I wonder how many people truly reflect on human rights. My orientation to the concept started at a very young age, from physical and verbal bullying in the school playground right through into adulthood. At that time I did not fully comprehend what human rights are. For many of us who have experienced human rights violations in any manner, it can get very personal and cause unnecessary pain in a variety of ways.
What are human rights? Britannica.com defines them as "rights that belong to an individual or group of individuals as a consequence of being human." From that we can assume that human rights are everyone`s rights. They can be deemed as basic standards to guide human behaviour towards one another. We are all born free and equal. One very basic human right is the one to life and physical safety. Is this too much to expect in twenty-first century society?
Sadly as we see daily in newspapers and media, on the streets, and with our own personal experiences with human rights violations, this seems the case. I have always asked myself why do the violations persist. What can we do about it? Do we sit back and let it keep happening? Can we resist in some way or fight back against injustice? Human rights are an issue that never seems to go away. Throughout history it has always been an issue.
As humans, we have a choice to do good or harm to one another. Most of us are law abiding citizens, helping one another through life experiences. Moral values may differ in societies, but the core principles of fundamental human rights should be recognised as inherent to all human beings. These are our lives, our choices.
What happens when things go so wrong? When the vulnerable have their rights taken away from them, what are our responsibilities? The haunting images below support Nietzsche having said, “Man is the cruelist animal.”
image courtesy of Food Theft in Sudan
When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle - Edmund Burke
The atrocities of World War 2 (genocide)
image courtesy of holocaustpictures.org
Who cannot be moved by these images? As a humanist it is difficult to understand. To see another suffering, to know that there is true brutality out there still happening now, leads to questioning what can be done. Do we as individuals do nothing? Or can we stand up in some way and declare this will not take place with our consent?
As Steve Biko once said, “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”
Human rights violations usually occur whenever there is conflict between individuals or between groups and societies as a whole. History shows us that. The devastating impact of war, genocide, hunger, famine, hatred, torture, political imprisonment, repression and discrimination are examples of extreme violations of human rights.
Has anything changed since the barbarism acted against humanity during World War 2? The Declaration of Human Rights was established in 1948 as an outcry and a statement that, "This will never happen again." It is freely available to view at this link.
Here's a video pertaining to the Declaration of Human Rights:
The declaration was set up in an effort to achieve universal application of human rights. Since then it has been developed and put into law, binding rights and obligations across the world.
Unfortunately, it appears human rights abuses can and will continue as long as human beings exist. Nonetheless, having this law is certainly better than it not existing. In order to have a greater impact in preventing injustice whether small or on a large scale, we must try to understand the reasons why these things happen and what can be done to put a halt to such violations occurring worldwide in real time.
While it's easy to give in to feelings of cynicism and powerlessness, I believe we must never stop the questioning of anything that appears to go against the inalienable rights of humans. We who have a voice must speak up for those who do not. We cannot do everything as an individual, but we can at least play a small role in some way to help one another, to be truly human.