Tuesday, 9 December 2008

reflecting on human rights

tomorrow's a big day, pretty much a full day focused on human rights. i thought i'd spend a little time tonight looking at some of the articles in the orignial declaration. it's a way to remind us of how lucky we are in this country, at least some of us are. some others are not quite so lucky. and it's a time to reflect on the misery some human beings are inflicting on others, in countries all around the world.

Article 1.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

about the only thing that annoys me about the declaration is the sexist language, the assumption that the masculine includes the feminine. but that's an argument for another day, and it's also a product of the generation that wrote it. so for now, a minor quibble.

the thing that stands out for me in the first article is the dual notion of rights and responsibilities. not only do we all have rights, but we have responsibilities towards each other, and this is established right from the start. i get so sick of hearing right-wingers complain that we only ever hear about rights, but never responsibilities. it's a petty attitude that thinks we should deprive a person of their rights because they have failed to recognise the rights of others. by recognising the rights of those who have transgressed, we not only show them a better way but we retain our own dignity and conscience.

Article 11.
(1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

this is one that we really take for granted. apparently many european countries don't follow this article, and it can be extremely difficult to prove innocence, especially when you're already incarcerated and have not much cash available to mount a defence.

there is one exception to this rule that i must say i agree with. in india, if a bride is burnt to death, her spouse and his immediately family are presumed guilty and actually have to prove their innocence. this is a vital protection for women, and appears to have been an extremely effective one.

Article 16.
(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

again, another we take for granted, but for many women (and often men), this is not a freedom they enjoy. i think back to history classes in high school, and studying the period of south african history when it was illegal for a black person to marry a white person. there are still far too many cases where young women are forced into marriage to much older men.

Article 24.
Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

a very special article, which makes me think of all those sweat shop workers doing ridiculous 14-hour days, often for 6 days a week. or domestic workers, all those maids working all day every day, 7 days a week with 1 day off a month, and maybe a month to go back to their countries of origin to be with their families. or even in this country, all those who work 2 or 3 jobs just to earn a living wage, and end up having very little time to spend with their children.

these are just a few to reflect on, although there are many others that resonate with me such as article 23, article 25(1) and article 27(1). but it's worth reading through the whole lot, and taking the time to think about the impact of not having that particular right.

some good news just in: asoka basnayake has just won an award at the Annual Micies awards by Planet FM for an election special programme she produced as part of the women's voices. i can't see the programme up on the archives, but there are various other programmes archived on the page. way to go asoka, i know the hard work you put in to the show, and this is some very well deserved recognition.

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