This 10th December is Human Right’s Day – marking the date when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted in 1948. It’s often been said that many of us take our rights and freedoms for granted. The term “human rights” has become a bit of a “buzz word” amongst the kind of people who love to add their comments to Daily Mail articles or on Facebook articles: “Oh not the EU and human rights!” What springs to their mind is: “terrorist extremists sponging of the state along with their families” or “we’re bending over backwards for minorities”.
Well that’s not what human rights are. Human rights offer us safety, freedom and protection. Here’s ten reasons why we NEED human rights legislation, courts, lawyers and campaigners. Of course, there are hundreds of thousands of reasons and cases but here’s a few to get us going (in no particular order).
1. Slavery, human trafficking and sexual exploitation
Forced labour, imprisonment, prostitution and human trafficking are grave issues. Slavery may have already been abolished but it’s still going on today – WORLDWIDE. According to the West Midland’s Police (UK):
Human trafficking is the most profitable crime in the world, second only to drugs. It is also a growing crime in the UK with victims exploited in four main ways – forced labour, sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and benefit fraud.
One recent new story is of Karla Jacinto – a victim of human trafficking who was lured away at the age of 12, having already been subjected to sexual abuse since the age of five by a family member. Karla was forced to work as a prostitute in Mexico and was eventually rescued by police in 2008 as part their anti-trafficking work. She confesses she was raped 43, 200 times. The horror is unimaginable.
2. Violations against freedom of speech, expression, assembly and association
lmagine living in a country where you’re unable to express your own personal and political beliefs, unable to go on peaceful demonstrations, unable to “hold an opinion”… No protesting the Syrian war, no protesting benefit cuts, no having your say… Worldwide, it’s happening – China, Venezuela, Crimea, the USA even… Take Venezuela as an example – 2014 was quoted as being “the worst year for freedom of expression” with 350 cases and 579 violations (the highest figure in 20 years) affecting journalists and those working in the media as well as members of NGOs, human rights activists and civilians:
As far as the attacks and threats against journalists and photo journalists went, the report indicated that the majority came while covering public protests. These acts of aggression included beatings, pellet shots, tear gas attacks, detainments, the confiscation of cameras and cellphones, the destruction of audiovisual and photographic material, and intimidation.
This is not an unfamiliar site if you switch on the TV news and do some research.
3. Torture, arbitrary arrest, detention or exile and restrictions against freedom of movement within and outside your own country
Following online and offline activism – peaceful protests, blogging online, newspaper journalism, political activism – human rights defenders and regime opponents or those simply in the wrong place at the wrong time could end up being locked up and subject to torture (physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual abuse/neglect) including sexual assault and malnutrition. There’s also the case of those who are never brought to trial – whether guilty or innocent of their supposed crime(s).
Let’s take Guantanamo Bay as an example. May inmates have even never been taken to trial, are subject to torture and continue to protest their innocence. The latest news story was that of Shakeer Aamer. Shakeer was imprisoned in Guantanamo for 14 years without trial and subject to torture. Shakeer always protested his innocence – he was detained when working in Afghanistan for an Islamic charity. He was recently able to return home to the UK to be with his family. For the first time in his life he was able to meet his youngest son – aged 14.
4. Asylum seekers
You’re fleeing religious or political persecution, torture and death, war, genocide – no safety, no peace, no security, no home… You’re a political opponent, a victim of war, a persecuted minority… British Red Cross figures from 2014 state that 52% of the worlds refugees come from four countries – with the numbers of people per country as following:
- Syria:3 million
- Afghanistan:7 million
- Somalia:1 million
- South Sudan:508,000
The conflict in Syria has been and continues to be devastating, as in various other countries with ongoing conflict. Some asylum seekers however flee their countries for fear of their life due to political oppression. There are many stories – for example that of Berthe Patricia Nganga from Congo Brazzaville who fled her country in 2003 and was granted leave to remain in the UK in 2011. Berthe and her family were subject to political persecution.
“[…] being an asylum seeker is not an easy life. I was a paediatric nurse in Congo Brazzaville, working in the local hospital and in my mother’s chemist. She was killed by the government because she didn’t support them. Then in 1998, my husband fled the country, because he was part of the opposition party too. […]People were after me […] so I had to get away.”
Once a refugee arrives in a host country, they can legally apply for asylum. Whilst seeking asylum, you cannot work but you are not “illegal” or undocumented (see further asylum seeker myths here). There are many more cases. Those at risk and in danger deserve a safe home. #refugeeswelcome
5. Discrimination and unequal protection before the law
Restrictions of any humans rights based upon race, ethnicity, religion, etc. include:
- The situation of the Roma and their (lack of) rights and provisions regarding housing and education in Romania.
- The rights of the Rohingya in Myanmar and their lack of citizenship as just one example.
6. Violations to the right to privacy
There’s been a lot of concern concerning government “snooping” and anti-terrorist measures. Recently, an EU court declared that The National Security Agency is “violating the privacy rights of millions of Europeans”.
7. Divided families
At this very moment across the UK, Europe and worldwide, (potential) husbands, wives, mothers, fathers and children are separated – with their right to marriage and family life violated – due to visa restrictions. They are Divided families – Skype families. There’s an array of families who are divided due to financial restrictions. In the UK for example you need to earn minimum £18,600 (excluding added “fees” per each child) to be eligible to sponsor your spouse to come to the UK. Third party sponsors are not permitted and property and job status are not taken into consideration (there are exemptions however if you are a carer or disabled). For many, marriage is the odd holiday the couple can afford, text messages, phone calls and Facebook, Skype and What’s App time. Many children are separated from their mommy or daddy.
8. Restrictions on religious freedom
Many religious communities worldwide are not free to practice their religion and follow their religious and spiritual beliefs. One example is China’s Muslim minority – the Uighur Muslims in the autonomous region of Xinjiang who have felt the increasing level of religious restrictions. Last Ramadan, government workers, teachers, professors and students were “banned” from fasting and “banquets” were held to “test” if Muslims were fasting or not. Women are also banned from wearing face veils, men are not permitted to have beards and shopkeepers are forced to sell alcohol.
9. Inadequate social provision/recognition of disability
Due to the global economic crisis, government budgets have tightened – including the lowering of social security provisions. There has been a lot of concern concerning welfare provisions in the UK and a series of deaths (including suicide) of vulnerable adults. The UDHR underlines the right to an adequate standard of living and security including food, clothing, social and medical care – outlining cases of unemployment, disability and old age etc. (Article 25). Whilst many countries have no social security systems and/or a lack of care, it has been confirmed by the UN that the UK has violated the rights of disabled citizens. In fact, figures from the UK Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) state that:
Nearly 90 people a month are dying after being declared fit for work.
The figures are truly shocking. The State is obliged to care for and protect its citizens.
10. Child soldiers and child labour
Children should be in school, enjoying their younger years. According to the UDHR, they are entitled in minimum terms to free (compulsory) elementary education (Article 26). Children do not belong in war. Children are being used as spies and suicide bombers in Afghanistan and soldiers in Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic (to name just a few examples). In addition, although the number has decreased, there are 168 million children worldwide working in child labour.
So there we have it – ten of just many reasons why human rights legislation, courts, protocols and campaigners are essential. So, what can you do to help you may ask?
- Sign online petitions, blog, tweet and and right letters (see my article about Amnesty International’s Write to Rights Campaign this month)
- Organise talks and events
- Fundraise and donate to NGOs
- Volunteer your time and skills within NGOs
- Join local and university human rights groups to collaborate together
- Start a career in human rights – become a human rights lawyer, campaigner, fundraiser etc. or you could lend your skills to bodies and organisations through other professional means – translation, interpreting and journalism to name just a few roles.
Research your cause, brainstorm, design your strategy and make a set of goals. Get out there or online and spread the word and raise awareness! Happy campaigning folks!
For information on human rights law see:
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The European Convention of Human Rights
The United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime
Convention on the Rights of the Child
The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict
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