Political Realism Theory – Human Rights and Criminal Courts Context

The fundamental principle of political realism is the legitimization of the states as an autonomous political unit with minimal external influence. The state’s aspirations take more priority over law and other ethical and moral considerations. The national interests in this context closely relate with political power regarding economic muscle, military, diplomatic, technological and so forth.[1] The principal arguments are that most people who ascribe to the political realism are more wallowed into the power politics and highly disregard the normative judgement. In that regard, a significant question to be answered is if the realists’ primary focus is on state power, can they honor the international practices of human rights and other international justice institutions like criminal courts?

Often quoted Finlayson (2015, p.140),argue that it’s not yet apparent whether realists approach to the international affairs has a defined space. He further points at realism as not conforming to the existing theories but rather critique to what is described as global justice. The realism tends to challenge the status quo of the international institutions and in place looks at a state as being capable of solving its problems. Therefore, political realism is not a variant to the global justice but a critique of it. The common implication is that the strict political realists may have a very sceptical view of the international law justice institutions.[2] Consequently, they may highly disregard genuine commitments to uphold human rights and other international obligations to justice.

The mere fact that some liberal democracies sign and ratify treaties on human rights, it is mainly to preserve their image and international reputation as opposed to a genuine course of action. Therefore, the proclamation to adhere to human rights practices and justice may not substantially lead to their improvement across the globe.[3] There are weak sanctions for non-compliance and the legal obligations set are main lyun-enforceable. One of the significant shortcomings of political realism is that states may keep mum from accusing others regarding human rights and ethical practices for fear of reciprocity in a similar accusation.[4]To guard their interests, the states would not want to adhere to a universal moral code which could fundamentally harm their legitimacy.

Nevertheless, human rights still have a space in the eyes of a political realist. The perspective of political realism being adversarial to human rights is mostly a general view and may not always be the case. In this regard, the realism approach can be harnessed to improve on human rights. It could offer a more dynamic approach to justice.Common ground can be found for the human rights and realism. Smith (2013, p.245) For instance is of the view that the various crimes committed by American forces pose a threat to national security. Therefore, the best solution to promote human rights and democracy would be by protecting the same rights at home. Legal realism also gives an open platform where we can challenge various provisions of international law and justice.

Political Idealism Theory- Human Rights and Criminal courts context

The political idealism seems to take a deviation from political realism. It advocates for improved international relations through the elimination of war, tackling various challenges like inequalities, violence, and hunger and upholding human dignity.[5]The main aim of idealism theory is to create an “ideal” free from multiple evils and defending common moral values and upholding of various international institutions and law. The central question to this consideration is whether this concept still finds a space in the international sphere as a better alternative in enhancing human rights and the various institutions of justice like criminal courts.[6]

The roots of the idealism theory date back way to inter-war years and are mainly attributed to the president Woodrow Wilson and get it the basis of morality.[7] The proponents of idealism argue that if different nations agree to uphold morality in their respective undertakings and relations, then the evils of the world such as war, violence, tyranny among others could be eliminated. Therefore, under idealism politics should be founded on good governance and respect of human rights (both within and overseas), constitution, religious pluralism, and the rule of law as integral.[8]Through aspirations to shared ideals, peace in the world and progress can be achieved. By setting optimum global standards of justice to be adhered to is the first step towards progressing to the best achievable social order. Itis, therefore, a more optimistic approach to solving global issues. The idealists’ further point out the principles of nonviolence should not just be enclosed within the borders of a country, but should preferably extend beyond. This appreciates the need for setting a characteristic justice system such as the international criminal courts. It also points to the balance of power of a state and other international institutions thus welcoming the international bodies on human rights.[9]

The big question is how functional the idealism theory is? For instance, Amartya Sen, in his book The Idea of Justice opines that drawing the picture of a perfectly just society is more of an illusion.[10] The more practice approach according to him is to have a pragmatic approach to identifying any injustice created and focusing on how to fix it. He, therefore, suggests the need for a progressive approach in settling prejudices as opposed to setting standards which are not tenable. Without coercive social relations and considering the nature of human beings the possibility of having a state would be null.[11]

In the context of human rights, to what extent excessive freedom would ruin the legitimacy of a nation? Reaching a collective agreement of what makes a society correctly just, is a subject of discussion. However, the critical thing is to strike a balance between idealism and realism regarding human rights. If idealism alone dominates, there will be a big challenge in achieving the goals of various policies. Similarly, if realism dominates then the huge damage may occur in the realms of normative progress, especially in upholding human rights and commitment to international justice obligations. A balance has to be achieved between the two, to guarantee adherence to human rights. Subsequently, a more stable nation’s political , social and economic environment would be achieved.


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