Human Rights Without Borders

Chacon, Christian Gonzalez | January 30, 2024

In the current global context, millions of people are forced to migrate yearly for reasons ranging from persecution and violence, internal armed conflicts, and forced displacement, to lack of employment and climate change. In the Americas, we recently witnessed the phenomenon of the “migrant caravans,” where thousands of people, mostly from the Northern Triangle of Central America—El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala— were willing to walk hundreds of miles to enter the U.S.-Mexico border to escape poverty and violence in their countries. Another caravan of close to 10,000 migrants from the Northern Triangle of Central America including Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, as well as Venezuela, Haiti, and other countries, formed in Mexico in 2022 with the goal of entering the United States. The deteriorating political and economic situation in Venezuela over the past few decades has produced a humanitarian crisis in migration. There are currently at least six million Venezuelan migrants and refugees globally.

The extent and inhumanity of irregular migration is the symbol—and consequence—of the failure of the human rights project as a mechanism to guarantee global justice. There is an abyssal line that divides communities of rights and systems of oppression when it is not possible for migrants to move freely from one place to another.

International experts and scholars have suggested that the solution to dehumanization at the borders is a human rights-based approach to migration and border governance that ensures respect for migrants’ rights. This, however, sorely lacks the backing of hard law. Hence, in the context of migration, we hear repeatedly of “humanitarianism,” suggesting that our treatment of the other at the border is oriented by kindness and humanity, not legal mandate or duty.

This paper shall argue that the humanitarian discourse hides the fact that the core of the migration problem is that rights are linked to nationality and not to humanity. Rights are “trump cards held by individuals” that should be respected by the nation state of which one is a citizen or to which one belongs. Human rights fails to realize the ideal of universal justice because they naturalize the border, the Nation State, and sovereignty. In brief, we live in a context of human rights that seek to guarantee peace through the division and separation that sovereignty bestows, rather than through the construction of a global community of rights. I shall argue that we need to revitalize human rights as a project of global justice without borders. To do this, the community of human rights scholars must rethink the relationship of rights to the Nation State and move beyond its imagined and confined community.

If human rights seek to be a true project of global justice without borders, it needs to rethink the foundation of rights and head toward a foundation linked more to capabilities, harmony, and sustainability. Rights should be conferred on individuals not based on their nationality, but on their capabilities to flourish. Further, rights are not dependent merely on autonomy or sovereignty, they have a basis in a global community that seeks to restore peace and harmony between living beings. Rights serve the dual purpose of protecting us from the State while also fostering positive connections with other individuals.