Importance of Universal Human Rights

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In recent months, especially surrounding situations like those in Syria, but also just in the understandings of what is going on to some of the less fortunate here at home (the United States), we should have come to realize how important human rights are, and work towards achieving equality among the human societies and societal classes. Actually, perhaps not “classes”, that idea is a seed of inequality, and in societies that strive for equality should probably be abolished.

Today, October 16th, is the 2013 Blog Action Day. The theme is human rights. I’ve chosen to spend this time reflecting on a few aspects of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drawing on an understanding of them attained not only through my life’s experiences, but also being a Peace Studies major, where I have looked at this document in the past.

This document outlines what is the ideal minimum, but by no means the level at which every nation should rest, for human rights that across all nations would recognize and respect the individual. The first article asks us to treat everyone with “a spirit of brotherhood”. All things that fall under that taken into consideration, what a different international (much less local urban) landscape we would have if everyone followed this as a central tenet of human society. “War” may indeed be a term never created if we held to this. Even if it had been, everything would have the air of civil war, which while as terrible (if not more so), at least would stick us to the feeling of unity that a nation currently holds, except this would be planet-wide.

Discrimination is perhaps the worst kind of offense anyone can exert on one of their human brothers and sisters. In the U.S. we still see traces of what was more explicit before the Civil Rights Movement, so no wonder some of the other countries of Earth still discriminate. Why change if arguably one of the most powerful nations hasn’t fully abolished the practice. All humans have the rights to the protections in the articles of this document, and nothing is supposed to take them away. This includes, but expands well beyond, the basic right to free life, liberty, and security.

Where this document covers torture, recognition as people before the law’s equal protection, and the right of people to not be subjected to arbitrary judgement in connection to arrest, detention, or exile we see stark parallels to especially the Syrian situation. But, too, are there parallels to the way that the world powers, like the U.S., China, and such, have historically treated criminals and those captured within wars. The entire U.S. legal and detention system has some built-in aspects that go against these human rights. Simply reforming the systems here and elsewhere aren’t enough, we must change our societal beliefs through a few generations before we can fully rid our national systems of its inhumane aspects.

Article 12 says that all humans have the right to not receive arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence and that attacks on their honor are likewise protected against. This is a human right that has, albeit silently, been discussed as of late in the U.S., just think of Edward Snowden. What the underlying question is comes from needing to determine where to draw the line between protecting the public and infringing on their human rights. Our population is large enough that perhaps losing a few people to attacks is worth keeping our privacy, but that statement is itself not following some of the other human rights of this document and thus not a complete solution. We must find the balance that will let us truly have privacy while also protecting our right to life.

Articles 18 and 19 cover the right to free expression of thought, conscience, opinion, and the like. We hold to that in the U.S. in words, but everywhere we find the promise broken over and over again. How will we ever pull off changes to anything without the recognition that each person is an individual with their own ideas that, when brought together, will further society? These rights center us on the heart of furthering our global thought. The nations coexist because they each think differently but can, at a low level, agree that such differences are not to be squashed. Yet they are, and we’ve seen this our whole lives.

Reading through the document, as a U.S. citizen, you will find many parallels to the constitution and its amendments. Yet I’ve already given examples of some elements that are not present in the constitution, or if they are then they are not being honored. One thing that would be necessary for these rights to truly become universal is for every nation to found its constitution as an outgrowth of this document, such that all 30 articles form the first 30 articles of all nations’ constitutions. All that changes between nations are the details that are country-specific and cannot be universal, but that will not go against this document.

This leads me to another general point regarding this document. The document was adopted in December 1948, but even my generation cannot hope to fully integrate it. To create a standard of human rights, where Syria, the U.S., China, and all other nations hold to we will have to wait for all the remnants of the old way of doing things to rot out of our societies. That being said, we must strive for truly embodying these universal human rights everywhere.

Indeed that is what we would hope the uproar on the basic topic of human rights does. Today should be a call to action, at every level doing whatever you have the power to do, to create an equal global society. It isn’t hard to nudge the issue, and it isn’t something that will change the lives of the majority of you who are reading this significantly. But it is something that we must work on. Throughout the day you should aim to read through as many of the human rights-themed blog posts across the web as you can, and from the global discussion decide on how you personally will work in whatever it is you do to equal out every person in their place at our global household following this document’s guidelines. I welcome continued discussion on these comments of mine in the comments area of this blog post. After all, Blog Action Day only starts with those writing posts, but it gets carried forward by the multitude of readers (and us authors) that discuss and act upon the words written today long after the day ends.

Discussion