Written By: Ng Li Wei
“The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”
– John F. Kennedy
When was the last time you had to fight for something you were entitled to? It could be every single day of your life – for the last cookie in the batch, for the amount of allowance you get each week. It is almost ingrained into human nature for us to speak up about an issue if we see that things aren’t going our way and if deemed reasonable and negotiations made, those issues could be resolved. However, if I were to rephrase my question slightly, everything might be different: when was the last time you had to fight for a right that you were entitled to as a human being? For many of us, the answer would probably be never. We live in such a privileged society today that we don’t have to struggle with such issues in our daily life but at the same time, we need to be aware that there are many in the world today that do.
Thousands of Venezuelan refugees are being exploited and enslaved in Brazil. A Tibetan man trying to save his culture and heritage has been thrown into jail. A teenager in Sudan has been sentenced to death because she’d killed her husband as an act of self-defense before he could rape her. Israel has shot down many protesters and journalists for protesting peacefully and doing their jobs. Fascist governments such as North Korea deny most rights that their people should be having, as human beings. We complain and condemn these acts of oppression, but rather than arguing why something is happening, we should start arguing for why something isn’t happening. Why aren’t all countries giving people the basic rights they should have? Why are other human beings denying others the exact rights they themselves possess?
Human rights are rights that are inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, language, religion, or any other status. We have these rights simply by being human, not due to any condition or prerequisite that we are to fulfill. Everyone is absolutely and equally entitled to these rights, without discrimination. Unfortunately, it has been a topic severely overlooked throughout the centuries, from the emergence of the first civilisations in the world to this very day and age. An ignorant negligence to the significant issue regarding human rights has resulted in cases of exploitation, oppression, persecution, and other forms of deprivation. Even worse, people that carry out these extreme cases of discrimination feel morally justified to do so and this is a severely false mindset that sadly, people still possess to this day. Obviously, a large amount of change has occurred throughout the centuries and we, as a human race, have progressed as a whole in terms of how we perceive human rights and its importance. But I personally still believe that a lot more can still be done to improve the way we see human rights in the world today.
One important step in that direction would be the existence of the United Nations. The United Nations, made up of 193 member states, is an international organisation formed in 1945 that see themselves responsible to carry out many roles, one key purpose being to protect human rights. One of the major milestones that the United Nations has accomplished with regards to human rights would be the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document signed by 48 countries and acts as a common standard for achievements for fundamental human rights to be universally protected for all peoples and nations. Among the 30 Articles include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and that no state, group, or person can take away any of those rights and freedoms. The United Nations collaborates with governments and encourages states to strengthen their human rights capabilities by developing policies and institutions that uphold those rights, at the same time providing advice and guidance to achieve those goals.
However, as seen already by the number of countries that had signed the Declaration, it is an extremely small amount when there are 195 countries that exist in the world today, 193 of which are members of the United Nations. The United Nations cannot control everything that is happening all around the world. Their powers are limited to that of an organisation – they are able to investigate and review conditions in a country, and are able to condemn a country, urging for change to be made. However, the government of a country is not bound to the United Nations and is therefore not required to oblige to its urges, if it so chooses. This is where the organisation is ineffective and therefore cannot be depended upon to eliminate all forms of inequality in the world. We cannot simply believe that just because an organisation such as the United Nations exists, we leave all responsibility to them to make the world a better place. It can certainly help to solve a small number of our problems, seeing that it is an international organisation and has more power over others, but we must still delve into the root of the issues and change how they are perceived in people’s hearts and minds.
Human rights do not exist so that we can use them as an excuse to defend our actions. Human rights do not exist only to be taken away by other human beings. Human rights do not choose who to belong to or need a reason to belong to someone. Everyone is equally entitled to all the 30 rights and freedoms put down by the United Nations, and so much more. Everyone is equal, therefore deserving fair treatment. Everyone’s rights deserve equal protection and respect from birth until death. We do not stand to have our rights taken away by anyone.
“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”
– Nelson Mandela.