April 26 1999

These days, people routinely talk about the relationship between national sovereignty and human rights. That is because there is a rising level of world intervention against regimes oppressing their people. Basically, what is happening is that the concepts of territorial integrity and political sovereignty are now given second place to human rights considerations.
As the world moves into the 21st century, the rules of the game are changing. It will be noted that following World War II, the victorious nations sanctified an old concept – the integrity of the nation state. Relations between nations were the cornerstone of the United Nations system. A nation could not attack another, and if did, the world community would have the right to exact punishment. But a nation was more or less free to treat its own citizens as it wanted.
Today, that is changing. A new concept is taking over, and we can call it the integrity of the individual. What this means is that a nation is no longer free to treat its own citizens, or any other human being, as it wants. There are now rules to safeguard human rights.
This development – and a new attitude in the way we collectively manage our affairs – reflects a certain level of maturity and growth on our part as human beings. Countries of the world have a moral right to stop ruthless leaders when they suppress their own people. There is no reason to find excuses in the name of territorial integrity and national sovereignty to protect repressive dictators.
Another point often presented to shield dictators concerns who in the world community has the right to exact the punishment. Preferably, this should be done on a collective basis. But if that does not work, there is no reason why a solid bloc of humanity cannot act. This is the case with the NATO action against Serbia today. Yes, it is American-led. So what? After all, human rights are the business of everybody, and repressive regimes better watch out!
I believe that as humanity evolves and matures even further, we shall come to a time when the world works on the basis of the integrity of life as a cornerstone to our civilization. In other words, the world community would have the right to stop nations and regimes that engage in destruction of the environment, in chemical warfare, in senseless deforestation, or other forms of destruction.
These are important milestones in the maturity and growth of humanity.