What’s More Important Than Human Rights?

As the owner of a fitness club, I have a unique opportunity to talk in depth with people about their health.  Good health is arguably the most important aspect of living a healthful life.  Despite this, most of us routinely fail to get the exercise we know we need.  The excuses are diverse: “I’m too tired,” “I’m too busy,” and the ever-popular, “I don’t have time.”  The problem with these excuses isn’t that they’re unfounded; it’s that they fail to describe the deeper issue.  The real issue is that, for most of us, getting regular exercise just isn’t a priority

When I dig deeper into the priorities question, I find that people generally fall into one of three categories: those who prioritize their health and show it by exercising regularly, those who could prioritize their health with the proper guidance and support, and those who would rather endure chronic physical and psychological pain than ever break a sweat.  It is the latter group that is by far the most challenging to influence to change their habits.

Most of us don’t give much thought to individuals in our community who fall into the last category.  It’s likely they not only lack knowledge of the value of regular exercise, they also aren’t open to learning about it.  These individuals often feel disempowered, isolated and unsupported.  But how someone else chooses to behave doesn’t affect me, you may think.  What do I care if they exercise or not?  In fact, it does affect you.  It affects you in the form of higher healthcare premiums, longer waits at the doctor’s office, and, in a broader sense, negatively impacts the quality of your community.

As a graduate student at the University of Oregon, I study international conflict resolution from a psychosocial perspective.  I hope to better understand barriers to preventing the most grievous human rights violations: genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity – the so-called four crimes.  Although I’m obviously over-simplifying a very complex topic, I see similarities between how individuals prioritize exercise and how states prioritize human rights.

We know that regular exercise is necessary for living a healthy life; likewise we know that a healthy, peaceful world must be free of the four crimes.  We are an international community made up of bright, dedicated and innovative individuals; we represent each of the world’s nations.  From members of civil society to diplomats and international civil servants; when we choose to, we accomplish magnificent feats together.  Based on this, I believe that ridding the world of the four crimes is possible; it’s just not our priority.

Like our regular exerciser, most states understand the value of promoting human rights and follow through in doing so.  When it comes to developing states or those emerging from periods of human rights abuses, the international community does an excellent job of collaborating in the interest of building lasting peace. 

Like the overweight, hypertensive and sedentary non-exerciser who is at higher risk of heart attack and stroke, states that don’t prioritize human rights are more likely to commit one or more of the four crimes.  These states may feel isolated from the rest of the international community.  But states are sovereign, you may say, and how they choose to behave doesn’t affect me.  What do I care if they commit horrible crimes against their own people?  In fact, it does affect you.  The relationship between individual states and human rights impacts all of us.  It impacts us in the form of trade relations, defense budgets, and, in a broader sense, negatively impacts the quality of our international community.

As we move further into the 21st century, there’s no doubt that the world is becoming a smaller place – international interdependence is increasing.  We are better connected than we’ve been before; technology continues to expand and offer new and innovative means to communicate.  Likewise, peace advocates need to evolve as well.  We need to seek out new and innovative means by which to manage and overcome conflict, especially when the lives of innocent men, women and children are at stake.  We need to engage with governments and influence them to reprioritize human rights.

I believe we can create a world free from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity: we just need to make it a priority.  Our biggest barrier is ourselves.

[PHOTO CREDIT: Jay Cuthrell (CC).]

Views: 304

Tags: genocide, law, peace, rights, war

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