On Human Rights

Human Rights Essay
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In the present day, we hear a lot about the term Human Rights. These two words have become synonymous with the language of the contemporary world, frequently uttered by our governments and our constitutions, by our political, social, and, very often now, even business leaders, and by celebrities, even at the risk of sounding hypocritical.

Everyone talks about human rights and why they are important and necessary and why they must be upheld and protected and whatnot. I believe most of us, including me, believe in these so-called human rights which are supposed to be inherent in all of us by virtue of us being born humans. The term has become so common now that people often forget it is a fairly recent addition to our day-to-day vocabulary when considering the history of mankind in its entirety.

In this essay, we will delve a little into the concept of human rights. Of course, I cannot address or cover all of it, but I shall try my best to give you a gist of it.

So what exactly are human rights and why are we so obsessed with them today? Well, let me explain.

Human Rights, as we know them today, are generally considered to be certain universal, inalienable, fundamental rights to which every single person is inherently entitled on the simple grounds that that person is a human being, regardless of that person’s ethnic origin, location, religion, language, age, sex, ethnicity, creed, caste, class, or any other form of distinction or division or status. The fact that a person was born a human being is enough to qualify them to possess human rights.

In the modern world governed by international law, human rights are regarded as moral principles and norms that must dictate human behavior universally (everywhere and at any time), equal to all and for all, and the same for every single human being without exception.

And what is the purpose of these moral principles? The purpose is obvious. They are basically in place to ensure that we human beings become more humane in our dealings with our fellow human beings. They aim to promote empathy toward others and they create an obligation on each one of us to respect the fundamental human rights of others.

And such human rights, being, in theory at least, inalienable, irrevocable, and universal cannot just be snatched away by any authority or person according to their own whims and fancies, except unless it is a result of due process of law based on specific circumstances and situations that are treated as exceptions. This is the reason why many countries still maintain the death penalty as a punishment for crimes against humanity, which, of course, is ironic but justifiable in some cases.

The principles of human rights are now a part of several institutions and constitutions across the world and are an integral part of international law that governs the relationship between nations.

The days of invading, conquering, and colonizing, and the two disastrous world wars have at last compelled the human race to come to their senses and take responsibility for their fellow human beings, and protect ourselves from needless, pointless destruction. And we are doing so by attempting to enforce human rights.

Of course, all this is easier said than done. Human rights violations still occur on a daily basis across the world. Exploitation and oppression of the weak by the strong, not just among individuals but even among governments, still exist. Human beings are still suffering due to poverty, or other economic, social, and political reasons, and through other forms of discrimination such as caste and class systems and racism.

All this, I am afraid, will not come to an end anytime soon.

However, in spite of all the chaos and suffering surrounding us, I truly believe that we are currently in one of the most peaceful times in human history, and human rights enforced through international and municipal law have had a huge hand in achieving this.

Sure, many may disagree with me, but one cannot deny the fact that invading and conquering and colonizing are not as rampant or common as they were until just the last century. Countries, governments, leaders, artists, and people, in general, are coming together more than ever before to promote and advocate human rights. International campaigns organized by non-profit organizations, charities, governments, etc., have helped in raising awareness and getting people across the world together to condemn and fight any violations of human rights.

But one cannot help but wonder, is all this enough? Maybe not. That would be the truth. Maybe nothing we do may be enough to completely bring an end to these issues.

So what do human rights really deal with? Are they God-given rights as some thinkers have described them? If yes, then to what extent are they inalienable?

Generally, it is argued that human rights deal with free speech and freedom of expression, the right to education, the right to a fair trial in any land, the prohibition of genocide, protection against enslavement, and protection against any form of discrimination. These are the issues that human rights primarily deal with.

It is also generally agreed upon that the main purpose of human rights should be a minimum requirement to avoid worst-case, extreme, inhumane abuses to protect us from ourselves and to stop us from destroying each other, for, let’s face it, looking at our history and track record such checks and norms as imposed by human rights are absolutely required.

However, unfortunately, the case is not so simple and straightforward. It never is and it never will be.

A lot of the principle aims and even the basic definition of human rights are still being debated, philosophically and otherwise. There still exists a lot of suspicion and skepticism regarding the principles and doctrine of human rights, a lot of debate regarding its content, nature, and justifications, and a lot of uncertainty regarding the term and what it really encompasses, what it prohibits, and promotes, and what, if any, is its general framework.

Although the concept of human rights as we know it today is fairly new, it is not like it never existed before that at all. The concept of human rights, in its vague and undefined form, existed even in the ancient and pre-modern eras, though not exactly in the same way or same meaning or taken as seriously as it is today.

The modern idea of human rights stems from the concept of natural rights that was first expounded during medieval times through the natural law tradition that became widespread and prominent during the European Enlightenment.

The Magna Carta of 1215, which influenced the development of the common law, served as a foundation and example related to human rights and influenced subsequent constitutional documents and charters such as the 1689 English Bill of Rights, and the Scottish Claim of Rights, the 1776 United States Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and the 1789 French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

All these documents and charters laid down and articulated certain universal, fundamental, and inalienable human rights. And through them, a bunch of oppressive actions undertaken by governments or any other authority was declared illegal, and several civil freedom and civil rights that would otherwise be ignored were protected.

The concept of these natural human rights would be further elaborated and expanded in the writings of great thinkers and philosophers such as John Locke, Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui, Francis Hutcheson, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Paine, George Wilhelm Hegel, William Lloyd Garrison, Henry David Thoreau, etc.

Paine’s The Rights of Man and Thoreau’s On the Duty of Civil Disobedience would go on to have a massive influence on subsequent social reformers, leaders, activists, and thinkers such as Mahatma Gandhi and many more.

Several movements undertaken by international and local organizations have managed to accomplish monumental social, political, and economical changes over the course of the 20th century in the name of human rights. Many women’s rights movements have proved extremely successful in achieving for women certain rights, such as the right to vote, which would never have been considered or taken seriously in the preceding centuries.

Labor movements, civil rights movements, independence movements, and movements undertaken by minorities and disenfranchised populations also made great strides in improving the condition of human beings across the world.

Successful labor movements saw significant developments in favor of the often exploited and oppressed laborers, such as allowing them the right to form labor unions and conduct strikes, forbidding and regulating child labor, and improving working conditions, wages, and other benefits.

International NGOs such as the Red Cross and Amnesty International, along with several charters and statutes evoking and protecting human rights, helped to shape and further develop International Humanitarian Law.

Further, the formation of the League of Nations in 1919 (now known as the United Nations), the formation of the International Labor Organization, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, all of which promised to protect and safeguard human rights, further solidified such fundamental rights and forced nations to take them seriously.

Treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) adopted by the UN served to further the cause of human rights. Many such treaties against racial discrimination, discrimination against women, genocide, torture, and for the rights of children and migrant workers, etc., were adopted by the UN over the years.

Needless to say, we have not arrived at a perfect solution yet. And maybe we never will. There are just too many nations with too many different cultures and traditions and religions and beliefs and faiths and ideologies and identities for us to actually and practically achieve a perfect state of absolute peace devoid of any kind of conflict whatsoever that would last for eternity. This task is not only difficult but impossible and unrealistic.

Unfortunately, this is the sad reality we must all come to accept. However, recent history has proved that we have some hope. Although we cannot completely bring an end to human rights violations, we can now at least build upon and further develop and improve upon what we have already managed to achieve with the giant strides we have taken over the course of the past centuries.

Yes, injustice is still rampant. War still exists. Refugee crises still continue. Poverty flourishes. The weak are still often exploited by the strong, the poor by the rich, and women by men. And although we can occasionally look back and pride ourselves on how far we have come in this regard, by no means have we reached a place where we can stop trying and improving upon what we have already accomplished and merely sit back and admire the progress and applaud ourselves and pat ourselves on the back.

If ever we succumb to such temptation, then that progress, which no longer continues to flow but is stagnant, would then become meaningless and pointless. It would serve no purpose and it would have no value. It would be the wasted curse of humanity. Such progress that becomes stagnant would result in our accomplishments of the past years going to waste.

As mentioned earlier in this essay, contrary to what many believe, we are, I believe, living in one of the most peaceful periods in human history. Humanity as a whole has never before contributed and cooperated with each other on such a massive international level for a common cause.

Only together we can achieve relative peace and harmony, and now more than ever before we must quicken our pace to strive toward attaining that ever-elusive goal and ideal of world peace. And although we may never really attain it, it is nevertheless our duty and responsibility to keep trying and striving and moving forward toward that goal, for that is the only way out for us, the only way we can protect ourselves from ourselves.

As dramatic as it may sound, it is absolutely true. This is not the time to delve into our past accomplishments. Now is the time to look forward, move forward, and keep moving forward toward a better future. Now is the time for action.