Let’s Start The Year By Finishing Up My Human Rights Series
I’ve been working on this series on human rights, off and on, for most of the year, much of it in the last couple of months. You can find 1-10 here, 11-15 here, 16-20 here, and 21-25 here. As before, first I’m going to quote what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN in 1948, says, then rephrase it in more modern terms. Then I’ll provide some questions for you to explore to see how well the part of the world you live in is supporting these rights, and who is perhaps not being supported. At the end of the post, I’ll suggest ways to get involved in some aspect of human rights work.
Article 26 – The Right to Education
- Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
- Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
- Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
Everyone has the right to be educated. The article goes on to define that education should include not only reading, writing, and arithmetic, but the development of human personalities, communities, and understanding of human rights. However, the third point of the article is that parents can choose the kind of education that their children can have.
This third article leads to a natural dissonance. Throughout the world, there are parents who don’t want their children to learn scientific disciplines or histories that go against their religious or spiritual beliefs. Some parents don’t believe that daughters should have educations. Do these parents have the right to prevent their children, while still minors, from getting a well-rounded education? Further, do they have a right to prevent other peoples’ children from getting a well-round education to prevent their children from getting an education they are opposed to?
Does your society provide free education? At what point does education cease to be free where you are? What systems are in place to help people afford technical, professional, and college educations? Are those systems fair? Do schools in your part of the world generally teach people that all human beings are worthy of respect and support? In what ways do they fall short?
Article 27 – Participation in the Benefits of Art and Science
- Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
- Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.
Again, like many of these rights, this right shows how it is important to balance one right against another. The first part says that everyone should get the benefit of culture, art, and the benefits of science. The second points out that those who create those cultural artifacts, arts and sciences have the right to the protection of their “moral and material interests”.
This obviously means that they should be paid fairly for their creations or discoveries. It also means that they get to have some say in how those creations and discoveries are used and have the right to protect their work from being used in a way they disapprove of.
Is there a difference between being “paid fairly” and “profiting” from a creation? If so, is it a matter of degree, or of kind? What if someone who invents something is prejudiced against a group of people and doesn’t want them to benefit from their invention?
Does that person have a right to ensure that people they don’t approve of can’t benefit, or does the right of people to have access come first? What moral principle are you basing your decision on? How well do people in your part of the world benefit from culture, art and science? Who gets paid for creations, who doesn’t, and why? What could be done to improve the situation?
Article 28 – Societal Stability
Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights
Article 28 means that people have the right to expect that governments at the local, regional, country, and world level work to be consistent and orderly in such a way that the rights listed in this declaration can be fulfilled. It could even be argued that the “social order” mentioned begins in the home and community before it is addressed by laws and governments.
Is this enforceable? Obviously not entirely. But as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, power is not the only currency we can use to change the world. Even ordinary people can also use time, money, and influence to bring about change. Like so many of the articles in this declaration, this article points to work that still needs to be done versus work that has been achieved.
What systems changes at the international level would help to achieve this goal? What kind of timeframe might it take to get them adopted? What barriers are in the way? What resources could be used to help achieve this goal?
Article 29 – The Responsibilities of Individuals
- Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
- In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
- These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
At this point, we’re turning from focusing on the rights of individual people to the responsibilities of individual people. It is the responsibility of each person, to the extent that they are capable, to contribute to their community in such a way that it helps other people’s rights be protected. It also says, in fairly long-winded language, that there is no right to violate other peoples’ rights.
This brings us back to the ongoing issue that sometimes peoples’ rights will be in conflict. How does your part of the world resolve these conflicts (if it does)? What is a principle that you would like to see applied to these? Why? What kinds of problems and exceptions can you foresee?
Article 30 – Summation and Disclaimer
Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights
There is no right to destroy or attempt to destroy the rights of others or the freedoms of others. This is the disclaimer that serves as a glue for much of the rest of the declaration. It sets an absolute limit on the rights of individuals – that their rights do not extend to being able to take away the rights of others.
How does this help distinguish between lawful and unlawful actions? Lawful and unlawful protests? Can you name a movement whose purpose is to keep other human beings from exercising their rights fully in society? Can you name a movement whose purpose it is to advocate for a group of people whose rights are not consistently recognized? How are those two groups different? What would you say to someone who can’t see the difference between the two groups?
It is up to you to decide how much time, energy, influence, and money you want to spend on human rights issues, and which issues you want to focus on. You may have a lot to give, or a little. That is likely to fluctuate over the course of your life. And that is fine. I hope that this series has made you think a bit about the nature of human rights and how they are and aren’t supported in various societies around the world. Here are some ideas for what you can do next:
First, if you live in a country with free and fair elections, vote. Every time. Spend some time in the months before an election learning about the candidates. If you’re unsure, ask questions.
Use Social Media.
Pick a topic or topics that is/are important to you and speak out about them. Learn about those topics and then educate others. Call in or call out people who are violating human rights. Build a following and have each of those people expand their influence. Build some of those contacts into political influence or power.
Run for Office.
If you are eligible and able to, run for local office. National politicians often start locally. Sometimes a local politician becomes powerful at making regional changes. Then, once you’re in office, you can band together with others to increase your power to change things.
Join a local protest group and march and protest with them. Take any classes they offer on effective protest. You can even learn how to lead protests and start planning them yourselves.
Donate to Causes.
It costs a lot of money to run for office and it costs money to run effecive protests. Whenever you can, throw a bit of money in the pot for a favorite person or cause. Every now and then, try to get friends and family to join you. You might even set up an automatic monthly debit.
Provide Material Support.
Cook meals for protesters. Paint signs. Or collect signatures. Make phone calls. Maybe even lick stamps. Perhaps file paperwork. In essence, do the unglamorous everyday jobs that keep an organization running.
You can advocate anywhere, any time, with anyone. As an example, have a conversation with a beloved family member about why prison reform is important. Or you could bring up
It’s very easy to get caught up in a cause and the bubble of people who support it. Sometimes that leads to being blind to problems your cause is making worse. Sometimes you need to stop and gather perspectives from others. Ultimately, your goal is to make sure your cause doesn’t interfere with another set of human rights.
Many human rights violations occur because humans are social animals and we are starved for human interactions. Look into organizing or joining mutual aid society (some in the US are listed here) or simply getting to know your neighbors (virtual and in person). Assist with community projects, and enjoy community support.
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