Universal Human Rights Day

By K.N. Pandita

By 1948, the United Nations’ new Human Rights Commission had captured the world’s attention. Under the dynamic chairmanship of Eleanor Roosevelt—President Franklin Roosevelt’s widow, a human rights champion in her own right and the United States’ delegate to the UN—the Commission set out to draft the document we now know as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Roosevelt, credited with its inspiration, referred to the Declaration as the international Magna Carta for all mankind. It was adopted by the United Nations on December 10, 1948. Ever since, 10 December came to be observed year after year as Human Rights Day.  

The modern idea of human rights sprang from smouldering ruins of Word War II. Millions of people were dead, millions homeless and millions starving. But modern concept notwithstanding, ever since the dawn of history, the idea of treating human beings not only with equality and dignity but also with fraternal care lurked in the mind of human beings. In 539 B.C, Cyrus, the celebrated monarch of ancient Iran, freed the prisoners of war after he had defeated the Babylonians. King Ashoka turned a staunch follower of non-violence and Buddhism after witnessing inhuman brutalities of the battle of Kalinga. And long back our scriptures spoke of vasudam kutumbakam – the world is my family.

Mankind has struggled endlessly and made immense sacrifices over the centuries to come to the present stage of upholding and advocating universal human rights. After the Magna Carta (A.D. 1215), the idea of universal human rights passed through many testing stages like the Petition of Right 1628, the English Bill of Rights 1689, the US Constitution 1787, and the French Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizens 1789 which are considered landmark developments in strengthening the never were renounced when humankind “contracted” to enter the social order from the natural order and never were diminished by the claim of the “divine right of kings.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has inspired a number of other human rights laws and treaties throughout the world. In its preamble and in Article 1, the Declaration unequivocally proclaims the inherent rights of all human beings: “Disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people … All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, it asserted.

The Member States of the United Nations pledged to work together to promote the thirty Articles of the Declaration of Human Rights that, for the first time in history, had been assembled and codified into a single document. In consequence, many of these rights, in various forms, are today part of the constitutional laws of democratic nations. By and large these have been incorporated in the Constitutions of almost all democracies in the world. The Directive Principles of State Policy given in Part II of the Indian Constitution alone are much more comprehensive than all the Articles of the Universal Human Rights put together.

Summation of human rights charter would run as this. Everyone is free and we should all be treated in the same way. Everyone is equal despite differences in skin colour, sex, religion, language for example. Everyone has the right to life and to live in freedom and safety. No one has the right to treat you as a slave nor should you make anyone your slave. No one has the right to hurt you or to torture you. Everyone has the right to be treated equally by the law. The law is the same for everyone, it should be applied in the same way to all. Everyone has the right to ask for legal help when their rights are not respected. No one has the right to imprison you unjustly or expel you from your own country. Everyone has the right to a fair and public trial. Everyone should be considered innocent until guilt is proved. Every one has the right to ask for help if someone tries to harm you, but no-one can enter your home, open your letters or bother you or your family without a good reason. Everyone has the right to travel as they wish. Everyone has the right to go to another country and ask for protection if they are being persecuted or are in danger of being persecuted. Everyone has the right to belong to a country. No one has the right to prevent you from belonging to another country if you wish to. Everyone has the right to marry and have a family. Everyone has the right to own property and possessions. Everyone has the right to practise and observe all aspects of their own religion and change their religion if they want to. Everyone has the right to say what they think and to give and receive information. Everyone has the right to take part in meetings and to join associations in a peaceful way. Everyone has the right to help choose and take part in the government of their country. Everyone has the right to social security and to opportunities to develop their skills. Everyone has the right to work for a fair wage in a safe environment and to join a trade union. Everyone has the right to rest and leisure. Everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living and medical help if they are ill. Everyone has the right to go to school. Everyone has the right to share in their community’s cultural life. Everyone must respect the ’social order’ that is necessary for all these rights to be available. Everyone must respect the rights of others, the community and public property. No one has the right to take away any of the rights in this declaration.

Taking the cue from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and on the instance of the UN Human Rights Commission, many of the UN member states, including India, constituted National Human Rights Commission to enforce human rights for their citizens and protect them from injustice, exploitation and deprivation. In our country almost all States have their respective State Human Rights Commission with clear mandate from the NHRC to dispense justice with impartiality and equanimity. Owing to the complexity of our social fabric and the mosaic of Indian society, it has become important for the State Human Rights Commission to thoroughly understand social problems and suggest solutions accordingly.

Emergence of a fifth estate by the name of Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) was necessitated by state’s inability to identify and reach labyrinth of rights violations. NGOs being grassroots organizations are expected to work as complementary to the state administration. The role of NGOs in identifying violation or abuse of human rights has been of great significance. However, unfortunately, some NGOs politicised human rights and brought bad name to their organizations.

From the dimensional objectives of human rights stated above, the common question that arises is whether the states have the will and the infrastructure to enforce human rights in letter and in spirit. Also a great deal of debate has ensued on the contours and texture of human rights. The debate still goes on.

Many a time, some prominent international NGOs have targeted our country for violation of human rights. By and large, our unjust critics are found working under political motivation rather than in professional manner. We know that we have many weaknesses in terms of human rights record. Especially in regard to security to women, child labour, environmental degradation, lack of basic amenities of life like education, health care, clean drinking water, electric power etc. we in India have still much to do. But the country is on the right track and things are moving in right direction. This is a country struggling to stand up on its legs after many decades of slavery and colonial oppression.

Nearer home, J&J has been going through armed insurgency and violence for last two decades and more. It has come under the radar of numerous NGOs most of them fake and motivated and only a few of integrity. The common cry is that the security forces are violating human rights. At times this complaint comes out from even responsible sources not to speak of ordinary citizens. Actually these complaints are lop sided; they speak of violations by the security forces only and not from militants. They believe that only the militants can enjoy human rights and the security personnel have no human rights. This is incorrect. When a police man is on his beat performing his duty, suddenly from nowhere a miscreant hurls a bomb or a grenade on him which proves fatal. Right to life being the first of the fundamental human rights, the act of hurling a bomb and killing the policeman is blatant violation of the policeman’s right to life. Therefore the assailant has to be charged according to the law of the land and brought to justice. He too enjoys human rights but in this case he is a violator and not a violated. The policeman has a right to protect his life when faced with life and death situation. At the same time the person at whom he points his gun also enjoys human rights and right to life. It is this situation that human rights experts say that one man’s terrorist is another man’s hero.

In final analysis, we celebrate the 10th of December every year not to say that human rights of all have been secured because that may not be possible but we must say that with each passing year, world opinion is being moulded in favour of the simple humanitarian motto “live and let live”. Violence against humanity is unacceptable to all true religions of the world. The statement of High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations is profound and meaningful: “The power of the Universal Declaration is the power of ideas to change the world. It tells us that human rights are essential and indivisible – 365 days a year. Every day is Human Rights day: a day on which we work to ensure that all people can gain equality, dignity and freedom.

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