today’s world and also the despots of the last fifty years in Asia, Africa and Latin America- none of them could have established and preserved their dictatorships on their own without reliance upon the big powers. These big powers are exactly those who have coined most of the slogans concerning human rights; it is they who have brought into being the UNO, and even today the UN is at their service.
Consequently, we feel that the UN as the most significant outcome of the endeavor for human rights has proved to be an ineffectual and impotent element, which has been created as a consolation for nation that has no practical benefit. On account of the interference on the part of big powers, in cases it functions as their feudatory. We do not of course reject the UN; we believe that this organization ought to exist, and it must be reformed. We ourselves are its member.
However, what I mean to say is that after all that effort, after all that clamor and the hopes that were attached to this organization, you can see how inadequate and ineffectual this organization has remained in securing human rights in the world today. Hence, the answer to the first question has become clear. We can say that the efforts made for procuring human rights and the claims made in the name of human rights through the last several centuries and especially during the last few decades did not bear any fruit; they have failed to secure human rights.
Another question is whether, basically, these efforts had any sincerity? This question is of course historical in nature and may not have much practical value. Hence, I do not intend to discuss it at length. It suffices to mention here that, in our view, these efforts were not sincere. It is true that there were philosophers, thinkers and social reformers among the exponents of human rights, but the arena was dominated by politicians.
Even the efforts of those thinkers and reformers were taken into the service of the politicians. If, in the annals of history thinkers, sages, apostles of God, mystics and men are seen to raise the cry for rights of man, today when we behold politicians and statesmen to raise this cry vociferously, we are justified in serious doubting their sincerity. Look around and see as to who are those who plead the case of human rights.
We do not find any signs of sincerity in their efforts. Those who drafted the Declaration of Human Rights, and at their fore the USA, their aim was to extend their domination and hegemony over the world of that time. Their problem was not to safeguard the rights of men, the kind of rights that they had violated during the war, They are the same people who have wiped out tens of thousands of human beings by an atom bomb. They were the same persons who in order to fight a war which had nothing to do with the Asian and African nations had recruited the majority of soldiers from India, Algeria and other African and non-European countries.
We do not believe that Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin and their like had the smallest consideration for human rights in the true sense of the word and were sincere in forming the United Nations and drafting the Universal Declaration of human Rights. Accordingly, the answer to the second question is also clear: No! We do not believe that the efforts made by the politicians and the most vocal advocates of human rights were sincere at all.
Written by Ayatullah Sayyid Ali Khamene’i