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Human Rights Day helps define the dignity and worth of everyone


Finding solutions for deep-rooted discrimination

“Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains. Those who think themselves the masters of others are indeed greater slaves than they.”

—Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The “Social Contract” of The Enlightenment suggested a new paradigm of freedoms by which modern republics would formulate levels of evidentiary  “truths” of independence and self governance. Unfortunately, for at least 250 years, such treatises have often been misused by the powerful to subjugate the weak.

Human Rights Day is observed every year on Dec. 10—the day the United National General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). It was a milestone document following World War II which proclaims the inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being—regardless of race, color, relition, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. It is available in more than 500 languages.

Trouble in China

This week, the Biden Administration announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics over China’s human rights abuses. China is accused of committing crimes against humanity against the Uyghur (Muslim) population in Xinjiang. The Biden White House and former President Donald Trump’s administration referred to a China’s treatment of Uyghurs—which includes allegaitons of forced mass sterilization, forced labor and separating families—as “genocide.”

There have been growing calls in the United States and across the world to boycott the Olympic Games for numerous reasons, not the least of which is the story of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai who went missing earlier this year.  She alleged that a high-ranking Chinese politician had coerced her into sex. The International Olympics Committee has drawn harsh criticism for its handling of Shuai’s disappearance,while the Women’s Tennis Association has suspended all tournaments in China.

Principals of equality and non-discrimination

The principals of equality and non-discrimination are at the heart of human rights. Equality is aligned with addressing and finding solutions for deep-rooted forms of discrimination that have affected the most vulnerable people in societies, including women and girls, indigenous peoples, people of African descent, migrants, people with disabilities and the LGBTQ community.

This year’s Human Rights Day theme, “Equality,” relates directly to Article 1 of the original UDHR position that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” A new U.N. approach is set forth in a specific “Shared Framework on Leaving No One Behind: Equality and Non-Discrimination at the Heart ort Sustainable Development.” The document proclaims that  equality, inclusion and non-discrimination, in other words—a human rights-based approach to development—is the best way to reduce inequalities and resume a collective path towards realizing its 2030 objective.

Eleanor Roosevelt and the UDHR

Eleanor Roosevelt was a driving force behind the UDHR. At the time, she said of the historic agreement: “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home–so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” Other persons instrumental in the establishment of the UDHR include Dr. Ralph Bunche, Chinese diplomat Peng-chun Chang, and Judge Herman Santa Cruz of Chile.

The “new” social contract through 2030 includes economic, social and cultural rights, as well as the right to development and the right to a safe, clean and sustainable environment. It includes equal opportunities for youth in noting that “unless their rights are protected, including through decent jobs and social protection, the ‘COVID generation’ runs the risk of falling prey to the detrimental effects of mounting inequality and poverty.”

Importance of ‘climate justice’

There is a push to advance the right to a healthy environment. “Climate justice” is tied to environmental degradation, including climate change, pollution and nature loss which disproportionately impacts persons, groups and peoples in vulnerable situations. U.N. officials say these impacts exacerbate existing inequalities and negatively affect the human rights of present and future generations.

Preventing conflict is at the core of human rights. One goal is to affirm that societies that protect and promote human rights for everyone are more resilient societies, better equipped through  human rights to weather unexpected crises such as pandemics and the impacts of climate change. Equality and non-discrimination are among the keys to prevention.

Human rights gain new meaning when they  become a reality in the daily life of every person. Bringing human rights home is at the core of UNESCO’s (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) mission in all its fields of competence. UNESCO has helped bring to fore the centrality of human rights protection in the history and the mandate of the organization itself.

The words of Nelson Mandela

Perhaps no other person can serve as a fitting testament to the power and resilience of human rights–in its purest form–than Nelson Mandela. His terrible plight would yield ultimate victory for the people of South Africa and beyond in defining the “common ideal” of the UDHR in stating:  “To deny people their human right is to challenge their very humanity.”

Although the UDHR is not a binding document, it has inspired more than 60 human rights instruments which together constitute an international standard of human rights. Today, the general consent of all United Nations Member States on the basic human rights laid down 72 years ago makes the UDHR even stronger in emphasizing the relevance of human rights in our daily lives.

Civil rights are human rights

At its core, the UDHR is a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations” towards which individuals and societies should “strive by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance.” The U.N. General Assembly at the time set out a broad range of fundamental rights and freedoms to which everyone is entitled. The UDHR was ambitious in guaranteeing the rights of every individual everywhere, without distinction based on nationality, place of residence, gender, national or ethnic origin, religion, language, or any other status.

Some of the subsequent legislation at home influenced by the UDHR include the Civil Rights Act of  1964, specifically Title VI which prohibits discrimination based on race, color and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. Title VII prhoibits employers from discriminating againstg emp;oyees on the basis of sex, race, color, natiional orginin and religion (equal employment opportunity).

The scourge of modern slavery

There’s also the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 which protects certain applicants and employees 40 years and older from discriminaiton on the basis of age in hiring, promotion, discharge and compensation. As well, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sex discrimination in education programs.

A 2019 Global Slavery Index Report revealed that more than 167 countries are guilty of violating human rights of its citizens. Allegedly, more than 40.3 million men, women and children are victims of modern slavery. They are reportedly bought and sold in public markets, forced to marry against their will (thus providing labor under the guise of “marriage”), and are forced to work inside clandestine factories on the promise of a salary that is usually withheld.

Men and boys work on fishing boats under the constant threat of violence, and are also forced to work on construction sites, in stores, on farms or in homes as servants. This labor—extracted through force, coercion, or threat—produces some of the food consumed in developed nations, the clothes Westerners wear…and even the footballs Americans kick every Sunday afternoon.

Child soldiers

The use of children in armed conflicts is directly linked to the trafficking and sale of minors. Because of the hidden nature of this crime, scholars have argued in the past that the total number of child soldiers in each country–let alone the global figure–is not only unknown but “unknowable” according to a 2018 Annual Report of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict.

Illegal organ trafficking poses another atrocity. Sellers relinquish their organs out of economic necessity. For most buyers who have been waiting on legitimate transplant lists for months, desperation and frustration often push them to commit the illegal act. Huffington Post looked into the issue a few years ago and reported that in some parts of India, poor people use their kidneys as collateral for money lenders. Kidneys sourced from the so-called “kidney belt” region of southern India are allegedly sold to wealthy clients in Sri Lanka, the Gulf States, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and Australia.

Curtailing online expression

Another report, this one from the US Berkeley School of Law’s International Human Rights Law Clinic, has identified an increasing trend of violation of freedom of online expression and the use of surveillance technology against human rights defenders. The report identified 225 violations from May 2018 through October 2020 in the countries of Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the United Arab Emirates where human rights defenders “face a dangerous climate” ranging from arbitrary arrests to long prison sentences and turture. The UC Berkeley report culled its information via publically accessible sources, such as reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights.