In an evolving world of agency groups, from Amnesty International to Human Rights Watch, there has been a remarkable progression in the way human rights are framed and dealt with. Students had the opportunity to examine the history of human rights during David Forsythe’s presentation “Human Rights in the World,” sponsored by Phi Beta Kappa on Monday, March 4.
Forsythe, distinguished political science professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is one of the leading experts in human rights studies. Whenever he feels frustrated about ongoing human rights violations, he takes a step back and looks at it from a historical perspective.
“Concern with what happens to individuals has advanced greatly in recent decades,” Forsythe said. “There were periods of perceived security threats that correspond with violations of human rights policy.”
Forsythe mentioned the Japanese internment during World War II and witch-hunt McCarthyism during the Cold War era as examples.
With regard to American history, Forsythe described Franklin D. Roosevelt as a powerful catalyst in the fight toward improving human rights.
“FDR understood that if you needed health care and you couldn’t get it, you were not a free person,” Forsythe said.
Forsythe also cited famous economist and author Amartya Sen, who defined freedom as the capability to develop one’s human potential.
“The United States is the only developed democracy that has controversy over socio-economic rights, such as health care,” Forsythe said. “Canada, Japan, Israel, South Korea, you name it. They have universal health care.”
To Forsythe, organizations such as the Atrocities Prevention Board and the International Criminal Court indicate considerable progress in how the world deals with atrocities like genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and systematic rape.
“Forsythe’s presentation was an enlightening look into the importance of international organizations, like the ICC, for improving human rights for all people,” junior international studies major Sean Harshman said.
“If states took international human laws seriously, we would have more human dignity in the world,” Forsythe said.
Forsythe went into detail about more specific examples that point to the progression of human rights worldwide, such as decolonization, HIV/AIDS being addressed in Africa, the fact that most South American dictators are gone, and R2P, or the Right to Protect.
“R2P voids state sovereignty,” Forsythe explained. “If a state is unwilling or unable to stop atrocities from happening, other states have the ability to step in.”
Although there has been significant progress over the past several decades, Forsythe admitted that not everything is moving in the right direction.
He mentioned that some major states, such as China, Russia, Syria and Libya, are still illiberal. The Assad regime in Syria is even supported by countries like Russia, Iran and Iraq.
Forsythe also expressed his disappointment that although the Congo is the rape capital of the world, it gets virtually no news coverage in the U.S.
“It doesn’t seem to affect our stock market or our daily lives, so nobody is engaged in a decisive way,” he said.
We may not live in a perfect world, but Forsythe hopes the treatment of individuals will continue to improve until all people are guaranteed basic human rights.