Worldwide, 2015 has not been a good year for human rights. The continuation of wars in the Middle East, Africa and Ukraine, among other places, the age-old conflict between Israel and Palestine and the huge exodus currently reaching unprecedented levels, starkly reveal the extent to which the rights of human beings to life, liberty and security are trampled upon and ignored. The advancement of technology which allows for the real time disseminating of most of what happens and the sometimes over zealousness in the approach to what is now called ‘citizen journalism’, means that average Joes and Janes everywhere can quickly ‘report’ on almost any and everything. This is not necessarily always a good thing.
But it is not just in the war arena or in conflict zones that human rights are violated. This happens everywhere all around us every day. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948 sets a common standard for the achievement of all people everywhere and a list of fundamental human rights to be protected.
The Declaration lists 30 articles containing rights that should be afforded to every human being regardless of nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. “We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination,” it says. “These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.”
Articles 4 and 5 hold that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude…” and “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” These are among the basic human rights that are too often not honoured.
Others include Article 9: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile”; and Article 12: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
The boundless enthusiasm of ‘citizen journalism’ that obtains today is protected by Article 19, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,” written more than 67 years ago. However, history has taught us that with rights come responsibilities and one cannot be seen to be pursuing one’s rights while trampling on another’s.
In Guyana, the reluctance to hold local government elections by the previous government and the moves to replace countless elected local bodies with hand-picked interim management bodies would have seen the total erosion of Article 21 (1), “Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.” However, this is expected to change come March next year.
As the world observes Human Rights Day today under the theme, “Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always,” Guyana is among many countries lagging behind in ensuring equality of the rights and freedoms of all its peoples. Discrimination and stigma still exist, eroding the rights of the poor and ignorant, the disabled, people living with HIV, members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community, persons suffering from mental illness, women and children. Paying lip service to ending these indignities only serves to insult, and it is long past the time for real action to be taken.