The Human Rights Day on 10 December creates a new urgency in elevating needed awareness and critical actions in upholding human rights, freedom and democracy that are now on a freefall in large swaths of the world. The concerning rise of autocracy and the yearning for such perceived stability and collective voice that many have argued it brings, project a most dangerous period and shift in societal and global transition not seen for centuries. Leading scholars and experts have raised the urgency in seeing this timeline as one of the most serious decline of democratic ideals and foundation in most parts of the world, from the onslaught of rising autocracies, authoritarianism and far-right as well as far-left movements and tendencies that threaten the roots of freedom and democracy.
For civil and political rights including freedom of movement and opinion, equality before the law, freedom of thought, conscience and religion and freedom of association, the erosion in deeper depth in increasingly larger parts of the world has been a true cause of concern, amidst the onslaught of autocratic forces and the dwindling capacity and yearning for democracy and freedom.
For most parts, the growing appeal and submission to the tightening grip of authoritarian control and governing are based on the inevitability of conventional coercion. The success of the systemic and pervasive measures in getting the buy in and justifications on the erosive governance model and dwindling rooms for freedom and human rights, have created a concerning public adherence and submission to the entrenched belief and system. People are fed with the messaging on benefits of a different model from the West’s version of human rights and democracy, intertwined with pumped up nationalism and politics of emotions in warding off perceived interfering actions by the West.
The big umbrella of the pursuit for democracy and freedom as espoused by the West has been lukewarmly received by non-Western states which they framed as interfering in their own sovereign rights and autonomy, and in creating a futility in the people being able to resonate with the clarion call.
Repressive acts are justified based on the card of securing national security and interests, and as a needed basis in thwarting the intent and influence of the West in domestic affairs, hyping up national identity and interest in continuing regime protection through all means available.
The concerning rise of autocracy in bigger waves from Tehran to Beijing with far-reaching ripple effects the world over, provides a threatening momentum
Using the need for stability and greater societal order in justifying the actions to clip the basic civil and socio-economic rights of the people, these state actors have been pursuing a wide cover in masking their attempts to continue to ramp up repressive actions and in upping their grip on power and regime security. By continuously spending and focusing more on internal order and allegiance with widespread and systematic hold on public tools and governing apparatus to create fear and deterrence among the people, it sustains a climate of fear and submission and a perpetual cycle of state led control that curtails fundamental liberty.
By leveraging on the excuse of the developing states needing the required timeframe and unique context of consideration in their system, the agenda is set for long term ingrained and sustained efficacy of this propagandistic appeal.
Arbitrary deprivation of life; torture, slavery and forced labour; arbitrary arrest or detention; and racial or religious hatred, among many others, remain the accepted way of life for millions under the current status quo held by these regimes, oblivious to the norms and rules set by the international community and the United Nations.
Having set the tone and propagandistic enslavement of drilling in the narrative of the Asian model of democracy or human rights and the supposed traditional and non-Western narration of localised democratic approach, each move by the US and the West in calling out acts of atrocities and suppression is deemed as yet another hypocritical conduit out to sabotage the rights of these states.
The suppressive regimes will then have the needed public support and sentiments after years of disinformation and propaganda with heightened nationalist cards in ramping the rhetoric of anti West actions, in the name of defending the interests of their nation states. All these come at the expense of the people’s basic civil rights. For China, the social contract of the Chinese Communist Party providing the needed collective stability, peace and progress in exchange for the people’s collective submission for the one party rule and dictate, is being projected as its own version of protracted “democratic stability” moulded by the Chinese version of shared rights and responsibilities. This has been under strain recently with the unprecedented public resentment with zero COVID policy that spiralled into greater review of the current party allegiance and social contract, but is projected not to overwhelmingly threaten the foundation of the Party and its rule.
The world has witnessed and enjoyed almost a century of relative peace, being enabled by the right global system based on a determined moral and value based global order rooted on the ideals of democracy, freedom and respect for human rights championed by the West, especially the US.
This long peace has unfortunately created complacency the world over, and wisely and strategically capitalized by coming states and regimes that are out to capture their presence and power in the international hierarchy, pouncing on the dwindling resonance and ideals of defending the freedom and rules-based order that have enabled and guarded the progress that we have enjoyed today.
As if disillusioned by the very safeguard and safety net that have secured our presence, rights, and economic returns, we have been quick to jump to the bandwagon of new frontiers of the world order that are anything anti-West and pro new challengers to the conventional system.
For this period of increasingly dark times ahead with greater security threats and uncertainties with rising forces of suppressions and human rights violations, the need for a consistent, trusted and capable power in upholding the rules based system and in providing the needed deterrence has never been more pertinent.
Democracy remains the one national interest that helps to secure all the others in a positive ripple effect cascade. Democratic nations are more likely to secure peace, prevent aggression, expand open markets and trade, promote economic development, uphold human rights, and protect global norms in environment, health and shared challenges.
The protection of fundamental human rights was a foundation stone in the establishment of the United States over 200 years ago. The US remains the only power that has both the moral and hard power capacity to carry out the obligation and duties in this aspect, as it has been for decades, albeit at its own expense of even greater returns to its own potential global power and reach.
The US in its pursuit to advance a freedom agenda, utilises a range of measures, which are deemed by rising challengers as a hypocritical example of choking others including economic sanctions. Sanctions and other economic tools used are the basis of both deterrence and in pushing for self-correction on the part of the violators, in stopping the atrocities or violations conducted that have harmed humanity and lives of the people. This responsibility to protect is not rosy and appreciative in picture, it comes with the highest brickbats and perceptions but the duty and obligation to act morally and responsibly to save lives and to uphold the global order based on rules and norms remain the consistent policy and adherence of America.
Adamantly and consistently righteous in standing up for justice and freedom for humanity, foreign aid and policy orientations are moulded for this regard, with developmental and life-saving assistance in the billions of dollars over the decades having helped to save lives, deter aggressions, uphold democracy and law and order, reduce hunger and diseases, fight discrimination and injustice, and give equal opportunities to all regardless of affiliations, among many others. All these have not been in the high radar of states or the people, drowned by the waves of public apathy, complacency and taking all those for granted. A large part of that has also been systematically drowned out by the aggressive soft power push by Beijing and Moscow in discrediting the efforts of the West and the US and staking their counter campaigns of painting a picture of the US as a power in decline that is desperate to defend its influence through these efforts.
America remains a victim of its own high moral standard set, creating its own self-check and pursuit in setting the values and principles of good governance, freedom and democracy as its criteria and restraint in its global agenda setting at the expense of its own greater global power and influence.
The Americans could choose not to be restrained by the conducts of justice, honour, mutual respect and adherence to democratic order and freedom that it has diligently created for the global order and instead be free to expand and utilise its unrivalled might during the end of the Second World War and the Cold War to rule the world through repressive and power hungry dictate. It did not. Instead, Washington chose to remain on the moral high road, creating this at times self-defeating purpose of its own global perception that has been relentlessly attacked by its rivals.
It can always be lured by the temptation of power and global hegemonic rule through autocracy and fist rule with its unmatched strength in various occasions throughout the century, but chose to create a world system pillared on rules, equality, justice, freedom and respect for human rights and dignity.
The Freedom in the World index lists the United States in the highest category for human freedom in civil and political rights, and Washington continues to put the pillars of human rights and democracy as the central hallmarks of its foreign policy.
With these fundamental values at the core of its founding tenets, America has been at its own disadvantage in various pursuits of economic and political power the world over, having put these values of good governance, integrity, freedom and human rights as the ultimate criteria in its policy orientations. Beijing is quick to pounce on the opening and has seen its global economic and soft power foot trails skyrocketing, with no self-restrictions or limitations that are grounded on these strict adherence to norms and principles of freedom and democratic practices in dealing with other global players.
Despite this, America remains unyielding in its purpose and commitment to uphold and protect these universal values. Mistakes are made throughout the decades, but the self-correction and self-realisation mechanism and check and balance system have created the needed natural progression and balancing, with the people being at the centre of orientation.
With the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, the world witnessed the first practical experiment in creating a government that would be judged by the extent to which it respected and protected the rights of its citizens. Rights, thus, are often seen by Americans as a defining feature of their national heritage, and rightly so.
These features of American democracy that are self-correcting mechanisms through the separation of branches and in putting human rights and dignity at the nucleus of policymaking and importance, created a global appeal and waves of democracy, both in saving lives and enabling sustaining economic and developmental drive.
American self-righteousness and an American willingness to act unilaterally have caused occasional resentment, even among those who have shared the values underlying American policies. Despite that, the US, consistent to its approach as two centuries ago, was, is and will continue to be a world leader in the ongoing struggle for human rights. The stakes are too high for another return to tyranny and autocratic grip, and the struggle to defend freedom and human rights continues globally with the critical need for America to continue leading the drive, for the world cannot afford to let our democratic progress and freedom so hardly fought for to perish. We owe it to our next generations and for humanity for us to stand for the right side of history.