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Politics of human rights

Colonisers have invented a new form of subjugating postcolonial states in the name of human rights

Politics of human rights

In the global history of human rights, decolonisation is one of the most challenging factors for former colonised states. Postcolonial theories recognise that the colonial experience varies from continent to continent, and from colony to colony, over the period of colonisation.

In fact, many post colonial theorists are quick to point three distinct periods of pre-colonialism, colonialism and post-colonialism. The post-colonialism period does not begin simply when a colony attains independence, nor does colonialism ends at that moment, since colonialism has acted as a disrupter to the historical experience, identity, and memory of the formerly colonised.

The “European version” of history is inextricably linked then to the modernising narrative(s) of citizenship, bourgeois public and private, and the nation-state. Postcolonial theory aims to emancipate and empower these and other voiceless subjects of developing countries where they have been marginalised by policies devised by the most powerful.

In postcolonial states, social reality is divided into two realms, ‘this side of the line’ and ‘the other side of the line’. Similarly, it cannot be denied that enlightenment ideas of “human” and of “rights” also served to legitimise colonialism since it was introduced by former colonial powers. The dichotomy of modernity and tradition, civilisation and barbarism, freedom and slavery, the former in each binary perceived as characteristic of the liberal self whose “global reach” meant that any notion of rights would reproduce a “racialised, culturist as well as gendered postcolonial discourse”.

In my opinion, a postcolonial discourse and approach to human rights must include an analysis of how the postcolonial subjects’ situatedness in time (history) and space (the nation-state) invades on his or her access to political and international rights. At the same time, in modernity, states and world institutions have at their disposal the means to enforce their interpretations of human rights onto those states that they wish to render “civilised” and “governable” in terms of their human rights practices.

In fact, the idea and the politics of “human rights” as a key feature of the decolonisation process is designed and launched after WWII by former coloniser i.e. Britain and France. On the other hand, colonial and postcolonial politicians act as decisive actors in shaping human rights politics, especially at the United Nations. Policymakers of anti-colonial criticism did come to affect the international image and legitimacy of the British Empire positions of colonial era and thus in postcolonial states, human rights became an expression of progressive, emancipatory ideals and even an important basis for furthering independence and freedom in order to become a developed nation.

This concept of human rights directly related to colonial power or empire when USA emerged as a global power after WWII. It was the modern way of direct intervention in any state. The British Empire’s withdrawal from subcontinent occurred before the UN human rights system really started working and long before subcontinent was in a position to forcefully articulate its anticolonial position.

At the end of world war, the United States started to show growing interest in the developing or third world nations. In the 1950s, a memorandum drawn up from colonial office of British Empire concluded “We have entered a period in which the international climate in which we have to deal with the problems of our own territories has changed and has become a more decisive factor”.

Britain realised that they were no more able to rule the world and were forced to leave its colonies in Africa and Asia. Shashi Tharoor in his book An Era of Darkness, The British Empire in India says, “the British conquest of subcontinent was the invasion and destruction of high civilisation by a trading company utterly without scruple or principle”. Now, Britain with the help of US raise voice against violation of human rights in South Asia — this is however a plan of re-intervention in post-colonialism.

Moreover, in modern democratic values in the 21st century, global powers directly intervene and NGOs raise voice in favour of human rights to denounce repressive policies in the third world. Assuming a new political meaning for a number of actors around the world, human rights politics turned into a form of global political interventionism in developing and anti-imperial states. The framing of human rights slogans moves around a certain political objectives of global powers; it doesn’t equally apply to political rights of haves-not. Global powers need reasons for direct interventions in those regions where economic interests are in threat. Therefore, imperial powers support ethnic, extremists groups in those regions to destabilise their political system and economy.

The political unrest in Middle East and South Asia clearly indicates that human rights in postcolonial era focuses on maintaining hegemonic power of first world and second world.

The impositions of international laws of human rights and neoliberal values may be seen as displacing the local rights system and thereby threatening the uneven development of these states, lumping them together under the label of “Third World Countries” or developing countries, thus constituting their citizens as the ‘other’ in need of rights to be encouraged or bestowed by the First World and making them vulnerable to hegemonic domination through demands of adherence to international law and human rights. This is return of coloniser through the new indirect rule whereby state withdraws from regulation of social and public services, leaving them to be privatised by powerful non-state elites.

Some postcolonial theorists argue that developing postcolonial states are being limited in their right to independent self-development, which included the right to establish and enforce human rights. This certain human rights agenda does not serve the true welfare of under-privileged classes of third world.

In case of Pakistan, human rights violations allow foreign intervention in the country. Since independence, feudalists, industrialists, pirs and religious mindset have decade-old strong nexus to run the country’s political system. Some of them are colonial assets of colonisers and according to postcolonial human rights theory these assets play a significant role to serve the postcolonial agenda which indirectly control the state. These classes have become political and economic elite of Pakistan and provide justification for foreign intervention in the name of human rights.

Akmal Soomro

2 comments

  • There is a dire need to debate on colonial mind set and post colonial phenomena in order to understand imperial agenda for third world countries.

  • Decolonization is necessary for progress of the Pakistan since it has slaved young mind and we are slaved of elite class and imperialism.

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