Book Review — In Search of A Better World: A Human Rights Odyssey

In Search of A Better World: A Human Rights Odyssey by Payam Akhavan is a study of human rights violations in the last few decades. Akhavan is an international lawyer and a professor at McGill University in Montreal. He is a Member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague. He has since played a leading role as a pioneer of international criminal law and global justice, is regarded as a leading scholar and practitioner of international law and human rights, and an important figure in the Iranian human rights movement.

Akhavan was born in Iran and fled with his immediate family to Canada in 1979. He spent his teen years on in Canada. He mentions the problems he had fitting in and common problems kids face growing up in the West. He then tells of his family and friends who were not so lucky and remained in Iran. His uncle was tortured, killed, and left out on the street. Iran moved from an open, capitalist/consumerist country to a strict religious state. Akhavan’s family was persecuted for their Bahai faith and he realized his problems were quite small. He went on and received his Doctor of Jurisprudence from Harvard with a dissertation titled Reducing Genocide to Law: Definition, Meaning, and the Ultimate Crime.

Akhavan starts with his involvement in the prosecuting war criminals in the Bosnia and Herzegovina conflict and the rebirth of the UN’s enforcement of human rights. Several modern genocides are given with a detailed account of the Rwandan conflict. The history of the Hutu and Tutsi grievances are covered in detail. There was also a peacekeeping mission that received little support and remained toothless. Afghanistan’s Taliban and the rise of ISIS are also covered.  These conflicts received much mover coverage and involvement because of its threat to the West.  The pledge of “never again” has been ignored by most of the world. Akhavan has worked to enforce human rights violations around the world and in Iran.

Akhavan waits until he establishes the horrors of modern genocide before he asks a simple question about getting rid of lice. Would anyone oppose ridding the world of lice? It seems like a simple question with an easy answer, but that seems to be the problem. The Hutu referred to the Tutsis in Rwanda as cockroaches. It is a typical tactic in many wars to dehumanize the enemy. The Germans became Huns. In Vietnam it was the gooks. Ragheads and Hadjis are our enemies in our wars the Middle East. It is difficult to convince a person to take another’s life if they are viewed as equals. Make them less than human, insects or vermin, and suddenly it is easier to kill.

In Search of A Better World, part history and part biography, show how much mankind has left to grow. For the most part, the West tends to ignore or not think genocide in a far off country is a good use of resources. While the genocide in Rwanda was being executed, the United States ignored it and concentrated on Haitian refugees landing on American shores. Human Rights only becomes an issue when it lands on your shores. A better world will only come about when we all care about stopping the killing rather than taking sides in the conflict.  A well written and educational book.


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