Reconciling Minority Rights and State Sovereignty

When the East/West conflict ended ten years ago, many hoped that the democratic changes in Eastern Europe would inspire peaceful resolution between the claims of human rights and those of state sovereignty throughout the world. Instead, ethnic conflicts have multiplied, shaking many East European and Asian countries. Minority and ethnic rights, it appears, are only demanded at the barrel of a gun, as in Chechnya and East Timor.

Why is this so? The call for ``human rights,'' which have been made repeatedly since 1989, accents the rights of individuals in their struggles against overweening state institutions. Freedom of thought, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly: these were the rights that have been stressed most often, probably because they reflected the long struggle to restore the individual liberties smothered under communism.

But human rights confined to the context of freedom for individuals are insufficient to resolving ethnic conflicts, because ethnic communities and groups cannot use the mechanisms of human rights laws and agreements to secure an effective hearing for their claims. States, after all, are usually the forces suppressing their demands. Minority and ethnic violence arises out of the sense of frustration that results.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

To read this article from our archive, please log in or register now. After entering your email, you'll have access to two free articles from our archive every month. For unlimited access to Project Syndicate, subscribe now.

required

By proceeding, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, which describes the personal data we collect and how we use it.

Log in

http://prosyn.org/GDMETGt;

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated cookie policy and privacy policy.