The year, 1948, and the recent adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN seemed to promise a bright future for new generations. However, that has not been the case, as in virtually all countries, human rights have been repeatedly violated, regardless of political, economic or social arrangements. Historically, this could be seen in wars or proxy wars, racial and protectionist policies. However, despite the gradual disappearance of the latter, human rights violations have paved their way into modern societies, sometimes hidden in the ever-deeper web of events, opinions and judgements surrounding us. Nonetheless, depravation of fundamental rights continues to be a problem happening right in front of our eyes and one for which many times we don’t ever know the truth.
Unfortunately, one of the main problems of human rights is their subjectivity and enforceability. Since its adoption by the UN in 1948, the main problem has been the lack of enforceability. Firstly, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights couldn’t be made obligatory, so it remained an ideal orientation for countries and for humanity. From there on, all countries have been able to decide which human rights conventions to sign and which not to. Therefore, the guarantee of these rights has become subject to selectivity, and in many cases to interpretation. On most occasions, countries fail to acknowledge their participation in human right violations both within and outside their borders. What’s more, in recent years this matter has been subject to politicization, with accusations reaching even the UN. In general, there are many economic and geopolitical interests for human rights to guide foreign policy whatsoever. This has created problems for many groups of people, which don’t have the power or the voice to make themselves be heard, as they’re subject to their States will and their version of the story.
Another problem with human rights’ violations is that they are many times backed up and even encouraged by societies and politicians. Across modern history we can see various examples of this, such as the Apartheid or the Rwandan Genocide. A concerning aspect is that, nowadays, this problem has been shifted mostly to immigration. This depravation of human rights extends far and wide, from the migrant camps in Turkey and across Europe to the detention centers in the US and Oceania. In most cases, “detention centers fall short of adequate medical conditions where a large number of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers have been detained over a long period of time or even indefinitely, and their human rights have been violated” (CNN, 2021). What’s more, in many of these countries facing this dilemma, nationals know little about these behaviors or even support them. Pairing this up with the rising waves of protectionism, discrimination, supremacy and even COVID-19 concerns may only make matters worse. Therefore, the question must be raised about whether the systems built around us really protect us and are transparent to us when it comes to the protection of human rights, both for nationals and foreigners.
In addition, in many cases the States play an important role in the perception of human rights’ protection both to its citizens and to the outside world. The case is most extreme in authoritative regimes or in conflicting regions. In many of these the control over the media allows these governments to keep their information within their borders. That is the case of Myanmar and its coup d’état, where “By stripping the people of Myanmar of their basic rights, the military is once again demonstrating its disdain for international human rights protections” (Human Rights Watch, 2021). The same case could be made for China, most recently with the Hong Kong protests. However, this case is the exception, since China has been depriving thousands of people of their human rights, most notoriously the Tibetese and the Uighurs, for decades now, with Chinese officials controlling to a certain degree the information leaked outside of its borders. Therefore, it is up to us not to accept all given information and start questioning what’s really going on, for our own sake and that of humanity.
Finally, one of the most important issues with human rights is that even their guarantee is difficult to achieve. For instance, it could be argued that poverty is a limiting factor to the plenitude of human rights. However, the fight against poverty in itself is very challenging, as it involves thousands of factors, such as institutions and culture. What’s more, culture may play an important role in the perpetuation of human rights violations, adding a whole new dimension on the difficulty to tackle such issues. For example, intolerance against minorities or genders might undermine those groups’ fundamental rights. Shockingly, the persistence of misogynistic traditions and beliefs in many societies, going as far as Afghanistan, where “if you are born as a girl, you may experience the harshest punishment – selling you for the survival of the rest of family – simply because you are a girl” (Bamik, 2018) also halt to a great extent the protection of human rights. Finally, the delicacy of the issue might be best exemplified through dresswear. In some Islamic countries, the obligatory use of the burka might be seen as a human rights violation, whereas in France, the prohibition of its use led to the same conclusion. Therefore, tackling issues regarding fundamental rights is complex, as it may involve many social factors which are deeply rooted in our traditions and daily life, making them harder to be guaranteed.
Overall, human rights protection is a complex issue which might turn a simple discussion into a philosophical and ethical one. The subjective nature of it often times makes it difficult to assess. If you add the element of societal groups and its dynamics, it becomes a very complex topic closely related to perceptions, culture and even geopolitics. Despite that, in every country there has been depravations of fundamental rights, either hidden or exposed, accepted or non-accepted, which have happened right before our eyes. Therefore, it is our task to look and examine deeply within ourselves and our inner circles the sources of this problems and solve them, because we’re also part of the problem. It is our duty to turn our complex world into a simpler one, where cultural traits and beliefs guarantee equal conditions for all, and where our involvement with the media and with political processes guarantees the protection of human rights. Are you up for the challenge?