Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Human Rights – All Humans’ Righteous Battle
In a perfect world, the comprehensive range of human rights would be a universal standard with widespread acceptance. However, in today’s imperfect global society, compliance with human rights norms must be championed, monitored, protected, refined and adjudicated every day in generally recognized autocratic states as well as democratic ones.
Throughout modern history, societies have attempted to define human rights principles, which were meant to guide humans’ relationships with their peers – individually and collectively. Among these documents have been the Magna Carta (1215), the US Bill of Rights (1791), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and the Final Act of the Helsinki Accords (1975).
The periodic re-publication, refinement, reemphasis and expansion of accepted human rights values does not indicate a flawed original attempt at delineating human rights but rather demonstrates mankind’s evolution, the appearance of new needs, as well as continuing violations of human rights.
“Whereas, recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,” states the Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Human rights principles not only dictate mankind’s one-on-one conduct with other humans as well as governments’ conduct with their citizens, but they also serve as a reminder of the horrors mankind has perpetrated against its fellow humans. In recent history, the fight for human rights was a direct reaction against horrible crimes such as the Holodomor murder of Ukrainians by Russia and the Holocaust killings of Jews by Nazis while the battle for those principles continues to be an endless universal endeavor.
Over time human rights have been expanded to include concepts such as national, religious, cultural, academic and civil rights.
Karel Vasak, initial contributor to the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and former legal advisor to UNESCO, alluded to the expanding notion of human rights by noting: “Since 1948 we have drawn up other human rights, we haven’t just stayed in 1948, there are other human rights, the right to development, the right to the environment, the right to peace and the right to humanitarian assistance.”
Indeed, promoting human rights also means defending the right to think differently, the rights of women, the right to peace, security, health, education, media, Internet, untainted ecology and gender. This unexhausted list dovetails aptly with President Roosevelt’s vision of four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear – including the fear of being invaded by a neighboring superpower or being shot intentionally or unintentionally by a police officer, and freedom from unwarranted arrest, kidnapping and imprisonment as happened with Nadiya Savchenko.Roosevelt’s words inspired Ukrainian Americans to establish in 1946 the Organization for the Defense of Four Freedom for Ukraine to explain to Americans the battle for independence being waged by Ukrainians in Ukraine and the Diaspora.
Adherence to human rights creates a level playing field for everyone to enjoy a life of dignity and rights. “The approach bolsters accountability by clarifying the duties and responsibilities of governments, donor countries and non-governmental organizations regarding action taken or committed,” observed Navanethem Pillay, former UN high Commissioner for Human Rights. She also said several international human rights instruments even categorize health as a human right that must be pursued in tandem with all other human rights.
Kenneth Roth, a former federal prosecutor and executive director of Human Rights Watch, updated this observation in his comment in the December 28 edition of The New York Times by saying, “Treaties are effective even when courts are too weak to enforce them because they codify a public’s views about how its government should behave. Local rights groups, working with their international partners like Human Rights Watch, are able to generate pressure to respect these treaties by contrasting a government’s treaty commitments with any practices that fall short. The shame generated can be a powerful inducement to change.”
Arguing against needless attention to human rights, some have said that they cannot be precisely sculpted in the human mind or legal statutes. Despite this mistaken observation, they are recognizable. To paraphrase US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s observation about obscenity in 1964, we all know what human rights are when we see, hear, speak, abuse or defend them.
The backbone of the fight for human rights is civil society or non-governmental organizations. Simone Veil, former Minister of State of France, pointed out in a speech at the 61st Annual UN DPI/NGO Conference that “NGOs have a vocation to focus attention upon those whose rights are insufficiently protected. Because of their diversity, because of their independence, it is easier for them to defend different points of view, different interests even when those points of view are contradictory.”
Indeed, before the collapse of the Soviet Union, rights activists in Ukraine, Russia and elsewhere took advantage of the tenets of the Final Act of the Helsinki Accords to raise their fight for freedom to a global legal level.
Apart from international human rights covenants, the practical guarantor of the entire range of rights that men and women should enjoy is the national government. However, when citizens and civil society give up on their governments and cease making their voices heard, democracy and human rights are sacrificed for the benefit of the ruling elite. Semper vigilant is the all-important watchword.
Some governments, even those that preach human rights, have unfortunately violated them but the righteous ones endeavor to correct their transgressions. At least they encourage an uninhibited public discussion of the wrongdoings that condemn or exonerate the participants.
Others, despotic regimes, talk about human rights but habitually violate them and deny freedoms to all perceived enemies, including civil society, women, press, intellectuals, faithful, LGBT and others.
To reach the highest level of human rights acceptance, society should engage in a lifelong educational process that must begin with the youngest of its members in the earliest years of education. It has been said that this form of human rights inculcation will fulfill humanity’s aspiration to attain universal human rights compliance.