Tuesday, December 11, 2007

International Human Rights Day

I am remiss for having neglected to post an essay in honor of Human Rights Day, December 10. Better late than never.

The basic framework for international human rights is embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The content of the Declaration was due in large part to Eleanor Roosevelt, who was President Truman's appointee to the United Nations' Commission for Human Rights, which elected her chairman. All UN member states have ratified the Declaration, which is essentially the closest thing to a world constitution. Since all UN member states have chosen to accept the document, they should all respect it.

Much of the Declaration is what one might expect from a human rights' document. It contains provisions on the equality of all citizens, the right to not be a slave, the freedom of religion and freedom of movement.

There are many provisions which the US government is blatantly ignoring in the so-called war on terror, including (but not limited to):

-Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty. (Article 2)

-No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. (Article 5)

-Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law. (Article 8)

-Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him. (Article 10)

-Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence. (Article 11, Section 1)

The US is not the only violator of the Declaration. But it's particularly galling since an American was the driving force behind the document (to say nothing of the fact that such violations are being funded with my tax dollars).

But the main purpose of this essay is to highlight some of the provisions of the Declaration that might not be expected in some quarters but are considered no less fundamental human rights under international law.

Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. (Article 17, Section 1)

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality. (Article 22)

Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests. (Article 23, Sections 3 and 4)

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay. (Article 24)

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. (Article 25, Section 1)

I think it's interesting how the Declaration reflects how the scope of rights and freedoms is viewed differently in different parts of the world. The American tradition is to view rights very narrowly, in a negative sense. Most of the Bill of Rights' amendments begin, "Congress shall pass no law...." The framework of rights in this country is very much based on the individual and is almost exclusively centered around economic considerations. People should thrive or starve exclusively on their own (or by the roulette wheel of private charity).

Rights and freedoms are viewed differently in other parts of the world. People in most other western countries, for example, accept rights and freedoms but also accept the counterbalancing notion of social responsibility and the greater good and a governmental role therein. To take one issue, they generally view universal access to health care not as stealing but as providing a key service to every citizen. They don't view the "right to get sick and die due to lack of access to health care" as a freedom worth having. The framework of rights in most other western countries has more of a balance between economic, social and, in some cases, cultural considerations.

Americans view rights as protection against the oppression of government; the pursuit of happiness means to be left alone. Europeans view rights as protection against the oppression of chance; the pursuit of happiness means being given a real opportunity to do so. People in some parts of the world view rights as the protection against chaos or disorder. Everyone has their own perspective. Every society has their own priorities.

But the Declaration is what all countries have consciously accepted should be the basic framework for rights and freedoms.

1 comment:

Renegade Eye said...

In Minneapolis there is going to be events in its honor.