Human Rights and Foreign Policy by Evan Luard (Auth.)

By Evan Luard (Auth.)

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This also reduces the political costs of taking action and lessens the problem of locus standi, that is, the right of governments to intervene in matters in which their own nationals are not directly concerned (though since Britain and France already in 1863 had no hesitation in sending notes protesting against Russia's treatment of its Polish subjects, there is perhaps no good reason for states to be overconcerned about this question today). In serious cases, therefore, there are good grounds for joining with other likeminded governments in voicing concern and expressing the hope that the situation will shortly be improved.

These attitudes derive partly from the narrow way in which national interests are conceived by many. The wider and more long-term national interests—in bringing about a world in which fewer people are killed, tortured or imprisoned without reason and more enjoy basic freedoms, including the freedom to have a say in the way they are governed; even the less noble one of securing the gratitude of future governments once the oppressive regime has been overthrown, while at the same time winning some respect for demonstrating concern on these questions—these count for little against the immediate aim of not offending existing governments (perhaps a little human-rights training for diplomats, or at least intensive briefing on the question before each foreign posting, would be a 36 Human Rights and Foreign Policy 37 help; there is little in the current training of diplomats to lead them to take much interest in this subject).

There has been a great deal of discussion in the UN over many years about the establishment of a High Commissioner for Human Rights. The establishment of an authoritative figure, who could, whenever he received strong prima facie evidence of violations of human rights, ask to examine the situation on the spot and subsequently report, would clearly be a valuable innovation. The difficulty is that, in this form at least, the proposal has become something of a political football. It has been supported mainly by Western countries and is seen by some developing countries, and even more by the communist states, as evidence of a desire by the West to interfere in their internal affairs.

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