Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Human Rights Lack Authority

            The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948 as a result of the experiences of World War II. International communities vowed to never again allow human atrocities like those of the time and conflict to happen again. World leaders worked with the United Nations in hopes of creating an international document allowing and guaranteeing the rights of every individual, everywhere. The commission of human rights was made up of 18 members from different political, cultural and religious backgrounds according to the history information listed on the United Nations website. The entire text of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created in two years despite the fact the world was still divided by perspectives of the East and the West. However, the first draft of the declaration passed the General Assembly in 1948 in Paris with only eight nations not joining, but also not dissenting against the declaration. A common ground was reached quickly and adapted into law. This text is meant to represent the universal recognition of basic and fundamental freedoms inherent to all human beings, equal and inalienable to everyone, that every one of us is born free and equal in dignity and rights, whatever our nationality, place of residence, gender, ethnicity, color, religion, language or any other status.
            Despite the fact The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was overwhelmingly popular as it was accepted in 1948, there does not seem to be any specific listing of what nations have accepted and created obligations to the declaration. The document’s contents have been re-created and adapted into laws, regulations, over eighty international human rights treaties and declarations, forms of international law, regional agreements and domestic law where human rights are expressed and guaranteed (United Nations Website). These treaties, laws and provisions come together to construct the comprehensive legal binding system for the promotion and protection of human rights. Over time, international human rights treaties become more focused and specialized based on new issues being addressed. At the same time, the principles of human rights first created in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights simultaneously entail nations both rights and obligations to make the stand for the equality of man. It has been more difficult to find which United Nation’s members have ratified any or all of these rights. Again, the United Nations website states all United Nation member States have ratified at least one of the nine core international human rights treaties, and 80% have ratified four or more, giving a concrete expression to the universality of international human rights.
            The Declaration of Human Rights establishes an optimistic and powerful expression of the freedom and equality between individual humans however it is written without the authority of an office, a binding law, or official, comprehensive measures and legislation compatible with the treaties obligations and duties. This means enforcement and protection of human rights begins to fall under individual legal systems instead of its guarantees under international law. Many times in history, even domestic legal proceedings fail to address human rights abuses and it becomes the responsibility of individuals or groups to stand up for their complaints against international human rights. An easy and prime example of such a situation can be seen through racial discrimination in the United States directly following the establishment of The Declaration of Human Rights and World War II. The time, culture, history and society built the framework to easily declare these universal rights and the use of official style rhetoric created the ability for the open acceptance of the document. Even today it would be difficult to find a person of power and responsibility unwilling to openly disagree with the international declaration of equal rights for humans but their decisions and actions would also be directly influenced by the same activity systems that created the original document in 1948.
            Thinking about the activity systems which were working at the time helps to understand how an important, international law can be created with intentions and purposes shared amongst participants and yet still not be able to produce the outcomes for human equality in the institutions and societies of the real functioning world. There are different hierarchies of power, different roles, bureaucracies, societal norms and conventions that can either create or break the applications of endowing all humans with equal rights. These systems and complexities can help account for differences, contradictions and tensions within a text because there is no universal normal or stereotype to be able to put and then enforce such an equalized and promising law. The United States in coalition with the United Nations are continuously working to gather information and create reports in order to be informed or in control of abuses or failures by others not adhering to the human rights laws; however, the official style rhetoric in the declaration itself seems to hide many simple human rights which are still not in practice for so many people today by using passive, bureaucratic, impersonal jargon to disguise the laws and leaves the document without any basis for effective enforcement.
            To begin my argument, I believe the words chosen should be incredibly specific to their intentions. The first seven statements in the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights begin with the impersonal use of the word “Whereas” followed by a statement of observance. This impersonal “whereas” creates an implication that somebody has observed situations of inequality and is now acting or creating a solution to remedy the problems. These impersonal statements are proposing a key discovery for “equal, inalienable rights for all members of the human family.” The “disregard, contempt and barbarous acts” of the past have created a new “advent of the world” where human beings all now proclaim freedom and equality as the “highest aspiration of the common people.” Over thirty times within the preamble and the thirty articles the word “everyone” is used proclaiming this document is for all humans born into any society. However, when it comes down to researching what nations or whose authority these declarations fall under, I can only find small pieces of information stating many nations and governments have adopted and accepted certain parts of the human rights declaration and it would be up to an individual person to stand and fight if they feel they are not receiving their entitlements.
            Violations of human rights have been going on since it was created and actions have not been taken for so many people. Article 18 states “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” but on February 27, 2002, in the Indian city of Godhra, Gujarat, a Muslim crowd attacked a train filled with Hindu activist, firing into two train cars and killing 27 people. This event triggered violent religious revenge and four days later, 2000 Muslims were killed. Their houses, mosques and businesses were destroyed and hundreds of women were raped and mutilated in front of their families. Investigation into the attacks revealed that they had been planned and done with mutual approval and collaboration with the local authorities according to Softpedia, an online encyclopedia. Religious intolerance is widespread throughout the world and the source of so much violence. Article 5 clearly states “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment” and yet even the United States has been captured by clear evidence disregarding this human right with the scandal in the Abu Ghraib prison. African-American soldiers returning from World War II were not given equal access to benefits of society as promised by the declaration’s second article stating “everyone” is entitled with these rights and freedoms despite race, color, sex, religion, creed or status. There are too many examples of violated human rights to continue. Investigations and prosecutions may follow when scandals enter into public domain but The Declaration of Human Rights has been part of our world since 1948 and yet the same errors of inequality repeat over and over.
            Human rights are violated every single day in the United States if people in a society have already been judged or stereotyped based on race, sex, religion or even financial status. It is not as drastic as labor camps, executions based on religious beliefs, rapes and mutilations for power in a region, or just the general suffering of people who do not have enough food, water or land for their own survival. Nevertheless, human rights are violated any time a majority opinion is expected from all people. Article 16 entitles equality to men and women but even now in 2013 a woman’s salary is statistically less than a man’s. It allows for any sort of marriage as long as both parties enter willingly and yet the religious views of others have locked out the rights of same-sex couples to enter willingly enter their own marriages. The verbose bureaucratic language allows for the habits and attitudes of a larger society to permeate the actual rights being endowed by the declaration to be lost in all official style jargon. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created with the best intentions to protect all people in society from the horrors and mistakes learned from history and experience but it seems to be a document without a true backbone being created by using solid, straightforward, matter of fact statements backed up by strong policy and law. A declaration for human equality should be powerful and enforced instead of feeling passive, impersonal, and confusing for the general population. The official style rhetoric allows for so much of the world to say they are adopting or adhering to these rights while leaving the general population without any guarantee for any of the freedoms they have supposedly been granted.

Keeley McConaughey