Today (Dec 10) is International Human Rights Day. From the International Human Rights Day site, here is a little background –
Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10 December. It commemorates the day on which, in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1950, the Assembly passed resolution 423 (V), inviting all States and interested organizations to observe 10 December of each year as Human Rights Day.
This year, Human Rights Day calls on everyone to stand up for someone’s rights! Disrespect for basic human rights continues to be wide-spread in all parts of the globe. Extremist movements subject people to horrific violence. Messages of intolerance and hatred prey on our fears. Humane values are under attack.
We must reaffirm our common humanity. Wherever we are, we can make a real difference. In the street, in school, at work, in public transport; in the voting booth, on social media.
The concept of human rights often gets misinterpreted, because it is often misunderstood.
According to the International Human Rights Day site –
Rights are often considered fundamental to civilization, being regarded as established pillars of society and culture, and the history of social conflicts can be found in the history of each right and its development. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “rights structure the form of governments, the content of laws, and the shape of morality as it is currently perceived.”
From the Wikipedia site comes this definition of Human Rights –
Rights are legal, social, or ethical principles of freedom or entitlement; that is, rights are the fundamental normative rules about what is allowed of people or owed to people, according to some legal system, social convention, or ethical theory. Rights are of essential importance in such disciplines as law and ethics, especially theories of justice and deontology.
So, rights are not intrinsic to human life, but exist because as humans we feel the need to define how we expect (or hope) to live and how we expect to interact with others within a society. They are really expectations that we codify into laws.
Do you actually know what your “rights” are within the society that you live? Few of us do. Here are links to some of the “rights” that various levels of societies have declared.
The United Nations has declared a set of Internationals Human Rights, which the United States as a member is supposed to follow. Your right as defined by the U.N. are defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In addition, at the most fundamental level of rights as a U.S. citizen, the Constitution’s Bill of Rights defines a basic set of rights that we all enjoy.
The concept of U.S. Law includes the definition of additional rights under various laws that are passed by our governmental bodies at all levels. Most of these are lumped under the umbrella term Civil Rights. Civil Rights exist at both the national and local level. Example may be found at http://civilrights.findlaw.com/ and for Michigan at http://www.michigan.gov/mdcr/0,4613,7-138-69583—,00.html.
All of these “rights” are things that we grant each other as members of the societies that we live in. These rights help set our expectations for how things will work and what things we can count upon; however, even the most basic of these rights are not guaranteed, unless the system of government that we happen to be under at the moment agrees to extend them to us. In the world in which we live, slavery and human trafficking still exist in almost every country on earth. Poverty exists and robs people of their rights. A lack of health care (affordable or otherwise) still robs people of their health and well-being. People are still being killed for their religious beliefs and people are being shunned for their lifestyles. Racism and prejudices continue to hold sway over opportunity and access to jobs, housing and other basic needs/rights.
To truly understand and appreciate the societal nature of what we calls our “rights”, one could watch an episode or two of the TV Reality show Alone. One can make the argument that the person depicted in that show has all of the same “rights” there in the wilderness that he has back in society; however, the society is not there with him to provide for those rights. He can stand there all day shouting that he has a basic human right to certain things, but it will do him no good.
So, we have “rights” because others in society that we live in agree to extend to us those rights. The same society that grants us those rights usually imposes some restrictions or rules on the exercise of those rights and in many cases agree to pay (usually in the form of taxes) to make sure that they and you can exercise those rights. It has become somewhat normal to hear people claiming all sorts of “rights”, when in reality they are talking about needs or desires. Needs and even desires may eventually turn into “rights” if enough people in the society agree that everyone should have them and give the extension of those needs or desires the weight of law. That is especially true in those things that we classify as our civil rights.
Today, we celebrate the progress that mankind and our societies have achieved in recognizing and agreeing upon the many “rights” that we enjoy. None of those rights should be taken for granted, because none of them are guaranteed by anything more than the will of the majority in our society. All must be defended or they might be lost. Vigilance must also be kept to insure that the rules governing the extensionon of those rights do not become so onerous as to render the rights moot.
Care must also be taken to insure that the rights of minorities in our society are not trampled upon by the majority. There is no group in our society, whether ethic, or racial or
gender or political or as measured by any other metric, that is not in some way a minority; when viewed from the perspective of the total of all people not in their group. The power of temporary associations of groups to make up a majority is fleeting, as is any power to extend rights or change our rights or the rules that govern them. That power must be used wisely, lest members of the majority on one “right” find themselves in the minority on another “right”. It is in our best self-interests overall to be kind and sensitive and inclusive as we extend rights and the rules that govern them.
So, go read about our human rights as citizens of the world and our rights as citizens of a country and a state. Celebrate the fact that we have evolved enough as a human race to understand the need to extend these basic rights to all of our citizens. Be glad that you are not Alone. You have rights. Celebrate!