Ref. :  000001849
Date :  2001-09-18
Language :  English
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The Right to interfere

Right to Interfere

Author :  Tanella Boni

Each human being possesses within themselves a principle of autonomy and one of self-preservation. To get in the way of this principle, is to disrupt a natural process, to intervene in an order necessary for the perpetuation of the species. Is it right to get involved with the natural course of life? Current debates on human cloning and on euthanasia take place at this juncture. Is not the field of scientific research the first in which the right to interfere applies? This is why ethics is an issue in this domain: experimentation pushes back the boundaries of knowledge, can provide greater well-being and prolong life. But, alongside its aim of inesteemable benefit, harm with incalculable consequences for humanity can also be unleashed ...

It is when faced with extremely serious situations, that you think of the third party defence, of a few remarkable individuals, as if invested with a noble mission: to protect human rights, and make the earth habitable. Amongst them: Socrates, the first ‘interferer’ in the affairs of men or the Spanish prelate Bartolome de Las Casas (1474-1566), who defended the humanity of the Indians in Mexico against the conquering Spanish. And again, in the 20th century, those who defended and illustrated non-violence, such as Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), Martin Luther King (1929-1968), Nobel peace prize winner, or even Mother Teresa. However, do we speak of the ‘right to interfere’ for these ‘guardians of righteousness’ when they roam the length of their city, or country, or the Planet? When they come to the aid of the underprivileged? Decidedly not! Everything continues as if it constituted their duty as a man or woman to help, to comfort and to act for peace and non-violence, to ensure that humanity be more humane.

However, after the Second World War, other ‘guardians’ took over in the form of international institutions that play an economic, political, diplomatic, military or humanitarian role at world level. Today, no country can really say that it is alone or isolated in the world. The world is an organised whole, an order possessing unequal parties. But… in what way do the laws of the whole apply to the parties? And is this whole limited to the West, which governs the world? Does the West have the right in some areas of the world to kill with a view to protecting human rights? This is how you could formulate, in the extreme, the right to interfere. For example, in 2000, ‘strategic locations’ were bombed, infrastructures destroyed to weaken the Belgrade regime and overthrow Slobodan Milosovic. Their populations suffered terrible consequences from ‘this outside attack’, and the Belgrade dictator resisted until his people rose up to force him out of power.

At first, the ‘will for order’ within Europe and the United States seemed to have failed. But there was a second act, and Milosevic was extradited. An international level judiciary process is now in action. This example indicates that nowadays the will to maintain order in chaos does not necessarily arise from a desire to conquer or expand, but can also correspond to a ‘right’ to survey and punish all those guilty of crimes against humanity, and also disrespecting fundamental rights, by definition unprescribable, such as the right to life, education, freedom of thought and freedom of speech.

However the ‘world’s warders’ do not see all crimes committed, and sometimes even allow them to take place – as in Rwanda, in 1994. The great powers protect some dictators because they have interests to defend, areas of influence to maintain. It therefore happens that exterior intervention supports the raison d’Etat against human dignity. In spite of the Universal Declaration of human rights adopted by the UN in 1948, as it says in its preamble, ‘the common ideal for all peoples and nations to achieve’, arms continue to be sold and bought. In some countries – for example the South-East of Nigeria but also the Congo and Angola – the exploitation of oil by multinational firms seriously pollutes the environment, impoverishes the populations, strips them of cultivatable soil… Is not this another face of the ‘right to interfere’? A paradoxical law that sometimes preserves the lives and fundamental rights of individuals and citizens, but which, quite frequently, destroys their surroundings, disorganises entire regions, and imposes its own laws in the name of economic interests or ‘values’ which are worth more than humanity.

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