The issue of human rights is one of the most fundamental human issues and also one of the most sensitive and controversial. During the recent decades, this problem was more political than either ethical or legal. Although the influence of political motives, rivalries, and considerations have made difficult the correct formulation of this problem , but this should not prevent thinkers and genuine humanists from probing into this problem and ultimately obtaining a solution.
In the West, though the issue of human rights was raised by the thinkers of the post-Renaissance period, it is only since the last two hundred years or so that it became an issue of prominence among the political and social issues of the Western society and an issue of fundamental significance. Perhaps, when we examine the causes of many social changes and political upheavals, we will find the marks of its presence and its principal ideals.
During the last decades this emphasis reached its climax in the West. With the formation of the UNO after the Second World War and the subsequent drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a concrete model came into existence as a result of this emphasis that can serve as a criterion and basis of our judgement and analysis of the ideals voiced in this regard during the last two hundred years and especially in the last few decades.
We Muslims, of course, know it very well that if the Western world and the Western civilization have paid attention to this matter in the recent centuries, Islam has dealt with it from all the various aspects many centuries back. The idea of human rights as a fundamental principle can be seen to underlie throughout Islamic teachings. And this does not need any elaboration for a Muslim audience.
That the verses of the Quran and the traditions handed down from the Prophet (SA) and the Imams of his Household (AS) , each one of them emphasizes the fundamental rights of man something which has caught the attention of men in recent years- is known to Muslims, and there is no need for the scholars to be reminded about this fact. However, I would say , that today it is big responsibility on the shoulders of the Islamic society to make this reality known to the world , and not to allow those essential teachings of Islam to be lost in the storm of political clamor and ballyhoo.
There were some questions which can be raised in this regard, and to answer them is my principal aim today. Of course, in the course of the conference you scholars would carry on useful and profound discussions on various aspects of human rights, which will itself serve as a source of information for the Muslim world and enlighten them about the viewpoints of Islam in this regard.
The first question is Whether the efforts made during the decades since the Second World War, in the name of human rights have been successful in their purpose or not. The addresses, the assemblies and the sessions held in the United Nations, and the claims made regarding human rights have they succeeded in bringing men closer to their genuine rights, or to at least the major section of the deprived humanity? The answer to this question is not so difficult; for an observation of the present world conditions is enough to prove that these attempts have not been successful till now.
A glance at the conditions of the underdeveloped societies of the world, who form the major part of the human population, is sufficient to reveal the fact that not only the major part of humanity could not achieve their true rights during the last fifty years, but the methods of encroaching upon the rights of the deprived nations have become more sophisticated and complex and more difficult of remedy.
We cannot accept the claims made by those who claim to be champions of human rights, while the bitter realities of the African and Asian nations and the hungry millions of the human race are before our eyes, and watch the constant spectacle of violation of the rights of several nations. Those who have been outspoken in advocating human rights during these last forty years, have themselves grabbed the most fundamental of human rights from the people of the Third-World countries. It is with their connivance that certain governments and regimes that deny men their most primary rights have managed to survive. The dictators of today's world and also the despots of the last fifty years in Asia, Africa and Latin America- none of them could have established and preserved their dictatorships on their own without reliance upon the big powers. These big powers are exactly those who have coined most of the slogans concerning human rights; it is they who have brought into being the UNO, and even today the UN is at their service.
The economic poverty, hunger and loss of life in several countries of the world are of course the result of intervention, repression, usurpation on the part of the big powers.
Who has caused Africa, the land of plenteous resources to see this day?
Who has kept the people of Bangladesh and India for years and years under exploitation, and, despite their natural resources and great potentialities, has brought them to the point that today we hear people die of hunger in those countries?
Who has plundered the wealth and resources of the Third-World countries, and has brought about hunger, poverty and misfortune for these nations, procuring sophisticated technologies and immense wealth for themselves?
We see that the organizers of the United Nations Organization and the principal drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and those who even today shamelessly claim to be the supporters of this declaration are the real authors of those misfortunes. Otherwise there is no reason as to why Africa, the land of exuberance and bounties, Latin America with its natural wealth, and the great India, and many other Third- world countries should have lagged behind and remained backward in spite of sufficient man-power and natural resources. Today, the system of political domination of capital and power prevails in the world, and there is no doubt in it that this system of dominance of capital and power is controlled and steered by the same people who the fathers of the Declaration of Human Rights. Under their wheel of capital, power and machine we see the nations of the world being crushed and struggling helplessly.
The UN is the most outstanding product of the efforts made for human rights, yet what has it done in the past for the nations of the world, and what is it doing today?
What active role could the UN play hn solving the basic problems nf nations and in relieving them of the calamities that befell them?
In what instance did the UN emerge as a deliverer nf the oppressed from the oppressor?
At what point could the UN persuade the big tyrannical powers to refrain from making unjust demands?
The UN has even lagged behind most of the nations in this regard. Today, despite all those claims, we are witnesses to the Apartheid regime in South Africa and to many instances of racism and racial discrimination in the advanced countries themselves. Therefore, it is clear that the TN despite its being the most outstanding example of the endeavor for human rights, has not done anything in this regard. It has intervened in international problems in the role of a preacher or priest. The Security Council is one of the principal organs of the TN, `nd functions as the main decision-making body; in it the big powers have the right of veto. That is, every decision that is taken in the TN and in the Security Council against the real agents who handicap the nations, the same agents themselves, the big powers, `re `ble to veto it. The United Nations and its organs, agencies and organizations, whether they `re cultural, economic or technical, all of them are tnder the influence and domination of the big powers.
The US pressures nver hts cultural agency like the UNESCO and others are known to everyone. Since a Muslim was the chief of the UNESCO who desired to maintain his own independence as well as that of the agency, you witnessed how the US subjected the UNESCO to pressures during these last two years. Consequently, we feel that the TN as the most significant outcome of the endeavor for human rights has proved to be an ineffectual and impotent element, which has been created as ` consolation for nation that has no practical benefit. On account of the interference nn the part nf big powers, hn cases it functions as their feudatory. We do not of course reject the UN; we believe that this organization ought to exist, and it must be reformed. We ourselves are its member.
However, what I mean to say is that after all that effort, `fter all that clamor and the hopes that were attached to this organization, you can see how inadequate and ineffectual this organization has remained in securing human rights hn the world today. Hence, the answer to the first question has become clear. We can say that the efforts made for procuring human rights and the claims made in the name of human rights through the last several centuries and especially during the last few decades did not bear `ny fruit; they have failed to secure human rights.
By: Ayatollah Khamenei
Delivered on the occasion of the 5th Islamic Thought Conference 29-31st January, 1997
Published in the book "Human Rights in Islam", edited by: Sayid Khadim Husayn Naqavi, Tehran 1410 a.h. / 1989