Human Rights, Myopic Perspectives, and Ideological Manipulations

Photograph Source: Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment in Somalia, 1993 – Public Domain

Since the 1990s, the U.S. government has launched manipulative ideological campaigns with respect to human rights in order to justify interventions in the affairs of nations that resist subordination to U.S. imperialist intentions. The U.S. ideologically manipulated human rights campaign has ignored the evolution of the meaning of democratic rights during the last two and one-half centuries.

The idea of the inalienable rights of citizens is a modern concept that was established in practice by the European and North America democratic revolutions of the late eighteenth century. It that initial formulation, the focus was on the civil and political rights of individuals. The American Constitution of 1787, for example, affirmed the political and civil rights of citizens, especially in its Bill of Rights. But the American Constitution did not include articles for the protection of social and economic rights, such as the right to an adequate wage and adequate nutrition as well as equal access to education and health care. In response to this limitation, there emerged popular democratic movements that sought to expand the scope of democratic rights to include the right to the social and economic conditions that are necessary for a decent human life. The labor, African-American, and women’s movements were especially important in this regard.

In the world as a whole, the deepening of the meaning of democracy to include social and economic rights occurred as a result of the influence of the social democratic movements of Western Europe, and also as a consequence of the participation of the socialist-bloc governments of Eastern Europe in the United Nations. In 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations emitted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes articles that proclaim the protection of social and economic rights, including the right to a decent standard of living and to food, housing, and medical care.

In addition, the protection of social and economic rights has been an integral component of the anti-colonial and anti-neocolonial revolutions of the Third World, commonly expressed as a dimension of the right to development, viewed as the most fundamental of all human rights. The demand for the protection of social and economic rights can be found in the declarations of the Non-Aligned Movement.

In addition to evolving to include social and economic rights, the meaning of democracy also has evolved to the understanding that not only individuals have rights, but nations and ethnic and cultural groups have rights, and among these are the rights of nations to self-determination and sovereignty and of ethnic and cultural groups to cultural autonomy and to the preservation of their cultures.

Lenin proclaimed the right of the self-determination of the oppressed nations of the Russian empire as well as of the European colonies of Asia and Africa. Subsequently, the principle of the self-determination of nations became important in the anti-colonial movements that emerged in Africa and Asia during the twentieth century and that culminated in the attainment of political independence by the colonies in the period 1948 to 1963. Reflecting the new political reality established by the Asian and African national liberation movements, the United Nations in 1966 gave official certification to the right of nations and peoples to self-determination and development. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights proclaimed: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic co-operation.”

From the late 1940s to the early 1980s, the Third World project of national and social liberation repeatedly declared the rights of peoples to self-determination and development, and the rights of nations to sovereignty. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, fueled by rejection by the peoples of the neoliberal policies imposed by the global powers, the Non-Aligned Movement has retaken the concepts of its classic period, and it today repeatedly declares the rights of all nations to self-determination, sovereignty, and development. Moreover, these principles are reaffirmed today by the socialist governments of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, as they were by the governments of Bolivia and Ecuador, before the interruption of the socialist projects in these nations by maneuverings of the Right. At the same time, China has emerged as a global power that respects these principles in its expanding relations with Latin American governments.

In addition to expanding the meaning of democracy to include social and economic rights and the rights of nations to self-determination, sovereignty, and development, the popular movements of the world also have been seeking to develop in practice an alternative to the structures of representative democracy, an alternative that implies a deeper understanding of political rights. The alternative structures of people’s democracy have been well developed in Cuba, where the National Assembly of People’s Power is the highest political, legislative, and constitutional authority in the nation. The deputies of the National Assembly are elected by the delegates of the nation’s municipal assemblies, who in turn are elected in thousands of small voting districts, in secret elections with at least two candidates that are nominated in open neighborhood assemblies. Mass organizations of workers, women, students, peasants and cooperative members, and neighborhoods play a constitutionally-required central role in the electoral process, while political parties do not have a role in the electoral process. There are not political campaigns like those of representative democracies, and therefore campaign financing is not needed and does not exist.

There are other examples of popular revolutions and movements forming popular assemblies and popular councils: the Paris Commune of 1871, the Russian Revolution of 1917, the German Revolution of 1918, the Hungarian Revolution of 1919, the General Strike in Great Britain in 1926, and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. On a more permanent basis, popular councils and mass organizations have been developed in China and Vietnam. Popular assemblies and popular councils are structures of popular democracy that have been created by people’s revolutions to facilitate higher levels of citizen participation; they are fundamentally different from bourgeois structures of representative democracy,

We see therefore that the concept of democratic rights has evolved to include not only political and civil rights, but also the social economic rights of all citizens; the rights of nations to sovereignty, self-determination, and development; and structures of meaningful popular participation. A nation that respects human rights is a nation that proclaims in word and deed democracy in the full sense, in accordance with the evolution of its meaning.

The United States of America is far from being in the vanguard of the practice of human rights in its full sense, and it therefore does not have the moral authority to unilaterally sanction nations for alleged violations of human rights. In fact, the application of the concept of human rights by the United States in the conduct of its foreign policy ignores the evolution of the meaning of democracy during the course of two centuries. It assumes that human rights refer to the political and civil rights of individuals, not the right of the citizens of the world to a decent standard of living nor the right of nations to sovereignty; it assumes democracy to be representative democracy, not allowing for other forms of political participation by the people. In addition, even within the context of its myopic assumptions, it distorts information, falsely accusing governments of violating the rules of representative democracy. This constitutes an ideological manipulation of the issue of human rights in order to create a pretext for intervention in the affairs of other nations, in accordance with its long-standing intention to maximize access by U.S. corporations to the natural resources, labor, and markets of the world.

The necessary response to such ideological manipulation is the political education of our peoples. With imperialism increasingly desperate, more and more discarding its democratic pretense and acting with brute power and with pretexts lacking in credibility, it is possible for effective strategies of political education to unmask the lies, deceptions, and hypocrisy of the U.S. human rights campaign and discredit its authors and its subservient political lackeys in the eyes of the people.


Charles McKelvey is Professor Emeritus, Presbyterian College, Clinton, South Carolina.  He has published three books: Beyond Ethnocentrism:  A Reconstruction of Marx’s Concept of Science (Greenwood Press, 1991); The African-American Movement:  From Pan-Africanism to the Rainbow Coalition (General Hall, 1994); and The Evolution and Significance of the Cuban Revolution: The Light in the Darkness (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018).