GP Politics Essay: How far should countries have relations with others whose human rights record is poor?

Let’s start off our 2019 A-Levels Paper 1 Series with this GP Politics essay!

Here at First Class GP, we always find that reviewing and analysing A-Level questions is both insightful and enriching. This is because we can observe how the Cambridge examiners set their questions based on contemporary issues. Thus, it allows us to have greater insight as to the questions they might be setting in the near future.

With this knowledge, our team has prepared a comprehensive list of predictions for the 2020 H1 GP A-Levels.

Human rights is at the forefront amongst many global challenges. This is because human rights can be seen as universal, meaning to say that every person in the world should have the same set of human rights. Violating such human rights is seen as a moral transgression and infringement of the freedoms of mankind.

So, should countries have relations with others who are guilty of violating human rights? On the surface, it doesn’t seem like they should. The universal moral code should be upheld by all countries, thus breaking it should not be tolerated. But, on the other hand, many things will be forgone if countries simply sever ties with others on the sole basis of human rights.

Without a further ado, let’s dive into our First Class Cheat Sheet for this GP Politics Essay!

GP Politics Essay Cheat Sheet: How far should countries have relations with others whose human rights record is poor?

Firstly, let’s argue for the contentious stand that countries should have relations with those who violate human rights.

Point 1: Poor human rights records are not always indicative of a country’s general performance and overall value to another country. In some cases, it may even be economically beneficial to have relations with these countries.

  • China and Russia, two of the major superpowers in contemporary politics, exert immense geopolitical and economic influence over the political landscape despite generally poor human rights records. China’s Belt and Road Initiative, as well as Russia’s projection of power and foreign intervention in the Western Hemisphere, will therefore affect many countries. Severing ties or not cultivating relations on the basis of poor human rights records may be inimical to one’s national interests.

Point 2: Cultivating relations with such countries allows one to alleviate the suffering of those living in abysmal conditions, which is the result of human rights violation. This is further assisted by multilateral agencies/forums.

  • The Cotonou Agreement between the European Union and 78 countries from the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, which has a slew of human rights violations, includes clauses to promote the fight against poverty, eradicate impunity and protect the rights of women. 
  • Major economies like the EU, Canada and USA demand human rights from their trading partner through Free Trade Agreements. Through NAFTA, Canada compels Mexico to practise more robust labour rights if Mexico wants to continue to export freely to Canada.

Then, evaluate one of these points. Specifically, Point 1.

Rebuttal: The successes of these countries in exerting influence/achieving economic prosperity may have been at the expense of human rights.

  • China has conducted ethnic cleansing and mass detainment of the Uighur Muslims to exercise greater grip over the Xinjiang province in view of its significance in the Belt and Road initiative.
  • Throughout history, political assassinations in Russia to silence polemics and rivals, thereby eliminating criticism towards Russian politics and strengthening her image, were common.

Now, we can argue that countries should not have relations with those with poor human rights records.

Point 1: Having relations with such countries causes one to be complicit in the violation of human rights, which may imply legitimisation of such egregious behaviours.

  • The US and Saudi Arabia have cultivated a symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationship ever since 1933. In exchange for oil, the US was willing to overlook and accommodate Saudi Arabia’s flouting of human rights and universal norms. 
  • Saudi Arabia has also become the US’ top weapons customer, as evinced in the 2017 arms deal amounting to $110 billion immediately and $350 billion over the next 10 years.
  • These weapons have been abused to fight proxy wars in Yemen for political power.  This has resulted in indiscriminate killing of civilians. Out of nearly 16000 airstrikes conducted by the Saudi coalition with US weaponry, civilian targets have been killed 30% of the time.

Point 2: Limiting relations and even condemning  human rights violations may act as a leverage to discourage and limit countries from engaging in such acts.

  • The imposition of economic sanctions against North Korea was primarily in response to her withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003 and persistent attempts to expand her nuclear arsenal, which has caused significant problems like poverty and slavery. In theory, the intention of this is to lower North Korea’s propensity to manoeuvre resources towards nuclear proliferation projects and instead focus on her human rights issues.

Similarly, evaluate one of these points. Specifically, Point 2.

Rebuttal: However, this may either backfire and have damaging impacts on the already abysmal conditions.

  • Sanctions against Sudan have been imposed since 1997, yet human rights violations, war crimes, and political incompetence persist, whilst the humanitarian crisis has not been averted. Instead of complying to the sanctions, it has resulted in poor military and economic choices by the Sudanese regime, such as increased expenditure on arms and the increase of conflicts.
  • This has led to astonishingly low levels of expenditure on public health and education, which is about 4% combined. Between 2011 and 2013, there was a major inflation of 65% on fuel and food and contraction of economy at a rate of -11.2%.

If you enjoyed this GP Politics Essay Cheat Sheet on human rights, then feel free to take a look at our other Cheat Sheets, as well as our Instagram page (, where we post content, news, updates and announcements!

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