Human rights are for all humans

human_rights_day_logoToday is International Human Rights Day.

“Human rights” means different things to different people. But they belong to all people.

They are, in the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “…the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family…”

This is echoed in the International Bill of Human Rights; “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” (by which presumably, is meant siblinghood).

In other words, human rights are not just there to protect burglars from being shot by homeowners, or (please note, Mrs May) to prevent terrorists from being deported .

Neither are they just for people who happen to be born into economic situations that enable them to live in decent houses, be decently clothed, have a nutritious diet, educate their children and be treated when sick. And not to be subjected to physical violence or deprived of their liberty. Or denied legal representation when these rights are abused.

They are also there for those who grow and process the crops and manufacture and transport the decent clothes, nutritious food, medical implements etc that the fortunate few have the money to purchase. Like the workers on Assam’s tea plantations many of whose rights are being abused, according to a World Bank report.

They are there for those who sweep the floors and clean the toilets of the decent housing of the fortunate few, who cook their nutritious food and transport their children to school. Like the domestic workers of Trinidad and Tobago who are not even recognised as workers, and are therefore denied their labour rights.

“To deny people their human rights”, said Nelson Mandela, “is to challenge their very humanity.”

I’ve been rivetted lately to a television series called 3%. It’s a dark, Brazilian tale of a dystopian world in which 97% of the population live in abject poverty, with few amenities and are recognisable by their tattered clothes and dirt smeared faces (the latter never quite explained).

When they turn 20 they can register to go through a Process which, if they pass, will allow them to go ‘Offshore’ where the lucky, happy, well clothed and clean-faced 3% live and benefit from amazing medical advances.

As far as I can see, the only fictional part of this story is the bit where the poor 97% are regularly given a chance to join the 3%. The reality is that the poorest mostly stay poor. And the gap between the richest and poorest grows ever larger. According to Oxfam, “The richest 1% now has as much wealth as the rest of the world combined”

Things for the real world equivalent of the 97% are gradually getting better. Economist, Johan Norberg tells us that “In 1820, 94% of humanity subsisted on less than $2 a day in modern money. That fell to 37% in 1990 and less than 10% in 2015.”

Water Aid offers another positive example; in Malawi 9 in 10 people now have access to safe water, while in  1990 it was just 4 in 10.

But that is still far too many people without clean water and/or living on less that $2 a day. Why should there be even one person living on less than a living wage or without a living income?

Too many industries still rely on poverty wages, endless working hours and abusive practices to make sure the decent clothes and knick knacks are on the shelves exactly when the fortunate few want them. They accept it as though it was a law of nature, innocently asking, how do you expect the industry to survive if we pay more? As Franklin D Roosevelt said, “no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue”.

Denying people human rights on the grounds of business expediency is not right. And it’s not decent. If you agree, the UN invites you to Stand up for someone’s rights today!


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