Chapter 7: Human Rights Within World Apartheid

Globalization and Human Solidarity
by Tissa Balasuriya

Chapter 7: Human Rights Within World Apartheid

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 agreed to by the nations of the world under the aegis of the UNO is perhaps the most important document of human rights that the peoples of the world have agreed on. It is therefore most helpful in the struggle for the understanding and implementation of human rights in different situations in the world. It has also been a guideline for the drafting of constitutions of nations when they achieved freedom. Some of its articles such as on torture and on freedom of expression (Article 19) have been signposts in the peoples struggle for human rights during the last half century.

All the same it is necessary to see also the limits of this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as it depended on the persons and groups that drafted it in the aftermath of World War II and the victory of Allied Nations. In an analysis of human rights one has to examine who is it that defines these rights, and whom do they benefit. The understanding of human rights tend to be generally dependent on the self-interest of those who articulate the right and struggle for them. This is seen in the long neglect of women’s rights in a male dominated world.

Since it maybe difficult to agree on any single concept or code of human rights, valid and binding on all, we shall reflect on the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UD) in relation to globalization. It incorporates the social, economic and cultural rights alongside the civil and political rights. This was a definite advance in the thinking on human rights even though it is within a particular perspective of the power relations of the time after World War II.

In order to have a framework of reference we shall comment on the rights enshrined in the declaration, while noting some aspects in which it needs further development especially to meet the aspirations of the poor victims of the poor countries. I am not arguing from an ideological or theological point of view except on the understanding expressed in article 1 that all humans are equal in dignity and rights and “should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”, and that the whole earth is meant for all humans.

The Universal Declaration is de facto based on

i)          the acceptance of the sovereignty of nation states as then constituted,

ii)         on a rather individualistic understanding of human rights. It did not provide for an effective balance of rights as between freedom and equality, between individuals and society, for human rights to be meaningful.

iii)         It did not have specific arrangements for the enforcement of these rights. It is a document on rights and not one on obligations for respecting such rights.

iv)        The UD is designed to protect citizens against violations of human rights by States and governments, even if ineffectively. It does not take into consideration the other, and perhaps now more important, violators of human rights viz, the transnational corporations and finance houses.

Human Rights within World Apartheid

A basic factor englobing the entire issue of human rights is that, de facto, it takes place within the prevailing world order which is one of world apartheid. Apartheid is a system or social order in which there is an imposition of superiority of one group over others, as of the white race over the blacks in South Africa. The whites took the best lands, had the best jobs and higher incomes and civil and political rights in that state. This was defended not only by political and economic power but also by theological claims of divine election. I described this situation in the 1970s and 1980s.

“There is almost universal disapproval of the policy of apartheid-separation of the races-followed by South Africa. Few stop to think, however, that the whole world system is based on a sort of apartheid. Each nation state is confined to its present territorial limits and expected to develop within them. The different racial groupings of the one human race are allotted separate preserves m which they have to live. The yellow peoples have China, Japan and the adjacent lands. The blacks have Africa. The brown peoples are alloted India, Pakistan and South East Asia. The Arabs have North Africa and the Middle East. The rest of the world Europe, North Central and South America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and USSR-is largely reserved for the whites. When black, yellow and brown peoples have been free to migrate, it has generally been as slaves or as cheap labour for whites-for example, blacks in the Americas, Indians in Malaysia, Sri Lanka and West Indies, Koreans in Japan.”(Tissa Balasuriya: “Planetary Theology”, Orbis NY, 1984 pp. 28-29)

The fall of the Soviet empire in 1989 did not change this aspect of racial apartheid. It is within this apartheid that economic globalization and the decisions on human rights are taking place. It is noteworthy that hardly any writers on globalization and human rights, whatever their ideology, accentuate this basic reality of the world distribution of land among the races.

This apartheid is the result of the colonial expansion of the Western peoples, including Russia, during the period from 1492 till 1945. During these centuries enormous resources including gold and silver were transported from the colonies to the colonizing nations. This helped in the development of western capitalism and in building their economic power base. The present growth of capitalist globalization is the continuation of the economic and sociocultural order built up by that earlier global transformation under Western military and colonial domination.

This is the most fundamental reality of the world order, a result of the conquests, plunder and genocide of centuries of imperialism. It is grossly unjust, though it is now legitimized under the prevailing positive international law and the United Nations Organization set up by the victors of World War II after 1945.

The events of the 20th century did not change this situation of world apartheid. Neither the decolonization of the post-war era, nor the collapse of the Soviet Union changed the distribution of land among the world’s racial groupings. The situation in South Africa changed after the transfer of power to the majority blacks in 1994. But where the whites had settled as the majority their domination continues, with the native and black peoples having greater say in the countries of South and Central America. Is 2000 not the map of the world according to racial distribution of population to land roughly the same as in 1900? Now this is further consolidated as the UNO is legally empowered to preserve this status quo, and the TNCs take over lands and resources of the poor peoples for the benefit mainly of the rich in the rich countries.

All our discussions of human rights, of globalization, of justice and of world peace have to be within this racist framework of the world system or global disorder. But the influence of the cultural conditioning by this system is such that most universities and educational systems and even international lawyers, ethicists and moral theologians do not consider this aspect of the world injustice.

“As long as the nation-states maintain their present boundaries, it is unlikely that a just world order can be realized. In fact the growing pressures on the land in the poor countries are likely to lead to phenomenal political explosions that could ultimately overthrow the world territorial structures. We are perhaps at a stage in world history, as in the fourth, fifth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when there will be mass movements across countries and continents.”(Tissa Balasuriya: op. cit. pp. 29-30)

In these perspectives the entire rhetoric of the world justice, human rights, peace, debt payment and aid has to be re-thought. There has to be a deconstruction of the dialogue on development, human rights and international law and justice. But since the rich powers and their academia and media condition the cultural framework of thinking on such issues, the just interests of the poor are not taken into account in the discussion among the rich as at the summit conferences of the G 8. They are not highlighted even in the discourse among the governments of the poor peoples as in the Non-Aligned Movement.

The ideology or philosophy of capitalistic globalization is within the parameters of this world apartheid. Thus the idea of the “free market” does not operate in relation to people and land. There is no free mobility of people to the free and unused lands of the world. In this regard there is no invisible hand that brings about equilibrium between supply and demand. On the contrary it is the visible force and migration laws of the superpowers that keep the land hungry persons from the empty space of the world occupied in the days of colonial expansion.

While appreciating the immense value of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights we must work for its amplification to include global racial justice, in relation to population and land and resources. This will undoubtedly be part of the demanding and troublesome human agenda in the next few decades.

Equality and Freedom

Article 1. “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.

“Art. 2. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms of this Declaration without distinction of any kind such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”.

These two articles can be taken as the philosophical basis or assumptions on which the other rights are posited. Endowment with reason and conscience, and hence that a human person is a rational and moral being, is commonly accepted by all peoples, whatever their philosophy, ideology or religion. Hence she/he is different from other beings on earth and therefore entitled to certain rights and freedoms which others not enjoy.

That all should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood (sic) is another moral norm that is acceptable to persons and peoples is a demand of secular humanism as well as of all the major world religions. It recalls the teaching “do unto others as you would like others to do unto you”. Thus a basis has been agreed upon that does not need to posit a transcendent authority or a religious organization to legitimize it. This implies the acceptance of obligations on which the right of others are based. The Declaration comes back to these in articles 29 and 30.

These are valuable affirmations of the basic rights and a desire for their being respected, but do not take into account the actual inequalities in the real world that negate their realization. The declaration of the right to equality of rights and to non-discrimination is an advance. But globalization brings about a situation in which everyone and everything, including health and education, have a price. The wealthy, powerful and well educated have the money to pay the price required and the means and the connections to assert their rights and maintain their dignity more fully. The difference in wealth and incomes worsened by globalization often makes the realization of these rights even worse in the present world.

Civil and Political Rights, Articles 3-21

“Art.3. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

This is the first cornerstone of the Declaration. It introduces articles 4-21 in which other civil and political rights are set out. In so far as poverty increases for many in the world, the right to property is less meaningful for the have-nots. This right means that the rich have a protection of the right to their property, that increases absolutely and relatively with globalization. Such trends lead to social conflicts that bring about societal violence and wars.

This in turn brings about a restriction of the rights to life, liberty and security. The conditions of living have become worse for many more people during the recent decades of neo-liberal globalization. About 1,300,000,000 out of the worlds population of near 6,000,000,000 live on less than $1 per day. Some 800 million persons suffer from hunger and malnutrition. 15 million babies die each year of hunger and illnesses. The documentation of the UNDP, FAQ bear witness to this worsening situation.(“But the improvements in child nutritional status in the 1970s ceased, on average, in the 1980s. Some 100 million children under the age of five show protein energy malnutrition, more than 10 million suffer from the severe from that is normally fatal if not treated. “Global Outlook 2000”; United Nations Publications 1990; p.292.)

“Human Rights: Contemporary Forms of Slavery’ United Nations Fact Sheet 14, 1995 The poisoning of the food due to use of dangerous chemicals is increasing the proneness to sickness even among the rich.

Dictatorship that deny human rights such as to life and security have been more pronounced in the poor countries during the post World War II period. The rich countries, that favour globalization, have been supportive of almost all the right wing dictators of the past few decades, at least till they were about to fall due to popular discontent. The conditions of the National Security State continue even under democratic forms of government. The poor countries become virtually ungovernable when the social inequalities and unemployment increase.

“Art 4. No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all its forms.”

The modern world has it forms of slavery that can be very damaging to human dignity and livelihood. 100 million children are exploited for their labour according to a recent estimate by the International Labour Organization (ILO),(“Human Rights: Contemporary Forms of Slavery’ United Nations Fact Sheet 14, 1995 , p.1.) The poisoning of the food due to use of dangerous chemicals is increasing the proneness to sickness even among the rich. Entire nations can be in bondage due to the servitude to foreign debt. The enforcement of IMF/WB determined Structural Adjustment Policies can make the peoples of the poor indebted countries as wage slaves of the foreign companies, virtually from birth. The increase of poverty leads to more prostitution of women and children including boys. Sometimes they are taken away through an international ring of exploiters of the sex trade. Tourism, which is a major industry with globalization, also leads to more prostitution and child abuse.

Unemployment enables employers and governments to reduce the rights of workers, restrict trade union rights especially in the free trade zones in the poor countries. The treatment of foreign migrant workers may be likened to a form of bonded labour. The millions of refugees due to civil conflicts live in conditions even worse than slavery. Though formal slavery is abolished the conditions of the poor are similar to forms of slavery.

Rights 5-12 deal with the civil rights of everyone

-      not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (art.5)

-      to recognition as a person before the law (art.6)

-      to equality before the law, (art.7)

-      effective legal remedy to violation offundamental rights (art.8)

-      against arbitrary arrest, detention or exile (art 9)

-      fair trial and presumption of innocence until proved guilty

        (art. 10,11)

-            to privacy (art.12).


These are positive advances in the background of large scale violations of human rights in periods of human history. The declaration of these rights have influenced the elaboration of fundamental rights in many post-war constitutions of State. They have been of immense help in the struggle against dictatorship and in the promotion of democracy. The development of communications has helped build world wide movements for the defence of human rights as against torture and inhuman treatment. On the otherhand the control over communications itself has enabled the powerful to bring pressure on the poor and weak.

Worsening social and economic conditions due to globalization increase crime, violence and civil conflicts. With these there is the likelihood of more repression in societies. The means of psychological torture have also increased due to the increased powers of surveillance over people.

The equality before the law before considerably for its affectivity on the ability to obtain the services of lawyers who have generally to be paid by the clients. The poor are adversely affected due to their inequality before the lawyers. The affluent have therefore more opportunities of evading the rigour of the law. In fact most of those who are in prisons or are exiles or refugees are the poor and marginalized. Since globalization increases inequality in society, it worsens the situation for the protection of the human rights of the poor.