Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Culture clash

Developing countries seeking to find their feet in the world’s family of nations must constantly grapple with defending their national sovereignty, held sacrosanct in international relations, and facing up to the realities of our modern world. In theory, the voice of every country carries equal weight. However, in practice, it is clear that those with superior economic – and usually also military – might are the ones who really call the shots. In other words, he who pays the piper calls the tune.

We were reminded of this adage as it relates to the ongoing international debate about same-sex marriage and rights based on sexual orientation. This continues to be a hot-button issue, not just between East and West, but also even within more liberal countries. Indeed, though from the outside one would largely classify Europe and North America as having a pro-gay climate, when one examines the legal rights and reality on the ground in many such countries, it remains quite varied. Nonetheless, there can be no denying that there is a greater acceptance of various sexual orientations and family structures in those parts of the world than in others such as Africa and the Caribbean.

Having recently implemented more stringent anti-gay legislation, the African country of Uganda this week defended its stance by rejecting sexual orientation as a fundamental human right as defined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This, despite the fact that this treaty is normally accepted as the standard for all member states of the United Nations.

Since Uganda passed the laws last month, several international donors have suspended aid funding to that country, a move the Ugandan president labelled as “bullying”. It brings to mind the comments made not too long ago by UK Prime Minister Cameron and US President Obama, which indicated that their governments would likely review its aid commitments to those countries which discriminated against persons based on sexual orientation. They too sparked accusations of trying to force their belief system down the throats of other countries with different cultures and values.

Face off

So where does national sovereignty stand in all this? Certainly, it must raise a country’s metaphorical hackles to have another appear to be wielding a big stick to ensure conformity, especially in a world where developing countries can find that whenever they appear to be catching up, the goal post is moved yet again. Indeed, as it relates to human rights, many of the laws that these countries are now being criticised for were inherited from a former coloniser, who having changed its outlook, seems to expect all others to fall in line forthwith.

But again, he who pays the piper calls the tune. Therefore, if developing countries are reliant on aid from more advanced countries, it cannot be altogether surprising when the latter group use this leverage to bring others over to their way of thinking.

We can only hope that the big stick approach does not have the negative effect of driving countries away from international fora which may be dominated by Western culture, resulting in a further splintering of the globe along hard and fast ideological lines. In this year 2014, A.D., conflict remains a feature of human civilisation, both within and without national boundaries. The current system is far from perfect, but it has come a long way. We hope to see it continue to evolve in a positive direction.

No comments:

Post a Comment