Human rights are those rights, which people ideally should enjoy because they are human beings. In other words, human rights are those rights of the people, which they get automatically on being born as humans. Yet today, there are numerous issues that need to be addressed, owing to the global instances of human rights violations.
“All human beings, whatever their cultural or historical background, suffer when they are intimidated, imprisoned or tortured… We must, therefore, insist on a global consensus, not only on the need to respect human rights worldwide, but also on the definition of these rights… for it is the inherent nature of all human beings to yearn for freedom, equality and dignity, and they have an equal right to achieve that.”
– The Dalai Lama
The political rhetoric of most of the world today, considers human rights as one of the most prominent ideas. A good government is the one that protects human rights; the one that does not, or worse still, violates them or does not consider them at all, is cruel. However, we do not realize the importance of human rights until we imagine the plight of people deprived of them. The term ‘human rights’ implies the idea that there are certain number of rights which, in spite of whether they are legally recognized by the state or not, every human being is entitled to, right from his/her birth. And, this holds true for each and every person inhabiting this planet, irrespective of his religion, nationality, race, occupation, gender, class, and so on.
The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948, which mentions all the fundamental human rights that every human being is entitled to. The UN has several committees and specialized programs to ensure that all the human rights issues are being identified, addressed, resolved, and supervised. The Human Rights Council also appoints certain individuals as special rapporteurs, who function independently. A special rapporteur is an expert, who examines and reports back on a country’s situation on the various human rights issues.
Some Global Issues
“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
– Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25(1)
The United Nations has attempted to address some of the very fundamental issues of human rights violations in their Declaration of Human Rights, that came into being in December 1948. However, the world has come a long way since then, and over the years, has also encountered several other issues which tend to be, more often than not, even serious in nature. Here’s an insight into some of them.
“When the sun shall be folded up; and when the stars shall fall… and when the girl who hath been buried alive shall be asked for what crime she was put to death… every soul shall know what it hath wrought.”
– The Quran
Infanticide, especially in case of the female child, is one of the most serious issues of human rights violation, happening all across the globe in varying numbers; not that the male children are not affected by the practice at all. It involves either denying a child, the right to live after being born or the right to be born itself, which results from intentional killing of the child. While the issue is not very grave in the Europe and North America, it is definitely huge in South America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. The problem of infanticide seems to have taken root in regions where, large-scale gender biases are prevalent. Gender-selective infanticide is thus a deep-rooted problem in numerous countries of the world including India, China, Australia, Papua New Guinea, South Korea, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Taiwan, Armenia, and Albania.
Numerous measures have been taken by various countries in order to curb the ratio of human infanticides. For instance, the Infanticide Act, 1938 that is functional in England and Wales, equates the act of infanticide with that of murder of a child by his/her mother, if the child is 12 months old or more, and the mother does not suffer from any kind of mental imbalance. Furthermore, in China, the Marriage law prohibits acts of infanticide, and the Women’s Protection Law prohibits any kind of discrimination against women, who want to keep their female babies.
“One in four children being victimized? That’s about seven children in every classroom. That’s a significant proportion of the population.”
– Wendy Craig
Child abuse is one of the worst forms of human rights violation that is prevalent in societies all across the globe. It deprives a child of the right to live peacefully, and without any fear. Child abuse may take numerous forms such as bonded labor, sexual abuse, pornography and prostitution, drug trafficking, forced recruitment of children into armed conflict, and so on. Research tells us that most children who seem to undergo various forms of child abuse, belong to socially underprivileged classes. However, this is not always the case. Sexual abuse, for instance, may take place in the child’s school, playgroup or even at home.
The federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), addresses the issue of child abuse and neglect in the United States, and offers assistance for the prevention, assessment, investigation, and prosecution of such incidents. The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, an initiative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is the first ever legal instrument to have spelled out the basic human rights every child deserves, including statutes against child abuse.
“One in three women may suffer from abuse and violence in her lifetime. This is an appalling human rights violation, yet it remains one of the invisible and under-recognized pandemics of our time. But it is not inevitable. We can put a stop to this.”
– Nicole Kidman
Discrimination and violence against women is a common problem that the entire world is facing in some form or the other. Violence against women may take many forms such as domestic violence, rape, bride burning, infibulation, acid attacks, and violences on a bigger scale including mob violence, and war rapes. Researches claim that at least one out of every three women is beaten, forced into sex or abused during her lifetime, and this does not pertain to a particular region, but to the whole world. According to the statistics of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), every year, numerous women between the age groups of 15 to 45 years fall prey to violence, and are left either disabled or killed. This number is almost equal to the number of women dying of diseases such as malaria or cancer.
The Istanbul Convention, signed in May 2011, was the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. The main objective of the convention is to prevent and check the acts of violence on women in general, and domestic violence, in particular. Similarly, the federal Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA), aims at investigating and prosecuting violence against women.
Rights of the Disabled
“We know that equality of individual ability has never existed and never will, but we do insist that equality of opportunity still must be sought.”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt
It has been estimated that approximately 10 per cent of the world’s population is disabled; that calculates to roughly around 600 million people. Further, more than 67 per cent of the disabled population resides in the developing and the underdeveloped countries. This shows how closely disability and lower standard of living are related. The disabled people have to go through a number a problems including the one of social exclusion, alongside others such a violence, deprivation from education and employment, and so on, thus violating their basic human rights. Especially, disabled women and children are more vulnerable to human rights abuses.
The U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted in 2006. This intended human rights instrument, affirms that all the people with disabilities are liable to enjoy all kinds of human rights and freedoms. The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in the year 1990 in the United States, with the main objective of protecting the civil rights of the disabled people.
Rights of the People with AIDS
“Let us give publicity to H.I.V./AIDS and not hide it, because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness like TB, like cancer, is always to come out and say somebody has died because of H.I.V./AIDS, and people will stop regarding it as something extraordinary.”
– Nelson Mandela
The Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is considered to be one of the most devastating communicable diseases, threatening the world for around past thirty years. According to the 2010 Global Report on AIDS Epidemic (UNAIDS), about 33 million people were infected by AIDS worldwide at the end of 2009, out of which about two million died of the disease. These are indeed alarming numbers. But, what seeks even more attention is the fact that the people infected by AIDS, have to face serious human rights violations. First, they have to face social rejection and discrimination as AIDS is considered as a taboo, a stigma. Second, because of the unawareness about AIDS among people, the affected individuals have to face a lot of humiliation and social seclusion, as people think that even if they stand beside an infected individual, they might contract the disease. In spite of numerous AIDS awareness campaigns carried out globally by various bodies, a remarkable portion of world’s population still dreads the disease, and chooses to stay way from the infected.
The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act considers the people with AIDS as disabled, and grants them all the basic human rights. Similarly, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) aims at protecting the privacy of the medical records of the patients.
Sexual Orientation Discrimination
“Gay people are born into every society in the world. Being gay is not a Western invention. It is a human reality… It should never be a crime to be gay… Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct, but in fact they are one and the same.”
– Hillary Clinton
Discrimination and violence on people, on the basis of their gender identity and sexual orientation is one of the major issues grasping attention of human rights bodies worldwide. Some people, who either identify themselves or are perceived by others as homosexuals, bisexuals or transgenders, most of the time fail to achieve social acceptance, and thus have to face a number of problems and difficulties. Some of them have to suffer grave human rights violations such as sexual abuse, rape, torture, humiliation, extra-judicial killings, ill-treatment, arbitrary detention, denial of education and employment opportunities, and so on. In many countries, being homosexual or having any other sexual orientation than the socially accepted norm, is regarded as a punishable criminal offense. However, despite their sexual orientation, the fact that they are human beings, and thus deserve all the basic human rights, needs to be highlighted.
Until today, there is international human rights legislation dealing specifically with the rights of homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgenders, However, section 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1966, deals with human rights and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Moreover, there are some other international legislations as well, which have sections, though not specifically assigned to the homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgenders, include them along with the others.
Rights of Prisoners
“The photographs of Iraqi prisoners being subjected to degrading and humiliating treatment by their captors, and the reports of acts of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and other acts of maltreatment shock the conscience.”
– Ed Markey
British prison commissioner Paterson had rightly quoted, “Prisoners are sent to prison AS punishment, and not FOR punishment”. The statement focuses aptly on the issue of human rights violations that prisoners have to face within numerous prisons, across the globe. The prisoners have to undergo not only physical tortures within premises of the jail, but also a considerable amount of mental harm. While many governments nowadays have recognized the importance of basic human rights for the jail inmates, there are numerous others that still treat their prisoners in an inhuman manner. Worst still, is the condition of the prisoners of war, and other ‘suspected’ criminals captured by some nations. A classic example is the American detention center in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where, according to the U.N. reports, large-scale human rights violations took place.
In 1984, the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment that aimed to safeguard the rights and dignity of the prisoners. On the other hand, the third Geneva Convention of the International Humanitarian Law pertains to the treatment of prisoners of war, and states that they are entitled all the human rights that a normal human being enjoys, because prisoners of war are not technically criminals.
Illegal Immigrants, Asylum Seekers and Refugees
“I take issue with many people’s description of people being “Illegal” Immigrants. There aren’t any illegal Human Beings as far as I’m concerned.”
– Dennis Kucinich
Lot of countries across the globe have been detaining asylum seekers, refugees, and illegal migrants in immigration detention centers. A number of human rights are often violated whenever such detentions happen. For instance, many times the detainees do not even know the reason for which they are being detained, as they are not even allowed access to independent court reviews. Added to this, they are held in ‘prison-like’ facilities, sometimes in sub-human conditions, also with deficient medical access. On top of all this, the detainees often have no idea about the period for which they will be kept in the detention center.
In 1984, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in order to protect all the detained migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees against any kind of inhuman treatment they may have to undergo in the detention center. Apart from this, the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees adopted by the U.N. General Assembly, was framed to recognize the status of the refugees, and protect their human rights.
“Human traffickers lure individuals into trafficking by using force, fraud or coercion. The age, race, economic bracket, education level, social standing or citizenship of victims does not make a difference. Once trafficked, they are placed into forced labor… Prostitution seems to be the leading money-maker for traffickers.”
– Sister Jean Okroi
Human trafficking is the second largest, and one of the fastest growing crimes in the world. It leads to what may be called ‘modern-day slavery’, and involves illegal and sometimes forced or fraudulent trade of men, women, and children. People thus sold, are then made to enter the vicious circle of bonded labor, flesh trade or even drug trafficking. The estimates of the U.S. government tell us that every year, around 15,000 to 18,000 foreign nationals are illegally smuggled into the country, especially in the state of Illinois, the hub of human trafficking. More often than not, people belonging to the poor and underprivileged classes fall prey to such acts, as they seem to be easier and more accessible targets. However, it should be noted that the web of human trafficking is spread far and wide, and any ignorant person may be victimized.
The two Palermo Protocols adopted in 2000 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) viz., the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children and the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air aim at preventing human trafficking and protecting the victims, alongside helping them regain social acceptance in their homelands.
“If they have land to give to the Indians, or the Arabs, the Chinese, the Saudis to come, why did Ethiopia not use this land to feed the Ethiopian people?… I am not anti-investment, but I am anti-daylight robbery. What is going on in Africa is robbery.”
– Obang Metho
The term ‘land grab’ refers to leasing out or selling the country’s agricultural land to foreign investors. This is done by the government of a country (Africa being the hub of land grab) without disclosing any information to the people, to whom the land in question belongs. Therefore, whatever revenue is generated through such deals, goes to the government, and not to the people. The food that is then produced on the ‘grabbed’ land belongs to, not the local people, but to the foreign investor’s countrymen. Therefore, the locals are deprived of their right to food cultivated on their own lands, even worsening their condition economically. Further, it also leads to large-scale displacement of local people from their homelands. Thus, land grab is one of the major modern-day issues of human rights violations, many times even leading to forced evictions of those who oppose it.
The United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights safeguards people against “arbitrary and unlawful interference” within their homes. On the other hand, article 25(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that an individual has a right to adequate food and health facilities for himself and his family, and also has a right to a secured life.
“Racism is man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.”
– Abraham Joshua Heschel
In an age, where we are talking about being global citizens of one world and tackling universal threats, it is most shameful for people to create rifts among themselves, and divide the society on the basis of race. Discrimination on ethnic or cultural basis amounts to racism, and is a serious matter concerning violation of human rights. Racism may occur in the society at various levels, right from school to the workplace. It is a notion that considers one race superior to the other and hence, gives rise to conflicts leading to humiliation, torture, and sometimes, death. Violent instances of racism have been witnessed more in societies with low levels of tolerance for other ethnic groups.
The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1965, stresses on racial discrimination, and aims at preventing all acts amounting to the same. Furthermore, the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action under the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights recommends that “the Commission on Human Rights prepare complementary international standards to strengthen and update international instruments against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in all their aspects.”
“But there’s one thing we must all be clear about: terrorism is not the pursuit of legitimate goals by some sort of illegitimate means. Whatever the murderers may be trying to achieve, creating a better world certainly isn’t one of their goals. Instead they are out to murder innocent people.”
– Salman Rushdie
Today, terrorism is the most crucial issue that is violating a basic human right of hundreds and thousands of people to live a secured life with peace and harmony. Actually, in case of terrorism, human rights violation is a catch-22 situation. The law violates the human rights of the perpetrators of terrorism because the terrorists violate the human rights of many a citizen. Protection of human rights thus, should aim at putting in an effective counter-terrorism effort, which will safeguard human rights, protect democracy, and uphold the rule of law in the society.
The European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism, 1977, aims at taking strict measures against all the terrorist activities that take place in the contracting states. Similarly, the Treaty on Cooperation among the States Members of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Combating Terrorism is a joined treaty between the Commonwealth of Independent States and the United Nations that deems terrorism as an illegal act and a punishable offense, and proposes strict measures to counter the same.
“As human beings, we are vulnerable to confusing the unprecedented with the improbable. In our everyday experience, if something has never happened before, we are generally safe in assuming it is not going to happen in the future, but the exceptions can kill you and climate change is one of those exceptions.”
– Al Gore
Although the link between climate change and human rights seems very far-fetched, a deeper study indicates that both these are very closely interconnected. Climate change is indeed a serious environmental issue hampering human rights. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has cited the safety of marginalized groups from climate change as one of the major human rights issues. Extreme climatic changes could result in a large number of people suffering from malnutrition, water shortage, droughts, heat waves, epidemics, loss of livelihood, and permanent displacement. Also, natural disasters such as hurricanes, tsunami, earthquakes, and floods result in the deaths, incurable injuries, and homelessness of many people.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) aims at guiding the national and international policies on climate change and the protection of human rights. At the same time, the Malé Declaration on the Human Dimension of Global Climate Change recognizes the interrelationship between human rights and climate change, and aims to protect the human rights which might thus be affected, by adhering to the terms set down by the OHCHR.
Apart from the issues mentioned above, those of right to basic amenities of food, clothing and shelter, and right to education and employment continue to top the list of human rights issues. There are also country-specific issues of human rights violations that need to be addressed by respective governments in coordination with the global community. Nevertheless, as long as corrupt practices continue to exist in the world, newer issues of human rights violations will continue to crop up because hunger for power and money is one of the basic human instincts. It is, however, pleasing that influential bodies like the United Nations, continue to offer their helping hand in combating the human rights violations happening all over the world. But, at the same time, it should be noted that human rights are not just for the international organizations to propagate, and for us to read in the newspapers. We, as citizens of the global community, need to take an active part in eliminating the vices leading to the violation of human rights, and in making the world a better place to live.