Are Human Right Universal


The demand for better human security and human rights is in higher demand now than ever before and the international community needs to undertake a new paradigm of human security. This is because security has continued to change since the advent of state security in the 17th Century. Today’s global trade, movement of goods and services are interlinked to the aspect of human security.

Human beings as a race share a planet, a biosphere, and exist because social fabric that puts the different races, colors, religions, beliefs, and backgrounds together. This is because the security and fundamental rights of a single member of the human community, security of a nation, a region, or state is influenced by the decision of others. According to Doebbler (2006 p.12), “The objective of human security is to safeguard the vital core of all human lives from critical pervasive threats, in a way that is consistent with long-term human fulfillment”.

This paper takes a comprehensive and critical analysis of human rights from the international perspective and further looks at the improvements which have been made on the issue. I strongly believe that many improvements have been made on human rights protection worldwide, however many of these improvements need to be made.

Background information

Human rights are an issue that has evolved throughout human history. These fundamental rights are intricately pegged on laws, customs and religion. According to Alston, and Vasak, (1982 p.27), “It was in ancient Greece where the concept of human rights began to take a greater meaning than the prevention of arbitrary persecution. Human rights became synonymous with natural rights, rights that spring from natural law”

Human right Definition

According to (2010 p.26),

Fundamental rights which humans have by the fact of being human, and which are neither created nor can be abrogated by any government. Supported by several international conventions and treaties (such as the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human rights in 1948 p. 42).

International relations theories on human rights

The rise of human rights as a critical international issue is of great concern to the whole world. Doebbler, (2006 p.31) highlights that, Many of our dominant theories – realism, rational choice, and economic interest group theories – have trouble accounting for the rise of human rights politics except to dismiss them as marginal, insignificant, or an ideological cover beneath which economic groups or hegemonic countries pursue their interests.

“But as the other essays here and the daily newspapers make abundantly clear, human rights issues are not marginal and increasingly detailed policy and institutional mechanisms exist to ensure the implementation of international human rights standards” (Alston, and Vasak, 1982 p.32).

The rise of human rights can be effectively analyzed and comprehensively understood by the use of international relations theories. There are several arguments on whether human rights are a universal issue or a subject for few countries. The answers to this question remain elusive and no consensus has been arrived at. However, many countries have made a considerable stride to embrace the protection of human rights. In this regard, the United Nations has promoted human rights protection by encouraging most countries to sign several treaties which spell out the need for human rights protection globally.

International theories such as realism and idealism are critical in the explanation as to whether the human right is universal. The theory of realism points out the use of power to fulfill a given nations’ interest. In this case, countries that follow strictly the tenets of this theory tend to dispute the universality of human rights. On the other hand, Idealism theory revolves more on the spiritual issues as in the case of Islam culture. The explanation of human rights alongside this line as a universal issue is elusive due to strong ideological beliefs.

Conceptions of International Political Economy and human rights

The 20th century has seen a general rise in integration between countries in terms of economic activities. International economic activities have recorded tremendous levels of integration. This is due to cross–border exchange of goods and services particularly after the end of World War II. This has been facilitated mainly within the framework of international trade integration. One of the effects of World War II was the rise in economic integration that is experienced by the liberal capitalist nations, as well as the rise in the number of developing nations. Former communist nations are not left behind and are undertaking trade reforms towards more open markets. “It is prudent to note that this integration calls for the universal human right” (Belser, 2005 p.39).

In seeking to fully differentiate the concepts, consequences of contemporary international economic integration, international political conditions such as hegemonic leadership, its demerits and merits, and the main sources behind rapid integration of contemporary global economic activities will be highlighted. Further, the major mechanisms of political and economic relations between countries will be examined, and how these relations shape the respective countries’ economic activities. In a deeper understanding of the IPE, the consequences of international economic integration and openness will be synthesized. Lastly, the merits and demerits (dangers) of hegemonic stability in international trade are dissected. These international relation theories and arguments point out the need for universal human rights.

Definitions Marxism, Liberalism, and Realism

Marxism (socialism) is a social and economic system that draws its principles and theories from Karl Max and Friedrich Engels. “The implications and effects of Marxism would take a lot of time to fully document but it is defined as a theory in which class struggle is a central element in the analysis of social change in Western societies” (MacKinnon 2006 p. 41). In fact, Marxism is in so many aspects an antithesis of capitalism. Liberalism (capitalism) can be defined as aneconomic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and distribution of goods, characterized by a free competitive market and motivation by profit” (Kaldor, 2007 p. 21).

Realism on the other hand is a practical view, understanding, and acceptance of the real nature of the world, not in an imagined form. Concepts of realism remain some of the most contested today in metaphysics and contemporary philosophy. According to Kaldor, (2007 p. 27),

The aspects of realism come about as a result of a wider number of subjects that relate to its nature and plausibility concerning a large number of subjects matters such as science, modality, ethics, semantics and so much more.

The basic tenets of Marxism argue that it is a system of socialism where the dominant aspect is public ownership of all the processes of satisfaction of want while capitalism has the aspects of the proletariat or the working class who only can sell their labor. The differences that exist between realism (nationalism), liberalism (capitalism), and Marxism (socialism) are numerous and are based on their social and economic principles.


Realism, in theoretical explanations, refers to individual states that belong to a very large and economically complex system with no justifiable infrastructure. The principles of this ideology are that nations are primarily focused on reducing the power of other nations. This is done simply because they desire to maintain the hold of their country’s power and to believe that all other countries remain as non-threatening as possible. (Human Security Centre, 2005 p.51)

This concept was conceived by Thucydides who was in the process of developing a history for the Peloponnesian war, a history that availed the reason as to why the states were motivated to go to war. The initial definition of realism by these philosophers pointed to one fact that systems were unitary actors that assume a particular interest without the input of political groups seeking to turn away the focus on that interest.

“Moreover, it expounded further that state leaders are rational actors in which logical reasoning is employed to select the policy that is best suited for satisfying defined goals” (Kaldor, 2007 p.34)

Machiavelli later developed this theory by noting down the needs of both the leaders and states were unified on almost all fronts to satisfy the protection of the nation. “The best explanation of core realism might have perhaps come from Thomas Hobbs in stating that …having their weapons pointing and their eyes fixed on one another” (Kaldor, 2007 p.32). “The application of this theory was not possible in 1948, the year when Hans Morgenthau published Politics among Nations” (Kaldor, 2007p.61).

“This theory is explained by Morgenthau analysis that is demonstrated in three levels” (Kaldor, 2007 p.14). Over the last decades, realism has developed into several declassifications such as neo-realism, defensive realism, and liberal realism. Kaldor, (2007 p.23) illustrates that in Social Theory of International Politics; explains that neo-realism disagrees with the classical concept of reality that human nature is innately flawed and irrational in which the focus should be on the structure of the international system rather than the motivational factor of states. The concepts of defensive realism are perceived to be more specific to the classical theory.

Classical theory denotes that in instances of international anarchy, states are compelled to increase their level of security and other states react in the same manner. The aspect of defensive realism is described as more specific of the classical theory in which states seek more security measures in case of an act of aggression. “Liberal realism can be described as a more abstract form of classical realism in which there exists a global community of states even though there is no universal ruler or world governor” (Alston and Vasak,1982 p.38)

A realist assessment of global integration

According to Kaldor, (2007 p.71) “Global cooperation and integration generally are series of binding obligations relating to the fulfillment of the different phases of the process such as the establishment of a free trade area and political integration” In reality, however, these policy guidelines and regulations are often ignored or adhered to by the parties involved. This has resulted at the end of some local and global integration efforts and in most cases results in their collapse. Realists view counties as competitors hence support only the integration which gives them an optimal competitive economic advantage.

Realism theory and human rights

The universality of human rights is not an only academic issue but also a real policy implication in all countries. All countries have different political and economic interests. Towards this, human rights have come into the center stage as one of the determining factors in international relations among countries. To improve human rights globally, most countries have put in place laws that protect human rights in their respective countries. Furthermore; countries with some elements of human rights violation are black-listed. The impact of the black listing is that the country which is black-listed risks trade with other countries. Since trade has got a great economic impact on the development of a country, these black-listed countries have no option but to adhere to the demand of respect for human rights. This intervention has promoted human rights globally.


This is described as a direct bi-polar opposite of realism in that rather than putting a lot of focus on the always complex and messy international economics, the focus is narrowed down to the internal structure of the states with an emphasis on the economy and the way wealth is distributed among the social classes. MacKinnon (2006 p.43) illustrates that,

The explanation of Marxism is best projected as a form of socialism describing the society as classless and holding to the firm belief that capitalism will soon be past and communism will take over. This theory has in it the component of the labor theory of value, dictatorship, dialectical materialism, and class struggle.

The labor theory of value can be described as the value of interchangeable good or service that is directly in proportion to it and encompasses all components of this product such as equipment used in the production and raw materials. About the labor theory, Marxism points to the idea that capitalism provides goods and services at a value that is lower and not in tandem with the value of the labor input. “This scenario creates what is referred to as capital surplus which is a practice that expresses exploitation of workers and may lead to class conflict” (MacKinnon, 2006 p.29 ). Dialectical is explained as to how all things play to their advantage to manipulate other things around them. For instance, Darwin attempted to express the similarities that exist between the object’s appearance and essence.

The aspect of materialism is the view of thought or reflection outside the mind. This abstract is well seen in Newton’s Laws of motion “every action has an equal or opposite force.” In the words of Karl max as pointed out by (Reich and Friman, 2007 p.31) explains that,

Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion, or anything else you like and they begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step which is conditioned by their physical organization.

“By producing their means of subsistence men are indirectly producing their actual material life and the projection of class struggle according to Max points to members of a class system: the proletariat and the bourgeoisie” (Reich and Friman, 2007 p.51).

The proletariat is described as composed of the working class who sell labor to sustain lives in the production of goods or services. The bourgeoisie plays the role of sustaining life by accumulating the wealth produced by the proletariat. Lastly, dictatorship is the free rule of an individual that alienates him away from the existing laws or constitution.

Marxist assessment of global integration

The Marxist view of global integration “provides a richer, fuller, more comprehensive view of society and life in general and further clears away the veil of mysticism in understanding human and social development” Kaldor, (2007 p.81). Kaldor, (2007 p.83) continues to explain that “the driving force of history is neither Great Men nor the super-natural, but originates from the development of the productive forces (industry, science, technique, etc.) themselves.” In their view, economics plays a very central role in determining the conditions of life, opportunities, and characters of human beings. Its proponents argue that global integration and cooperation will enhance economic development and will result in the betterment of peoples’ lives across the globe. Towards this, human rights will be improved across the globe.

Maxims and Human rights

The universality of human rights is not only shown in history but also its geographical spread. All cultures globally, the notion of equal freedom, the notion of brotherhood, and respect for human dignity are well supported and the existence of legal documents on protection of human rights are some of the developments which signify the power of authorities and the sphere of individual life. Marxist theory of international relations emphasizes the need for strong societal fabric and cohesion. Towards this, society has got the responsibility of respect for human rights and freedom. Towards, this endeavor several human treaties and declarations have been signed to express the need for the universality of human rights. The existence of human rights watchdogs like the UN has strengthened human rights globally.

Liberalism theory of IR and human rights

“The first core assumption of liberal theory is that the fundamental actors in politics are members of domestic society, understood as individuals and privately-constituted groups seeking to promote their independent interests” (Richmond,2001 p.17).In liberalism, special conditions, limited competition individual autonomy, and individual behavior are intertwined together to create a defined social order that seeks the promotion of individual welfare. The most basic tenet of liberal theory is that politics is mixed into the social context, which acts as an effective measure to curtail the powers of the government. Society to liberals is a composition of individual human agents who possesses different interests and identities that push to form organizations and social and economic ties to further their social, political, and economic goals. While this theory is individualistic, its view on the other hand is pluralist.

The impact of the Liberalism theory of IR on the universality of human rights

This theory emphasizes the natural goodness of humankind and the autonomy of every individual. Liberalism theory favors the universality of human rights since it fights for individual liberty and the respect of the rule of law. In this regard, it is prudent to state that the liberalism theory of IR is of great impact on the promotion of respect of human rights globally and this is possible through the creation of laws that govern these rights and freedom.

Hegemonic theory and Universal human rights

“Hegemony stability theory argues that overwhelming dominance of one country is necessary for the existence of open the world economy”( Richmond 2001 p.27). Such hegemony serves the purpose as to instill the idea of self-independence in that all nations have access to markets and avoid the beggar-thy-neighbor policy. This acted as the merits of hegemonic stability in international trade. “Classical political economy, among other things, is about laws that govern free markets, the law of population growth, the law of wages, the law of capital accumulation, the law of rent, and the law of markets and other laws” (Richmond 2001 p.29).

This theory does not support the concept of the universality of human rights. This is because it proposes that each country is independent and has got its rules that govern its operations. These rules include labor laws that are crafted not only to protect the people but also to serve one particular nation’s interest.

Developed nations have exploited this opportunity to excise power on all states to disproportionate levels that involve forced trade to military occupation. Hegemony has got fewer benefits as compared to its disadvantages. Political hegemony and economic hegemony made some countries like America politically and economically exploit other nations by furthering their capitalistic ideas and economic interests.

For instance, Afghanistan, Iraq, and many others have suffered from economic sanctions as well as military invasions. Moreover, this system propagates hatred and hence causes global instability for economic development. Furthermore, hegemonic stability in the international has led to a reduction in the labor-intensive markets. MacKinnon (2006 p.46) argues that “the idea that production per se (or work) provides positive utility is not new and that chances of an economic slowdown having a greater impact on the global economy if higher in a hegemonic structure.”

Impact of Hegemonic theory of international relations on the universality of human rights

It gives a dominant state to exercise their authorities over others thereby jeopardizing the sovereignty of other states. This kind of behavior normally leads to aggression among states. This kind of aggression is not good for global integration and trade which are the key international relation issues that not only bring peace but also promote cohesion which is necessary for the universality of respect of human rights. To minimize and mitigate the impact of hegemonic theory on the universality of human rights, United Nations has been working hard to promote cooperation among nations.


Human security is an important aspect of human rights and life that should be put before anything else. It is on this line that all governments, international organizations strive to ensure that all people are protected from all sorts of eventualities. Security and the human right protection is important for development and peace in a country and therefore each individual should be protected against anything which might cause discomfort or harm a citizen of a given country. Governments in this regard, spend lots of money to ensure that they keep up with the challenges that pose threats to human rights and security.

Be it war, food insecurity, disease, and many other tragedies all the available strategies should be applied to make everybody safe and enjoy his or her fundamental rights. Economic development across the globe is necessary to enhance human rights. This is because poverty and food insecurity will be reduced thereby promoting human rights across the globe.

Work Cited

Alston, Paul. and Vasak, Kelly. The International dimensions of human rights: The International Dimensions of Human Rights. Greenwood Press. 1982.

Belser, Peter. Forced Labour and Human Trafficking: Estimating the Profits, ILO, 2005. Web.

Doebbler, C., Felix. Introduction to International Human Law Rights. CD Publishing, 2006.

Human Security Centre. Human security report 2005: war and peace in the 21st century. Human security report. 2005.

Kaldor, Michael. Human security: reflections on globalization and intervention. Polity. 2007.

MacKinnon, C., Allan. “Are women human? And other International Dialogues.” Belknap Press Series. Harvard University Press, 2006.

Reich, Steven, and Friman, R.Hostine. Human trafficking, human security, and the Balkans. The security continuum. Univ. of Pittsburgh Press. 2007.

Richmond, O. Paul. and Newman, Euticus. The United Nations and human security. Palgrave Macmillan. 2001.