Sunday 29 January 2023

Human Rights in retreat


Eighty years ago, Winston Churchill declared one of the aims of the Second World War to be the ‘enthronement of human rights’. Within a decade, the United Kingdom was leading international efforts on a non-binding Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and, shortly after, negotiations were concluded for the European Convention on Human Rights (1950). These two instruments opened the door to a new international legal order, one that placed the protection of the individual at its heart and set limits on the actions taken by states and their governments. The European Court in Strasbourg was created to provide enforceable safeguards against abuses of public authority. Despite many sceptics to such ideas and the spread of exceptionalism around the globe, I here argue that human rights must be universal and equality before the law and access to justice together ought to form the backbone of a democratic state.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948, embodies the broadest consensus of contemporary civilisation on the subject of Human Rights. It gives recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family, which is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world. But unfortunately, many of those countries that have signed up need to pay more attention to the significance of this comprehensive declaration, not translate it to suit their culture to provide a fence against what it stands for. Here as we shall see later in this essay, overcoming what the convention stands for, several hurdles of State autonomy, exceptionalism, and State sovereignty.   

The forgotten Uyghur people in China

So, what are Human Rights – Human rights are fundamental rights and freedoms that every person in the world should have. Human rights are norms that aspire to protect all people everywhere from severe political, legal, and social abuses. Examples of human rights are the right to freedom of religion, the right to a fair trial when charged with a crime, the right not to be tortured, and the right to education. A call on courts and citizens to give full and faithful protection to the rights of everyone, regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, or national origin. There must be a presumption of innocence. It is the responsibility of the state to prove that someone is guilty not of the suspected person to prove their innocence. People should not be coerced into confessing to a crime or giving evidence against themselves. In general, if someone exercises their right to silence, it should not be used as evidence of guilt or as a reason to place them in pre-trial detention. Human rights are a deserved justice that protects the individual to enjoy life as he or she pleases. To suppress the freedom of choice, whether culture induced by the states will be considered a violation of human rights or tyranny; a vicious act to mask concern for human dignity. Rights also define the claims that one legal subject could legitimately make against another to protect their person, property, business, reputation, and interest or to compel another to live up to their contracts, promises, and other obligations.

The large-scale protests in China are not just a response to Covid restrictions but about fundamental human rights, including freedom of speech. They follow weeks of demonstrations in support of women’s rights in Iran.

In this essay, I tackle several themes and ask whether Human rights are universal and whether democracy and the rule of law can stand without respect for human rights. In that context, I ask questions about the existence, content, nature, universality, justification, and legal status of human rights against an almost universal moral code. A shared moral norm of actual human moralities that are enshrined in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Confucianism, and Buddhism. Human Rights are a social construct,  
cultivated from a natural being, that appeals to every individual to be free. To take away freedom and liberty by imposing state control is tyranny and unfortunately is on the increase with the rising trend of Authoritarianism around the world; often exercised by powerful leaders to satisfy their selfish ambitions.

With that in mind, cultural exceptionalism by civilised bearers of responsibility and States is a misdemeanour, and those who practice it lean on morally hollow legal justification and fail in their ethical duties. It is unfortunate if Human rights become unavailable to any jurisdiction or group of people. Without respect for human rights and the right to life, a country ceases to be democratic. The rule of Law, Democracy, and human rights are intertwined, where neither religion nor ideology has a place. Ignoring the conception of democratic rights runs against the grain of an intrinsic desire in every one of us to be free.

However, that said, although rights and liberties have been part of the tradition since biblical and Roman days, many theologians and philosophers today view rights with suspicion, if not derision. And since Human Rights are generally believed as a social construct, they are not natural. Around the world, there is tension between religious freedom and sexual freedom in modern liberal democracies. Many religious critics view rights as a dangerous invention of Enlightenment and post-Christian liberalism, predicated on a celebration of reason over revelation, of greed over charity, of nature over scripture, of the individual over the community, of the pretended sovereignty of humanity over the absolute sovereignty of God. These scholars call for better ideas and language to emphasise core virtues like faith, hope, and love and goods like peace, order, and community.

Where the State assigns itself as the keeper of religious scriptures, they need to adapt for its citizens' benefit and comply with the rules. In contrast, they must reconsider local cultural exceptionalism, traditions, and tribal customs. Despite their antipathy for the whole human rights system and to the Rights of the individual but to move away from the exceptionalists' view of the idea of this system of individualism as corrosive of social cohesion. To reject ideas, this system erodes the social customs and traditions and the ideas of an unsustainable position once the individual ceases to be subordinate to the group but commits to shared values towards a common culture. The exception is not to be an individual.

While others reject the concept of natural rights altogether arguing that only positive legal rights are real. Also believe moral right is objectively real, but not effective unless translated into positive law terms. They are dismayed by abstract and universal rights declarations — like the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens (1789), the United States Bill of Rights (1791), or the Universal Declaration of Rights (1948) and their many progenies. They believe, these grand rights documents have encouraged citizens and authorities, lawyers and judges alike to invent all manner of untethered rights claims, upsetting long cultural traditions in so doing.

There is no denying of course, that human rights can only be legal rights. I argue that the wrong is where the constitution that anchors such legality is warped or contradicts the moral norm, making dissent punishable by an ideologically induced law. This is where human rights are governed by ideologically inspired ideas transcending the rules of a covenant to which they are signatories. Since it is arguably a social construct, its suitability to one society may differ from that of another. Creates an opportunity for some states to decouple from the Human Rights convention. Here we enter a minefield of contradictions. First, what makes an ideologically inspired law? Where does that law fit when that ideology conflicts with other ideologies inspired by ‘norms’ within the different cultures of the same society? The struggle for freedom can be found in every culture. I am also considering the contrast between the USA and Iran or Afghanistan, for instance. Is the Electric Chair less humane that stoning a woman to death? Both deny the right to life by lawful execution. We will get to that later.

The plight of the descriminated Uyghur community in China 

Many states reject the idea of Western-sponsored ideas of freedom. Nevertheless, people have human rights regardless of whether they are found in practices, morality, or the law of their country or culture. And like many western States, and for practical reasons, countries around the world are free to impose several qualifications on ideas of universality. First, the right to vote is held only by adult citizens or residents and applies only to voting in one’s own country. Second, the human right to freedom of movement may be taken away from a person convicted of committing a serious crime. And third, some human rights treaties focus on the rights of vulnerable groups such as minorities, women, indigenous peoples, and children. Also, in such cases, as the Bill of Rights in the UK today, the right to protest, dissent, and demonstrate only applies to peaceful protest and does not extend to any violence inflicted or damage caused during a protest or wilful obstruction of motorways. In other words, Human Rights are not absolute or for any one culture to monopolise.

Asylum seekers, Refugees, or immigrants

The new Bill of Rights aims to replace the Human Rights Act 1998 in line with Brexit ideals. It is arguably designed to "help prevent trivial human rights claims from wasting judges" time" and to make it clear UK courts do not always need to follow the decisions of European courts. However, public consultation found people were "overwhelmingly against the proposals", with victims of violence against women, care home residents, and those whose family members have lost their life due to the actions of the police among those raising concerns. The reforms would undermine the universality of human rights by making it more difficult for certain groups to bring cases. Also, it contains clauses that make it easier to deport foreign criminals. The intention is to ensure a proper balance between the rights of individuals and effective government in line with British common law traditions and reduce reliance on Strasbourg case law. For the record, A refugee, conventionally speaking, is a person who has lost the protection of his or her country of origin and who cannot or is unwilling to return there due to well-founded fear of persecution. Such a person may be called an asylum seeker until granted refugee status.

Exceptionalism goes even further.  The Taliban in Kabul, Afghanistan, demand to be left alone to implement their own religious and cultural values at home without foreign interference. Leaders in Kabul insist on not being judged by the norms of others --especially in the West. When America's Western allies tell it that the U.S. capital punishment system is barbaric, local politicians and courts reply that it is their way and no one else's business, precisely what the Taliban says. The United States insists, for example, on the right to execute persons who committed crimes as minors. Never mind that this violates U.S. obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). It is the American way, representing American values and ethics. Many other countries, such as Egypt, Sudan, Turkey, and China, practice a variety of cultural exceptionalism, some more exaggerated than others; such was the case in South Africa's system of Apartheid as is today alleged in Israel.

Pakistan Arrests “11th Imam of Islam” Under the most stringent laws in the world
and carry a possible death sentence

On the other hand, the safety net created by The Universal Declaration of Human Rights treaties setting out civil, political, cultural, and economic rights, as well as the rights of children, women, ethnic groups, and religions, made no room for cultural exceptionalism. In my opinion, wavering ideas of what is Right for you is not right for us; runs unsteadily towards injustice, since the freedom of an individual is inalienable. The challenge now is to create a globalised culture universalising the idea that human rights drive decision-making and overcoming false beliefs that its provisions weaken state sovereignty. On the contrary, Human rights, democracy, and the rule of law create an environment in which countries can promote freedom, protect individuals from discrimination, and ensure equal access to justice for all. Freedom is a natural desire, but for many, freedom is a struggle discriminated from understanding what it is to be free, to have no fear.

With freedom, however, comes responsibility and in this modern digital age control of the internet is an essential part of the universal order. It ensures the rights of all concerned while protecting children from harmful influences. Surveillance and regulating the internet is an added part of the Bill of Rights I referred to earlier. One of the methods used is Artificial Intelligence (AI). Although using this method, there is the likelihood it leads to the erosion of individual freedoms and human judgment with automated control Human rights remain central to what it means to be human. Governments need to ensure they are used as shields, monitoring what can be harmful and overseeing accountability and remedies for any breach of those standards. . Protecting us in the digital age will determine the internet will be a force that liberates, not enchain us. Action to control harm neither constrain freedom nor encroaches on privacy.  

Women have been stripped of the Right to be a Woman.

In conclusion, I believe the government’s à la carte approach to human rights would not do and would not sustain a democratic system. While policing Human Rights does not create authoritarianism but ensures a balance with the Rights of every individual. Obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights ensure that these rights continue to be highlighted by the State’s Rule of law as set out under the convention. To move away from shared ideas of conformity versus autonomy but build an interrelationship within state society in line with Democratic values. Democracy is a universally recognised ideal based on shared universal values, irrespective of cultural, political, social, and economic differences. In tandem with its content values of the Rule of Law and equality of Justice, it preserves and promotes the dignity and fundamental rights of the individual. Sadly Human Rights are in retreat; seeking utopia is not real. The widespread exceptionalism, discrimination, torture, and abuse of the individual are increasing in this ever more turbulent world.  

According to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the situation is so desperate for Afghan women that they commit suicide at a rate of one or two a day.

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