I had an interesting conversation with one of the Human Rights Defenders at this conference. He said he feels that human rights is “a high-level concern.”  Where he comes from people do not have money, food, water, and these are basic human rights.  The resources of his country are “siphoned off” by the West, he says, and the concern for human rights is a way to address guilt over the situation, without addressing the roots of the situation itself.

I think he is mistaken.  For one thing, it is no longer just “the West” that is siphoning off “3rd-world” resources.  Now that some formerly undeveloped “3rd-world” countries are becoming prosperous, they are happily joining the siphoning system. 

My own feeling is that people are people and are largely the same everywhere.  Blaming “the West” occurs because “the West” was in the position to do what any other people would have done if they had the bigger guns at the right time.  It is a faulty analysis that leads to faulty conclusions.

For one thing, this conference is trying to help develop a framework for protecting human rights at all.  Only after establishing this “high-level principle” can we extend it to repairing root causes.

Think about this.  It is the 21st century and the conference is discussing how to deal with mass atrocities as they are occurring.  After all this time, the world is no further along than that!  There is some hope that ways can be found to prevent them.  But this is not even an official, governing body, with authority to take action.  It is a conference that will make recommendations that the people here can take back with them to their own governments and organizations..

Yes, it is a high level concern, but you have to start somewhere.  You have to start by fixing the most serious problems, and put systems in place, and then move down the list.

Let me try a “Wild West” analogy.  You have a frontier town, and gangs are intimidating the people, robbers are in the bank.  What do you do?  First you have to hire a sheriff.  The sheriff has to stop the bank robbers.  Then the sheriff has to stop the gangs from shooting people in the street.  Then, eventually the sheriff will have the luxury of enforcing the less serious ordinances.

So this conference is like a citizens committee that will take the idea of hiring a sheriff to the town council.  And it is going to be a difficult sell because several members of the town council are living in big hoses because the bank robbers and street gangs are their relatives.