Gaza horrors expose the lie of universal human rights

Throughout history, the victors of conflict have typically evaded accountability for their crimes. South Africa stands out as an exception, showing that post-war societies can move on if justice is distributed equally.

Gaza horrors expose the lie of universal human rights

For all the talk of universal human rights and justice, it doesn't amount to much if perpetrators of war crimes are protected from prosecution and accountability.

When calls for justice are dismissed, the hypocrisy of politicians and governments is left exposed. They often argue that focusing on the future is more pertinent than rehashing the past.

However, this cannot be further from the truth. When justice is denied, despair and anger set in, stubbornly embedding themselves in post-war societies. The injustices experienced in darker times often define what emerges from the shadows.

A rules-based order...for some

After World War II, the international community vowed to create a rules-based order based on morality and accountability. However, the passing of time showed this commitment to human rights was not extended to all.

During the Korean War, the United Nations — which was created in the aftermath of WWII for the above-stated purpose — deployed forces to back the United States and South Korea against North Korea and China.

This demonstrated its ability to uphold this rules-based order.

The injustices experienced in darker times often define what emerges from the shadows.

However, when Lebanon's 15-year civil war finally ended in 1990, the warring sides were all exonerated from their war crimes, except a select few who were punished.

This selective justice emboldened those who escaped punishment, and they continued to persecute and marginalise their opponents. 

This partial justice template was used in other global conflicts, such as Cambodia and Rwanda. The failure to achieve comprehensive justice meant that old wounds never healed.

The South Africa exception

However, South Africa's conflict used a different template: one where all involved belligerents were held accountable. Through accountability and national reconciliation, the country was able to move on from its dark past.

Read more: UN court hears South Africa genocide case against Israel

This case, unfortunately, is an exception, not a norm.

But this issue is far deeper than just dismissing the lessons of WWII. It dates back further to the old treaties drawn up by Europe in its long history of warfare, which served the interests of the victors and punished the losers.

For example, Napoleon Bonaparte's ambitions for European dominance and the 1884 Berlin Conference's partitioning of Africa served European interests and demonstrated a stark disregard for justice.

Through accountability and national reconciliation, South Africa was able to move on from its dark past.

Biden is no Mandela

The world needs a leader like Nelson Mandela – a statesman willing to hold allies accountable for atrocities or terrorism alongside enemies.

Instead, we have US President Joe Biden, who, despite his displeasure with Israel over its ongoing atrocities in Gaza, continues to provide it with weapons and financial support.

Despite having the support from the world's most powerful nation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is increasingly being viewed on the global stage as the fascist and genocidal maniac that he is.

But despite this shift in global opinion, the EU foreign secretary Josep Borrell still only expresses "concern" over Israel's stated plan to invade Rafah instead of holding it accountable for collective punishment, which is a war crime under international law.

The tens of thousands of Gaza's slaughtered — mostly women and children — stand as a grim testament that the promise of universal human rights is not guaranteed to all people.

font change