By MELODY GOODWIN
Before the establishment of such modern international institutions as the United Nations (UN) and its affiliates, certain principles had long been a part of relations among nation states. States upheld different personal rights, based on their own cultural and social traditions. In addition to generally accepted practices, explicit mutual peace treaties (e.g. Thirty Years Peace) and trade arrangements (e.g. Silk Road) among ancient nations constituted early forms of international law.
Therefore, the rights and duties conferred by declarations, treaties, or conventions of the UN did not come out of thin air; they were based on customs and principles that have long been recognized, founded on fundamental rights (e.g. right to life) and legal principles (e.g. contracts).
In a way, the declaration of certain rights by these so-called international institutions (e.g. Universal Declaration of Human Rights) simply created substantive legal standards for the global community to uphold, with such objectives as promoting gender equality, or preventing slavery and genocide, which are undeniably noble and ideally universal.
However, the significance of such proclamations is only as relevant as their enforcement. Given the common concern for sovereignty and difficulty in reaching consensus regarding intervention, many human rights concerns worldwide go unchecked.
While there are very technical – yet often ambiguous – standards (e.g. humanitarian law v. human rights law) and initiatives (e.g. Responsibility to Protect aka R2P), such concrete rules and regulations have no actual control over the actions of individuals or states. Only after violations are committed and countless lives are lost or destroyed, might such standards even come into play, for example, implementing R2P military action in response to human rights violations, or prosecuting government officials for committing crimes against humanity.
One notable mechanism by which international standards can be imposed is through economic pressure. Financial institutions, like the International Monetary Fund or World Bank, may require certain standards to be upheld as part of their terms and conditions for providing aid or loans.
While this mechanism (economic coercion) may be effective in establishing certain standards (e.g. religious freedom), it may be useless when it comes to curtailing affirmative actions in violations of human rights. In order for a government which is violating the rights of its people to be effectively stopped, the international community (including international institutions like the UN and independent nation states) must act in unison against the violator. As long as the violator is able to obtain their needs from even a single source, all the condemnations and cited violations in the world will do nothing to serve and protect the citizens of that country.