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EQUALITY and SELF-DETERMINATION: A PROVOCATION

11 March 2014

By Judith R. Blau

The assumption in this provocation is that we sociologists have not thought through the significance of self-determination in the context of the current crisis in Ukraine and Crimea. I do not propose answers but instead try to provoke them. I break the provocations up into several parts, inviting others to respond or to argue with each of several provocations.  The first provocation has to do with EQUALITY, the second POLITICAL SELF-DETERMINATION, and then we consider other forms of self-determination (e.g. cultural and economic).                   

 

Human rights are universal. So was it proclaimed by 56 members of the United Nations, on December 10, 1948, as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and then more resoundingly so, on June 25, 1993 at the World Conference on Human Rights when representatives of 171 States affirmed their commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by consensually adopting the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.         

As human rights advocates and activists in the U.S., we have unequivocally championed universal rights and equality, grounding our arguments in the principles laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Very specifically, each and every Article of the UDHR and the Preamble emphasizes the equality and inclusivity of both rights and rights-holders. Consistent with the principles stated in the UDHR, the emphasis of most American social movements advocating human rights has also been on equality and inclusivity. These include movements for racial equality (CORE); gender equality (NOW), and various movements for immigrants’ rights (La Raza; Dreamers; FLOC, NDLON, UFW), and the GLBT movement (Human Rights Campaign). Virtually all American movements (with the possible exception of separatist Black Panthers) have been committed to what we might call the “equality paradigm.” In other words the objective has been on fairness and equality, what American sociologist, Stanley Lieberson, referred to as having “a piece of the pie.

Make no mistake about it:  in the U.S and worldwide, human rights advocates and activists expound equality in a variety of forms, all of which relate to human rights and all of which can be derived from the principles laid out in the UDHR. In fact, to a great extent the United Nations System is organized in terms of equality, as laid out in detail in Article 25 (1). For example, Article 25 (1) encompasses the universal right to food, housing, health, and security. In turn, the right to food is mandated by Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO);  the universal right to housing by U.N. Habitat; the universal right to health by the World Health Organization (WHO); universal social and economic security by the ILO. Article 26 (1) states that education is a universal human right and that is the mandate of both UNICEF and UNESO. There are similar correspondences for other UN bodies: gender equality (UN Women), the coupling of development with human rights (UNDP), and the coupling of a healthy environment and human rights (UNEP).

I speculate that American human rights advocates and activists agree with their counterparts elsewhere that human rights are universal and they are so in the abstract sense laid out in the UDHR, and in specific ways elaborated in Articles 25 (1) and 26 (1), and pursued by various UN agencies or programs, as I have briefly described. However, in one other major respect human rights advocates and activists in the U.S. are different from their counterparts elsewhere, namely, we have shied away from the theoretical and practical implications of the right to self-determination. At least since 1776. That is, is it only the underdog — not yet an equal –that stakes out a claim for self-determination? Can you think of any bullies (on the contemporary world stage) that were former underdogs? (Sorry – that was a loaded question.)

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Douglas Parker permalink
    12 March 2014 10:42 pm

    I am delighted and excited that Judith Blau is going to try to bring some new energy into Sociologists without Borders which she originally established in the U.S. with some help from a Spanish sociologist who I think now teaches in Italy. Our immediate concern must be with Crimea and the rest of Western and Eastern Ukraine. As I have indicated previously, the Polish government has as much right to seize Kaliningrad as Russia has to seize Crimea. Russia seized the Polish city of Lvov in World War II (as well as attacking Poland from the East as Germany was attacking from the west). The Polish army was the third or fourth biggest army later attacking the Germans in World War II from the west. What is the conclusion we can draw from all of this? I think that if Russia continues to insist on reclaiming Crimea, then it must give up Kaliningrad to the Poles and Western Ukraine gets to keep the former Polish City of Lvov. In short, it is history and not always self-determination which can determine what is just and appropriate. As is already obvious, I do not always agree with Judith but most of the time I do. She has made a difference in many of our lives including mine.

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