Global administration is a complex discipline because of the varied societies existing in the world characterized and defined by distinct peculiarities of values, cultures, and traditions. Currently, the core of international administration is states or countries. These units are responsible for the governance and well-being of their respective populace and have the authority to determine the policies that they deem best to serve their societies. The policies extend to political, social, and economic governance. One of the most crucial aspects of legitimate state governance today has become the policy challenges of upholding and enforcing civil and political human rights. This paper will look into the characteristics of a legitimate government in the context of upholding human rights as a policy decision, how these characteristics influence and are influenced by a free press, environmental rights and LGBTQI rights, as well as the impact inclusivity and minority rights have on the legitimacy of governance.
Part 1: Characteristics of Legitimate Government
A state is an autonomous entity formulated from within a society with the task of administrating and governing its people . States come into existence when they exert sovereignty, especially territorial sovereignty. A legitimate government caters to safeguarding the rights of its people i.e. their basic human rights. Governance based on rights is ideal because it addresses the interests of the entire populace including the diverse communities comprised therein. Inclusiveness in all aspects will reduce conflict and promote peaceful interrelations between citizens. If the obligations of the state are founded on rights, it can balance both aspects of its responsibility.
The legitimacy of states is characterized by the act of governance i.e. providing and developing various forms of security and stability – territorial integrity, economic and political stability, and cultural security. It also requires citizenship, achieved when individuals identify with the state, and the state, in turn, recognizes the individual as a member . These are imperative because they are the building blocks of a functional society. States can meet these obligations by protecting corresponding human rights, such as protecting human life, flow of information, optimizing use of economic resources, and identifying security threats emerging from abuse of power including militancy and crime. Protecting human rights impacts security, economy, and culture. Territorial as well as political stability has to include a free press to ensure citizens have access to information, allowing citizens to make informed decisions and cooperate with the state in times of emergency. Economic stability must go hand in hand with environmental rights, allowing citizens equal access to resources and giving them the opportunity to contribute to economic growth. Cultural security must be inclusive of the rights of minorities for existence of a peaceful and cohesive society. Thus, governance is the basis of legitimate sovereignty.
Although sovereign, states operate under certain constraints, both domestically and internationally per the Westphalian order. They must respect each other’s sovereignty through non-intervention in the affairs of other countries. Any intervention not permitted under international law or through the United Nations will invite economic and political sanctions. Simultaneously, states must abide by international legal norms, namely, recognizing civil and political human rights. Domestically, the states are constrained by established constitutional or monarchial norms, religious and cultural traditions, lobbies and pressure groups for human rights, and a free press. Human rights are imperative because they constrain state power and provide accountability.
In order to function as a legitimate governance apparatus, the state must meet specific normative requirements, both internationally and domestically . Internationally, the states must garner recognition from the international community. They can also obtain membership in international decision-making bodies, such as the United Nations. Domestically, governments can only seize power through recognized channels – elections in a democracy, hereditary inheritance in a monarchy, or transfer of power because people consider these channels as a manifestation of their idea of state.
The best measure for a good legitimate government is the quality of its governance. Good legitimate governments recognize reciprocity with citizens and work to forward their interests, most notably socio-economic interests. Upholding human rights is a critical pillar of good governance because it ensures that the state is acting in the best interests of its citizens while maintaining a balance between the rights of the diverse competing communities comprising the state’s citizenry .
Part 2: A Free Press
Freedom of the press is a fundamental requirement for good governance, and thus, for legitimate authority of state. The proponents of free press recognize the benefits of freedom of expression. This right ensures transparency in governance, a constraint on abuse of power, and checks to further enforcement of human rights. The fulfillment of this right prevents discrimination and misuse of authority, and contributes significantly to communicating the people’s interests to authorities of the state . Meanwhile, denying this right means that people are less informed about the effects of state’s actions and policies, e.g. economic opportunities, disenfranchisement, political oppression, healthcare, etc.
Addressing the rights of a free press can be challenging for the state for many reasons. First, the state has to ensure that all individuals are given this right equally, and not just to one dominant community, especially where the citizenry is diverse because various communities have different interests that must be represented and held accountable. Second, the state has to refrain from censorship, mainly in matters relating to national security because censorship will impact the free flow of information regarding action by the state and undermine accountability thereof . Third, the state must also ensure that freedom of press cannot be weaponized for the purposes of propaganda or misleading its citizens because it can undermine the sovereignty of the state and compromise legitimate governance structures, such as free and fair elections. Most importantly, the state has to ensure that freedom of press is not stifled to allow vibrant discourse, even if it is dominated by the dissent.
These competing interests can be balanced through domestic policy. Policies should advocate independence to ensure representation of all people and their diverse interests, a free and transparent flow of information between the press and the state to give access to people about decisions of the state affecting their interests, and ethical accountability for misinformation to safeguard the trust people put in the sources of information. Further, policies should provide judicial redress for violations, such as defamation and censorship to prevent abuse of rights against a particular person or community . Finally, the government should allow access to information, which no longer has national security implications and participates in material disclosure.
Human rights, including freedom of the press are not universal, and their application varies from one state to another. A free press is critical to a legitimate governance model because it communicates security concerns of the citizenry to the state and communicates the actions of the state to the people. Although a free press is beneficial, it can also do inadvertent damage, for instance, revealing sensitive intelligence that compromises national security or impacts diplomatic relations, undermining the state’s security obligation. The state may legitimately deny this freedom, temporarily or topically, in conflict areas where dissent may devolve into violence or anarchy, such as in Syria (Chapter 3, p. 11). The denial is necessary for the state to execute its core function of security and stability. However, in an ideal state, there is no legitimate reason to deny this right in its entirety on a permanent basis.
Part 3: Environment Rights
Climate change has emerged as an urgent threat facing human existence around the world. Recently, states have had to contend with environmental rights. Their citizens are asking them to guarantee pollution-free air and water, as well as renewable energy. States also have to contend with wildlife conservation, environment protection, and sustainable development claims. People want their governments to take concrete steps tackling climate change, environmental degradation, and resource scarcity. The fulfillment or denial of these rights has a direct impact on human existence and quality of livelihood, as well as on economic progress.
There are economic and political policy challenges in addressing environment rights claims. First, environmental policies are not commercially feasible because they are resource-intensive despite having limited production capacity. Second, the currently available technology is either inefficient or incapable of effectuating the policies. Third, these policies might be politically unfeasible due to the different economic realities and the inequality in the global economy .
States have to balance these claims with their obligation to provide economic stability. The claims can be balanced by incorporating environmental rights in daily use as ethical sacrifices, for example, removing plastic bags from circulation, water conservation, car-pooling, etc. . This will move markets to adopt sustainable, green technology as a result of consumer trends rather than legal force, and augment economic stability. The industry can be mandated to develop technology to ensure economic and technical feasibility. International consensus-building can ensure preservation of sustainable international trade.
The denial of environmental rights, in part or in full, is no longer plausible because of the urgency of the matter. Legitimate governance will require states to protect their environmental resources, to prevent future scarcity, and secure long-term economic stability. There may be legitimate reasons – no technical know-how, high cost of implementation, and lack of resources – to deny these rights in part depending on the resources available to different nation-states (Chapter 3, p. 12). However, there are no concrete reasons to deny these rights in their entirety on a permanent basis.
Part 4: LGBTQI Rights
LGBTQI rights are a set of rights related to sexual identity, and the claims for these rights are made against sexual oppression. The claims are exceedingly personal in their enforcement and find origin in rights of personal autonomy as well as human dignity. However, these are some of the most controversial and contested rights to date because parts of society are unwilling to accept these rights on religious or cultural pretexts.
Fulfillment of the claims will ensure that LGBTQI individuals are given equal civil and political rights ensuring their personal autonomy and human dignity. It will prevent discrimination against these individuals (Chapter 3, p. 2). It will also entail a restructuring of the social fabric because current customs and traditions will have to be overturned. Denial of these claims, on the other hand, will result in denials of basic personal autonomy and human dignity to a minority community. It will also subject these individuals to unequal treatment and social alienation, thereby impacting their livelihood irreparably.
Policy challenges posed in addressing these rights include social integration challenges as the state has to ensure the rights are respected by other individuals. Second, the state has to ensure that dissent to these claims does not evolve into discrimination or oppression of a minority resulting in their abuse and depredation. Third, the state must also combat discrimination against LGBTQI individuals by other citizens. Fourth, the state must balance the rights of other citizens – cultural, religious, and traditional – with LGBTQI rights so that neither community feels their rights are infringed.
Legitimate governance must be inclusive to maintain harmony among diverse social groups and provide a cohesive society (Chapter 3, p. 3). Governments can balance competing claims by spreading awareness of their origins and ensuring informed discourse about them to prevent prejudice and increase cooperation. They can also advocate for the importance of personal autonomy as a human rights imperative, which validates LGBTQI rights. Judicial remedy and intervention can also be sought to provide sound legal sanction to these rights. As a matter of policy, governments should take a stance of non-intervention in personal matters while advocating autonomy to propel society toward acceptance (Chapter 3, p. 7). All these steps must be taken gradually to allow time for the society to adjust and minimize social backlash.
Cultural inclusiveness, as an aspect of legitimate governance, can be ensured by providing all communities with equal rights, such as dignity and personal autonomy. LGBTQI rights directly affect human livelihood and dignity, and these rights should be granted in full. However, there may be instances where societies entrenched in their cultures are so resistant to change that fulfilling these rights might cause civil strife, for example, theocratic states, such as Saudi Arabia (Chapter 3, p. 10). Thus, denying these rights, though unfair and morally wrong, might be legitimized because of the social discord their instant fulfillment could cause.
Part 5: Conclusion
Hence, the paper discussed the characteristics of legitimate governance and the importance of upholding human rights as a critical aspect of good governance, especially with regard to free press, environmental rights, and LGBTQI rights. Governance is legitimate when it garners international recognition as an authority of a sovereign state, and when that authority is established based on accepted domestic norms. The rights of minorities are equally important as rights of major population. To do so, states balance competing interests while designing their policies. This is achieved through open debate and inclusive participation where claims for rights can be discussed to arrive at outcomes based on common consensus. These outcomes appeal to a large part of the citizenry and can yield fruitful policy changes. Open debate and inclusive participation are, therefore, fundamental to the sovereignty of a state, and the successful upholding of human rights are a matter of policy.