Declarations Of Human Rights. Theory And Reality
To understand human rights, one must fully appreciate what it means to be human. To be human is to contemplate, strive, endeavor, love---even hate!
But foremost, to be human is to reason. Human beings reason in several ways and to achieve various ends. They understand like no other species on earth that unbridled fear, rancour and mistrust lead to chaos and anarchy in society that ultimately work to the disadvantage of all human beings. It is the faculty of reason that sets human beings apart from other life forms on earth. Therefore, though it is human to hate, it is equally human to put limits on hate and its expression through reason, so as to guarantee “human” rights to all human beings.
Acutely aware of their own needs, human beings are also able to empathize with the needs and desires of other members of their species. To be able to walk in the other’s shoes is hence a singularly human trait.
It is human beings who feel for others, feel the other’s joys and sorrows, and recognize that all human beings must therefore be entitled to the dignity and happiness that each one of us craves.
As a Canadian, I take great pride in the fact that Professor John Humphrey, A Canadian academic contributed preeminently to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This declaration promises life, liberty, security, education, the right to participate in cultural life, freedom from torture or barbaric treatment, and freedom of thought, conscience and religion. All these rights are seen to inhere in every man, woman and child.
The opening words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights embody these ideals as follows:
“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,”
Indeed every member of the human family: black, white, yellow, brown, man, woman and child, who thinks, loves, endeavours and strives, has been acknowledged as fully human in the following sentence:
“Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”
But many Islamic nations did not sign the UDHR. Could it be that women and religious minorities under Sharia law are not considered fully human, who think, love strive and contemplate? Indeed, in 1982 an Iranian UN official declared that the UDHR was in contravention to Islamic culture, norms and aspirations. A pity.
Also, of the forty eight countries who ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, six Communist countries abstained as well as Saudi Arabia , the cradle of Islam. Women and religious minorities are still not seen as fully human in that country. They are not acknowledged as persons who can think thoughts of their own and make decisions for themselves.
In other Muslim countries such as the Sudan and Somalia , women and children continue to be enslaved for a variety of reasons.
Not fully human, they are prevented by law to pursue certain professions according to their personal preferences or conscience. They are not seen as individuals who can contemplate, love and strive according to the dictates of their conscience.
In other parts of the world such as China, individuals must pay a price for daring to think differently from the establishment. In China , it is a crime to desire the freedoms and luxuries that we in the West take for granted.
Human beings are as diverse in their thoughts as they are in their experiences. No two individuals can think in identical ways. And as long as we are cognizant of not hurting others or trampling on their human rights to liberty, dignity and freedom of conscience, one must be allowed the human right to dream one’s dreams and think one’s thoughts without fear of retribution.
Farzana Hassan is an author and freelance journalist based in Toronto