Politicization of human rights dialogue is not acceptable
It is only natural that the notion of human rights around the world is a topic of disagreement. The definition of human rights varies from one nation to another due to the plurality of languages, cultures, ethnicities, norms, and religions. There are, however, certain universal rights that can be agreed upon.
In the Syrian context, with more than 500,000 civilians killed, 5 million refugees, and 6 million internally displaced people, no nation can disagree that it is a human rights crisis. Among the many fundamental rights, the “right to life” is agreed upon in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is an inalienable and fundamental right. However, some other rights are not accepted as “universal” in many countries, which cite cultural, religious, or social values that contradict some notions.
Saudi Arabia stresses the importance of respecting a country’s cultural diversity and local customs and traditions as agreed upon in the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna on June 25, 1993. Only by doing so will the international community be able to promote a culture of peace, tolerance, and respect among all nation states.
A subject that has lately caused much debate around Saudi Arabia is the rights of activists who have been put behind bars due to what may seem as their honorable call for human rights, but was actually due to other reasons. As stated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the exercise of full rights may be subject to certain restrictions defined by national legislation for the protection of national security. The case of a state criticizing Saudi Arabia and condescendingly ordering it to change its judiciary system and release prisoners is appalling. The notion of intellectual and political superiority that seeks to mold the world in its own image should be rejected, and Saudi Arabia cannot accept that its laws and sovereignty are subjected to pressure or compromise. The belief of some states that their model allows them to interfere in the internal affairs of others is rightly repelled. Saudi Arabia is a country that fulfills its obligations toward international human rights conventions and takes into account all protracted deliberations in social and economic development.
There is a difference between human rights and the respect of laws, the judiciary system, and national security.
Dr. Khaled Manzlawiy
That said, it can be concluded that the universality of human rights can be disagreed upon among nations, which does not delegitimize its existence. Each country has its cultural norms, social makeup, diversity and, in some instances, religious restrictions.
Due to the multiple and complex challenges facing today’s world, an improvement in international cooperation and the building of inclusive and practical tools in the international human rights arena are much needed. It is essential to work collectively toward bringing about a fair and equitable global system that nurtures the full realization of human rights for everyone. Equally important, it should accelerate the implementation of the right to disagree and make it a reality for everyone. In this regard, the UN has taken excellent steps as it allows honest and constructive engagement by states in a transparent, objective, non-selective and non-controversial manner.
The UN, through its Universal Periodic Review mechanism under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, is responsible for reviewing human rights in all countries. Therefore, concern over human rights should be addressed constructively through such mechanisms and not through criticizing states for political purposes, breaching the principles of universality, objectivity and non-selectivity in addressing human rights issues. Such actions undermine cooperation among nation states and should be avoided.
When countries engage in a dialogue on human rights, sometimes they agree and at other times they disagree. However, all nations should respect differences and boundaries; no country can accept the politicization of human rights. It should be stressed that there is a difference between human rights and the respect of laws, the judiciary system, and national security. In short, a dialogue is acceptable; politicization is not.
• Dr. Khaled Manzlawiy is Deputy Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United Nations in New York.