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Counter-Hegemonic International Law: Rethinking Human Rights and Development as a Third World Strategy

Initially the term ‘Third World’ would refer to countries with high rate of poverty or simply, countries which are underdeveloped. However, this definition has changed over time especially due to changes taking place in world politics and in the structure of international law. The latter has been pointed to influence Third World in several ways especially because of its hegemonic and counter-hegemonic nature. To examine how the structure of international law has influenced Third World, there are two important aspects which need critical analysis-human rights and development. Human Right Discourse

The ‘Third World’ was under pressure from colonialists and this had significant effect on international laws especially because the situation reinforced imperial history on politics especially in 1970s. The politics that revolved around human rights discourse contributed to concurrent use of hegemonic and counter-hegemonic international law. Some organisations relied on human rights discourse to form laws; for instance, the United Nations (UN) interventions on humanitarians had hegemonic law. During the Cold War, the UN had hegemonic law on military interventions which was against the military use in bid to protect human rights. Some of the examples which can be given on this note include; the Tanzania’s (a member of UN) intervention in Idi Amin’s government in 1979 and the action against military use in East Pakistan by the Indian government.

The aspect of counter-hegemonic in human rights discourse was seen in countries which instead of cooperating opted to resist for example by forming movements to deal with war. In other worlds, instead of anti-war protests, a country may have opted to engage itself in war. Iraq for instance opted to legalised war against its enemies in the struggle for human rights; human rights group from the Western condemned this move by Iraq. In early 2003, the world protested against the war but because by this time many leaders from different countries had given in to Iraq move, the international law faced a major political struggle and at this point, counter-hegemonic effect on international law could be felt.

Development discourse

When international relations began spreading, Third World coalitions started forming with main objective being to support each other in development strategies; the decision was based on hegemonic law. As a result, organizations such as World Trade Organization (WTO), Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), and the G-77 were formed where member countries expected to have few barriers in relating with other nations especially on matters of economic developments. These organizations were run on international laws rather than laws from a particular member country; this move was meant to promote cohesiveness by avoiding biases. With such developments in the formation of international law, the initial meaning of ‘Third World’ was gradually lost. ‘The mention of the term ‘Third World’ was at first related to ‘backwardness’ nature especially in matters of economy, social, and political setting; but with the formation of organizations which were meant to bring development, this meaning was destabilised.

The formation of organizations led making of international laws which due to diversity of culture of member states faced a lot of politics. As a result, the move which was meant to bring countries together become rather complex and later on caused major challenges to international law. This complexity was mainly brought about by resistance, allure, exploitation, and co-optation from some member countries. Globalisation was cited as the main causative factor of the challenges that faced international laws. Influence of developed countries especially the USA was greatly felt especially on global matters such as the ‘war on terror’. This situation presented the international laws with uncertainties on whether the laws will be hegemonic or counter-hegemonic.

The discourse of development encompassed the fight for human rights, concentration on environmental sustainability by dealing with vices such as corruption, alleviation of poverty, respect for rule of law and the fight for democracy. The concentration on these development ideas by the ‘Third World’ impacted on the reformulation of international law and it also strengthened hegemonic function of the law. While hegemonic power suggests that development can only be felt if colonialism is dealt with, there are countries which felt that their colonialist have a major stake towards their development. Other small states felt that cooperating with larger states will help them grow especially economically. This way, the nature of hegemonic and counter-hegemonic discourses could be identified.