Sovereignty Bound

PRAGUE - Glorification of the nation state as the climax to the history of every national community, as the only thing in whose name it is permissible to kill or for whom it is worth dying for, is passing. Generations of democrats, and the horrors of two World Wars, have brought humanity to the realization that a human being is more important than the state.

In the coming century, most states will begin to transform from cult-like objects charged with emotional contents into simpler civil administrative units that are part of a complex planetary organization. This change should do away with the idea of non-intervention, with the concept that what happens in another state is none of our business.

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As for the practical responsibilities and the jurisdictions of the State, these can go into two directions: downwards or upwards. Downwards applies to the various organs and structures of civil society to which the State should gradually transfer many of its tasks. Upwards applies to various regional, transnational or global communities or organizations. This transfer of functions has already begun.

The Twenty-First Century – provided that humanity withstands all the dangers that it is preparing for itself – will be a world of ever closer cooperation. In order that the world can be like this, individual entities, cultures or spheres of civilization must clearly recognize their own identities, understand what makes them different from others and accept the fact that such “otherness” is no handicap, but a contribution to the global wealth of the human race. Of course, the same must be recognized also by those who, on the contrary, have the inclination to regard their “otherness” as a reason for feeling superior.

I am not against the institution of the State as such. Instead, I am talking about the fact that there is a value which ranks higher than the State. This value is humanity. The State serves the people, not the other way round. If a person serves his or her state such service should go only as far as is necessary for the state to do a good service to all its citizens. Human rights rank above the rights of states. Human liberties constitute a higher value than State sovereignty. In terms of international law, the provisions that protect the unique human being should take precedence over the provisions that protect the State.

Thus, the foreign policies of individual states should gradually sever the category that has, until now, most often constituted their axis, that is, the category of “our national interests,” tends to divide rather than bring us together. Each of us has some specific interests. This is entirely natural and there is no reason why we should abandon our legitimate concerns. But there is something that ranks higher than our interests: it is the principles that we espouse.

Principles unite rather than divide; they are the yardsticks for measuring the legitimacy of our interests. I do not think it is valid when various state doctrines say that it is in the interest of the state to uphold such and such a principle. Principles must be respected and upheld for their own sake; interests should be derived from them.

For example: It would not be right if I said that it is in the interest of the Czech Republic that there is an equitable peace in the world. I have to say something else: There must be an equitable peace in the world and the interests of the Czech Republic must be subordinated to that.

The Alliance of which nations as diverse as Canada and the Czech Republic are members waged a struggle against the genocidal regime of Slobodan Milosevic. That struggle was neither easy nor popular. But no person of sound judgement can deny one thing: that this was probably the first war ever fought that is not waged in the name of interests, but in the name of principles and values.

If it is possible to say about a war that it is ethical, or that it is fought for ethical reasons, it was true of this war. Kosovo has no oil fields whose output might perhaps attract somebody’s interest; no member country of the Alliance had any territorial claims there. The Alliance fought in the name of human interest for the fate of other human beings. It fought because decent people cannot sit and watch systematic, state-directed massacres of other people. Decent people simply cannot tolerate this, and cannot fail to come to the rescue if rescue is within their power.

So human rights now must take precedence over the rights of states. States and collections of states like the European Union must act out of respect for the law – for a law that ranks higher than the protection of the sovereignty of states; they must act out of respect for the rights of humanity, as they are articulated by our conscience as well as by other instruments of international law.

I see this as an important precedent for the future. It has now been clearly stated that it is not permissible to slaughter people, to evict them from their homes, to maltreat them and to deprive them of their property. It has been demonstrated that human rights are indivisible and that if injustice is done to some, it is done to all.

Many times in the past, I pondered on the questions of why humanity has the prerogative to any rights at all. Inevitably, I concluded that human rights, human liberties and human dignity have their deepest roots outside of this earthly world. They become what they are only because, under certain circumstances, they can mean to humanity a value that people place – without being forced to – higher than even their own lives. Thus, these notions have meaning only against the background of the infinite and of eternity.

It is my profound conviction that the true worth of all our actions – whether or not they are in harmony with our conscience, the ambassador of eternity in our soul – is finally tested somewhere beyond our sight. If we did not sense this, or subconsciously surmise it, certain things could never be achieved. For while the State is a human creation, humanity is a creation of God.

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