The Right to Life is a Universal Obligation | Daily News
International Human Rights Day - December 10

The Right to Life is a Universal Obligation

The basic notion of human rights lies in people’s recognition of the need to protect and affirm every other person’s individual dignity. Human rights are important. Human rights are basic to humanity. Human Rights Day is observed every year on December 10 — the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

The UDHR is a milestone document that proclaims the inalienable rights which everyone is entitled to as a human being - regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. The Declaration of Human Rights was created largely because of the Holocaust and the horrors of WII. During that time in history, the most vulnerable in society were targeted along with the Jewish population, including those with disabilities and the LGBT community.

When the UDHR was released, it had a two-fold purpose: provide a guideline for the future and force the world to acknowledge that during WWII, human rights had been violated on a massive scale. The general attitude was that nations could do what they liked within their borders and the international community had no basis for intervening or even raising concerns when rights were violated. This is expressed in the term ‘sovereignty’ or the sovereign rights of a state to govern as it pleases. With a standard for what is a human right, Governments can be held accountable for their actions. The UDHR consists of a preamble and 30 articles that set out a broad range of fundamental human rights and freedoms to which all of us, everywhere around the world, are entitled. It guarantees our rights without distinction of nationality, place of residence, gender, national or ethnic origin, religion, language, or any other status.

The existence of the Universal Declaration by itself does not mean that human rights violations do not continue to occur. Some countries are ruled by dictatorships and people are tortured and killed and there is discrimination. Some individuals are victims of poverty, unemployment, ill-health and lack of educational opportunity. Promotion of human rights is achieved through developing awareness, standard setting and interpretation, and importantly creation of independent national institutions. One means of protection is adjudication of cases by fully empowered courts, the main international ones being the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court (which can try individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes).

Everyone needs access to medicine, food and water, clothes, and shelter. By including these in a person’s basic human rights, everyone has a baseline level of dignity. Rights are related to the values that societies live by. These values have their origins in the world’s great religions and philosophies. Value systems can vary in detail between one society and another but the fundamental ideas are similar. Concepts of justice and human dignity are at the heart of these values. Throughout history concepts of ethical behaviour, justice and human dignity have been important in the development of human societies. These include the right to life, the right to a fair trial, freedom from torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the rights to health, education and an adequate standard of living. Globally Governments have a particular responsibility to ensure that people are able to enjoy their rights. They are required to establish and maintain laws and services that enable people to enjoy a life in which their rights are respected and protected. A stable and prosperous state can only be secure if it has a just and efficient administration. Throughout the ancient Arthashastra written centuries ago by Kautilya, few fundamental objectives flow from one to the other: good governance (promotion of the welfare of the subjects) which leads to good economy. Kautilya states that an essential duty of Government is maintaining order; social order as well as police or judicial order is needed to prevent criminal activity.

The concept of human rights allows people to speak up when they experience abuse and corruption. This is why specific rights like the right to assemble are so crucial because no society in our world is perfect. The right to peaceful assembly protects the right of individuals and groups to meet and to engage in peaceful protest. The right to freedom of association protects the right to form and join associations to pursue common goals. Non- violent assemblies can be platforms to advocate for change and for people to raise awareness about the issues that matter to them, whether it is human rights, socio-economic rights, or any other issue. The right to express grievances or aspirations for change through peaceful protest lies at the heart of any democratic society. Globally any form of mob violence or hooliganism during any protest must be condemned. The law should be rapidly and rigidly enforced by the police to mitigate the same, whilst adhering to human rights.

Seeing education as a right means everyone can get access, not just the elite. Every child has a right to education. As Nelson Mandela once said “Education is the most powerful weapon in the world”. Globally thousands of children in remote villages face a magnitude of challenges in going to school. Every child must get the right amount of nutrition and have the peace of mind to study.

The claim that human rights are universal holds that they are the same for everyone because they are inherent in human beings by virtue of all people being human. The protection of human rights involves a complex web of national and international mechanisms to monitor, judge, urge, denounce, and coerce states, as well as to provide relief to victims. Thousands of children have and still are serving as soldiers in armed conflicts around the world. These indoctrinated boys and girls serve armed rebel groups. They may fight on the front lines, participate in suicide missions, and act as spies or lookouts. Girls are forced into sexual slavery.

The refugee situation has become a classic example of the interdependence of the international community. There is a clear relationship between the refugee problem and the issue of human rights. Millions flee from armed conflicts or other crises or violence. Refugees have rights which should be respected prior to, during, and after the process of seeking asylum. All refugees and internally displaced people have the right to receive assistance, the right to protection from abuse and the freedom to seek asylum. According to the UN enforced disappearances is a crime which is generally committed by State agents through abduction and arrest, with victims often held in secret detention. Some are subjected to torture and summary execution, while their fate remains a mystery to family and society. The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance entered into force back in 2010, affirming the right of any victim to know the truth about the circumstances of an enforced disappearance, as well as the fate of the disappeared person.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are integral aspects of our selves and should never lead to discrimination or abuse. LGBT people in many societies are subjected to discrimination. This is a violation, as they are all human beings. Human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch now have campaigns to address LGBT human rights violations. Likewise older persons should be able to enjoy human rights and fundamental freedoms when residing in any shelter or treatment facility, including respect for their dignity, beliefs, needs and privacy. Governments shall also be responsible to create conditions conducive for the elderly to have access to basic amenities of life including appropriate shelter, clothing, sanitation, safe transport and affordable medical treatment. Senior citizens have the right to enjoy their retirement. People with disabilities are also often deprived of their right to live independently, as many are locked up in institutions, shackled, or cycled through the criminal justice system. Many of these human rights abuses are a result of entrenched stigma.

Sexual harassment is where an individual engages in unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature, with the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the individual concerned. It is known to be prevalent in many different types of industry. Any form of harassment in the workplace is a violation of human rights. If you become aware of employment practices that breach human rights, speak out. Recruiting unqualified people through political influence is common in many Asian countries, and is a reflection of their corruption.

Freedom of the media is essential for the protection of all other human rights. Instances of torture, discrimination, corruption or misuse of power many times have come to light because of the work of investigative journalists. Cases of journalists who are deprived of their liberty because of their work continue to occur. Cases of harassment, intimidation, violence against media personnel have been documented globally. Media freedom remains an important part of democratic societies. I conclude with a quote from American civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King “Commit yourself to the noble struggle of human rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country and a finer world to live in”.


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