Do Human Rights Actually Exist?

“… one reason why governments found it possible to accept the principle of international concern for human rights [the Universal Declaration of Human Rights] was the expectation that the UN would respect the domestic jurisdiction of states by refraining from intervention in their internal affairs. The declaration, which lacks provisions for implementation and in any event does not have the legal force of a treaty, was compatible with this expectation: it professes to state ‘a common standard of aspiration,’ not a set of enforceable commitments”1.

We like to talk about human rights a lot, but we do not know what should be done when a country does not fulfill its duty and respect the rights of its citizens. The problem, as things stand, and as detailed as I can put, is this:

  1. Every human being has inalienable rights.
  2. Because of the existing world-system, there exists states.
  3. Every human being is FORCED TO have a citizenship, i.e. a legally binding relationship, with (at least) one of these states.
  4. Theoretically we assume that we need states for order and security. Therefore states are assumed to protect (first and foremost) bodily integrity of its citizens.
  5. Yet, as mentioned at #1, human beings have more than only the right to life.
  6. The states are supposed to not only protect but also provide each and every right human beings have.

But what happens if a state does not provide or protect at least one of the rights? There is no authority that is responsible to oversee the states. As Beitz puts it, “the declaration represents a compromise between the competing values of global human rights and the sovereign rights of states”2. Since the Treaty of Westphalia, there is no authority over the sovereign, i.e. the states are the highest authority on the territory that they control.

In this picture, there are no more than three options to protect the rights of the people:

  1. The people, in case of an abuse, will rise against the state. Given the absolute power of the state over its citizens, and the need of an organized and highly political society which has at least equal amount of arms with the state, this is not likely an option except the dissolution of states.
  2. Some third country (the US?) will protect the rights of the people in the abusive state, as is partly the case nowadays. Yet 1) this is against the idea of sovereignty, 2) no state protects the human beings all and only for the sake of morality as past experience shows, but for political, military, or economic benefits, and and prominently 3) there is no (agreed upon) authority to grant this third country the right to intervene.
  3. A higher authority shall be established to protect the human beings from the states, yet this means that the current state-system will drastically change.

Among many, there is another problem I want to mention. Let us assume that there is a state (let us call it Turkey) which has an idiot ruler (let us call him Erdogan). According to this ruler, the country has more terrorists than there is in the rest of the world. But, because the courts are highly politicized, there really are millions of terrorists in the country.

This idiot does not hesitate violating human rights. The opponents cannot do anything because they are neither organized nor armed. So the first option is directly eliminated. But, because of a number of reasons3, no third country can intervene. Not that no country can intervene because of military weakness or the lack of “legitimate” claims, as the cases like Iraq or Libya has shown, but because it is not beneficial in one or another way.

In this world, there are some questions I want to raise. I cannot argue that they are new. I just want, if by any chance this post will be read by someone, more people to think about my worries:

  1. The state is supposed to be the protector of the people from the people. Yet when the state is the abuser, there is no chance that the people can defend itself properly. Isn’t the existence of the state a problem, given that organised crimes are always stronger, harsher, and bigger than individual crimes – and the state is the most organised group?
  2. If we need to be organized against the state, so that we can protect ourselves from the state when needed, do we even need the state?
  3. As there is no authority to enforce the human rights, can we actually argue that they are defensible?
  4. If they are not defensible, which I argue that they are not, can we argue that human rights actually exist? It does not need to be Turkey, even in the UK human rights can be questioned, as Theresa May did just one day before the last election.

There are more questions to be asked, yet these four would make a good introduction, I believe. Besides, no one likes anarchists nowadays, and no need to be even more of an anarchist – even if theoretically.


  1. The Idea of Human Rights by Charles R. Beitz. 2009, Oxford University Press, pp. 21-22.
  2. Page 22.
  3. Some are these: size of the economy and the population, geographic location, bilateral and binding agreements, memberships to certain organizations like NATO, the size of the market…

Leave a Reply

Site Footer