Domesticating human rights frameworks in the Middle East

Amjad Yamin (Photo: JNews)
One of the most recurring criticisms of human rights and human rights campaigns across the world is that human rights is a promotion of imperialist ideology that does not necessarily reflect the ideals, traditions, and customs of this region, that states around the world do not necessary care for the well-being of others and that humanitarian intervention to preserve the rights of population is likened to neocolonialismاضافة اعلان

This thinking, and line of arguing, is particularly present in the global south, more distinctly as well in the Middle East. If continued, will constitute a crisis in the conception of human rights in the region and must be addressed through a transnational movement that reimagines a concept of human rights that is, in essence, domestic to the region and its countries, building on the utopian ideal of human rights for all, entrenched in new thought that is organically, and domestically grown.

From Francisco de Vitoria to George Bush, rhetoric of law and human rights was used to justify colonial wars — which is the behavior we should work to delegitimize, not human rights itself. We must reclaim the potential of human rights as our own and there is a lot in the region’s history to build on — for example the Islamic rules of war — and an abundance of scholarly work to allow us to reimagine our own framework that invokes human rights emancipatory potential from imperialism and neocolonialism. 

Is that possible, however? Can we rethink and reenergize from the perspective of victims of colonialism and transnational corporations?

The short answer is yes. But the current narrative is predominantly, if not entirely, Eurocentric. Other narratives, activists, and events like the struggles against slavery; the Haitian and Mexican revolutions; the decolonization of Africa and the Middle East in the 20th century; and movements like the Me Too and Black Lives Matter need to feature prominently into the new thinking, and we need to feature new thinkers whose work have been omitted from the frameworks.

We need to rethink, decolonize, and domesticate human rights in order to face the challenges of globalization, not reject the notion of fundamental rights for all because some have abused it. The start needs to be to look at the current supposedly mainstream theory and brand it as Eurocentric, and start a new to develop a more complex process that includes the region and the countries’ perspectives. 

There also needs to be work done towards low-hanging fruit — women’s right to pass on their nationality, human rights losses at times of COVID-19, fundamental freedoms of speech, and other similar, fairly easy to resolve rights that predominantly can be easily restored in the region.

Some of the most successful attempts at making human rights for all a reality would need to be lodged within a domesticated, inherently in-country owned process of developing and rolling out human rights, not by importing ideals that could be simply masking colonialist aspiration and not by rejecting the rights for our own people because they have been used and abused by other powers.

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