Societies where there are ethnic, religious and political tensions, where there is a history of past conflicts or rights abuses, where the institutions of civil society are weak, corrupt or non-existent, are likely to witness the outbreak of violence or abuse of human rights. It is in such arenas of man-made suffering that the UN and its bodies have to step in and work for the rights of all human beings
Recorded human history knows no other period which has witnessed so many convulsions and conflicts as the 20th century. Its history is replete with periods of human destruction and violations of human rights caused by slave-trade, colonisation, ethnic discriminations and religious fanaticism, giving rise to conflicts which mankind is still struggling to resolve. Competing political ideologies are no less responsible for carving out their own arenas of conflict and unrest. Terrorism and ethnic violence directly owe their existence to them.
Human suffering inflicted by armed conflicts like the two World Wars and the starvation, disease and deprivations that followed called for a new world order — a world order, giving central place to human dignity. The sense of self-preservation asserted itself and gave birth to the United Nations in 1945 which declared that its highest purpose was "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of wars, to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights… to establish conditions under which justice and respect for international law could be maintained… and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom".
Adoption of Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the General Assembly in 1948 represented a new discourse in Human Rights education and set common goal for achievement for all people and in all nations. For the first time human rights norms were integrated into solving conflicts and peace building measures.
The two major International Covenants — International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1979 — are landmark steps taken by the comity of nations to protect human rights both in conflict and post-conflict situations. Apart from seeking to reduce tensions and conflicts, these two covenants have generated awareness in the international community about the emerging range of human rights. In the past, it used to yearn for these rights; now it asserts itself in demanding their share in full measure. This is a new shift. A new creed. This is the beginning of a new era.
Conflict has to be understood as a fact in human existence. It can be variously described depending, of course, on the situations — political, economic, cultural and religious — prevailing in a particular jurisdiction. It is also understood as "the pursuit of the incompatible (or seemingly incompatible) goals by different individual groups related to different values, needs and interests". If not resolved timely and with foresight it has the potential of aggravating into visible struggles for rights or fully blown battles or wars as is the case in the Congo.
Societies where there are ethnic, religious and political tensions, where there is a history of past conflicts or rights abuses, where the institution of civil societies designed to provide redressal are weak, corrupt or non-existent; or, where there is political and economic instability, are fertile ground for outbreak of violence or abuse of human rights. It is in such arenas of man-made sufferings that the UN and all its bodies have to step in and work in tune with Mr Kofi Annan's words said in his address at the Harvard University in June 2004.
"It is in times of fear and anger, even more than in times of peace and tranquility, that you need Universal Human Rights, and spirit of mutual respect".
A watchful judiciary — in each international jurisdiction — plays a role which is vital and supplementary to the role of the UN for it has the mandate and capacity to act as a bulwark against local conflict situations and possesses the institutional strength to ensure rule of law.
Indian judiciary has played a crucial role in upholding the Fundamental Rights, the Directive Principles. There cannot be better statement of human rights and liberties than what is written in the preamble to the Indian Constitution. There cannot be a better recipe for conflict resolution than the Directive Principles of the Constitution aiming at promoting the welfare of the people "by securing and protecting as effectively as it may, a social order in which justice —social, economic and political shall inform all institutions".
Establishment of the Human Rights institutions consistent with Paris Principles holds a great promise and hope for protecting human rights and dignity. They can play — and, in fact, in some cases they are playing — a significant role in protecting human rights both during and in post conflict situations.
The determination of the comity of nations and their commitment to international covenants is critical to binding them together in their endeavour to integrate human rights approach during conflict and in post conflict situations. It is, of course, true that there are certain conflicts which are peculiar to each country depending upon their local conditions. Therefore, they have to evolve their strategies in accordance with their own laws but overall concern for fundamental rights, the dignity and worth of human persons and the equal rights of men and women have to inform and guide all our efforts aimed at conflict resolution.