The Struggle for the Affirmation of Human Rights continues!
Statement of the Lok Raj Sangathan dated December 20, 2020
The world marks December 10 every year as the International Human Rights Day (IHRD) in honour of the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) in 1948. Responding to the aspirations of the world’s peoples for peace and fulfilment of human rights, at the end of the World War II, the United Nations drew up the UDHR. It was adopted and signed by most of the membership of the organisation. Some of the salient features of the UDHR are given in Box 1.
This anniversary comes at a time when the world is gripped by crises of humongous proportions, with a large fraction of mankind still deprived of even basic necessities. The world economy is gripped by a severe crisis, partly due to the almost yearlong pandemic of 2020 and because of the general inability of governments to meet the basic needs of the people world. The last 7 decades have seen the world racked by wars. Entire nations have been laid to waste, especially by the US imperialists who emerged victor of the Cold War that ensued after the Second World War. Nations who refused to toe the line of the US imperialists and would not surrender their sovereignty and their natural resources for plunder were attacked.
Today, in many parts of the world, human rights are violated every day in the form of arbitrary imprisonment and torture, bonded labour and slavery, human trafficking and debasement of women and children. Elsewhere, religious, and ethnic minorities, or immigrant populations are targeted for attacks by both state apparatus as well as extreme political ideologies. The right to conscience has been denied to many persons in the world with constant attacks and humiliation of their right to practice their faith. Many countries are actively involved in demonizing persons of specific faiths, and harassing national minorities, subjecting them to arrests and incarceration, with terrible biases in their legal systems in punishing national minorities with penalties in no way commensurate with their offences.
Despite India being a signatory to the UDHR, on the ground there is a daily negation of the principles put forward in it. India continues to be a country with some the world’s most impoverished persons. The basic needs required to provide a life of dignity are not fulfilled for the majority of people who live in the country. There are daily attacks on peoples based on their caste and their economic situation, and attacks and violence perpetrated on women. There are also attacks on religious minorities and tribal peoples. Many Adivasi, tribal and indigenous peoples are deprived of their livelihood with no compensation whatsoever. There is a regime of arbitrary arrests due to many draconian laws under the pretext of tackling terrorism or under the pretext of protecting the integrity and unity of the country. There are shocking instances of detention and incarceration of individuals involved in fighting for the dignity of oppressed sections of society and rights of minorities, wherein those detained are denied basic facilities, and are denied even proper utensils for consumption of food and water, or suitable arrangements for sleep, and even denial of spectacles for those are visually impaired. The behaviour of law enforcement agencies and the police is despicable and has been roundly condemned.
Why does such a situation exist seventy-two years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? It may be noted that while member signatories had in principle agreed to sign the declaration, there was no legal binding or a covenant on governments to ensure the rights in practice, and there are no significant provisions to enforce these either. This was also discussed at the time of the debates around the formulation and adoption of the UDHR. In particular, the delegates of the USSR had raised this as an important article of faith. The other principal victors of the Second World War, however, did not agree to any kind of a covenant or binding clauses on the signatories of the UDHR. This is one of the great shortcomings of the UDHR and has basically reduced the UDHR to just a paper tiger, with the implementation of its articles being left to the good will and good faith of the signatories. Often, most egregious violations of human rights, violation of the right to conscience, of the rights of nations are carried out by the signatories themselves, with no fear of punishment or any kind of legal ramification or cost. Even at the time of the formulation of the UDHR, a struggle broke out between the modern definition of rights – based on the principle that every human being has rights by dint of being human, and the old vision based on exploitation of peoples and nations. This continues even today.
Internationally, a few powers, notably the Anglo- American imperialists continue to launch wars or impose crippling economic sanctions against countries whose leaderships do not toe the line of these powers. Often, these are launched in the name of “protecting democracy” or similar causes. However, the real reason is that the imperialists wish to protect and advance their economic and strategic interests – the Iraq war is a prime example of this.
The Paris Charter ushered in by the US imperialists and their allies in the early nineties declared that all states must agree to a new world order based on “free market” economy, multi-party democracy and “rule of law”. The imperialist powers headed by the US gave themselves the “right” to openly violate sovereignty of nations and impose a world order which gave primacy to monopoly rights and left people to fend for themselves. This was an affirmation of the old order of exploitation of nations and peoples. Millions of people had participated in the World War to defeat fascist forces, precisely to negate this – and the UDHR was an embodiment of this spirit.
In India, a small minority – a handful of Indian and foreign monopolies and business houses – control the lions’ share of the wealth of the country and wield immense power. Political parties vie with each other to serve them. To maintain their rule, since colonial times, rulers have used the policy of dividing the people by embroiling them in internecine fights. The serious instances of violation of human rights and dignity in India by the landlords, police, government security agencies, goons of political parties and others is meant to browbeat people into accepting the unbridled exploitation by the super-rich.
On the brighter side, the struggle of peoples and nations to enforce their rights has continued throughout the last 72 years. Whenever the Anglo-American imperialists have launched wars – be it in Vietnam or more recently in Iraq – millions of people in their own countries as well as others have come out in protest and in demonstrations large and small. Countries such as Cuba and Iran continue to boldly refuse to kowtow to the Anglo-American imperialists, inspiring other nations too. Struggles by workers, women, students, youth and religious or national minorities have continued unabated, and many victories have been won, though there is much more to be done.
Likewise, in India too people have been relentlessly fighting for their rights. As we write, the massive struggle of peasants in North India, who have camped at the border of the capital city of Delhi for over a fortnight, is being supported by masses of workers, students, youth, and others throughout the country. Similarly, millions of people had opposed the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act passed by parliament about a year ago.
The 72nd anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights is a good occasion for everyone interested in upholding human dignity to unite around the question of violation of human rights and on the need to fight for their affirmation. It may be concluded that a good part of the UDHR remains unfulfilled even today, 72 years after its declaration. But it is heartening to see that there are many principled individuals and organisations that are waging a daily struggle to uphold these noble principles. Equally, it is inspiring to note the example of countries that boldly oppose the dictates of the imperialist powers. The struggle to affirm human rights continues to this day, and the IHRD is a great occasion to remember this and to assess and evaluate progress in this direction.
Long live the struggle for the fulfilment of Human Rights!
Fight for the right to conscience, the rights of nations!
Demand Constitutional guarantees for basic necessities!
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
The text of the UDHR was said to have been framed by some of the finest legal minds of the era and drew from the experience of several tumultuous events including for example the French Revolution, the Bill of Rights, the American Constitution, and others. The UDHR on the other hand did not take significant cognisance of the socialist experience of the USSR which had already been in existence for nearly 3 decades at the time of the UDHR. The UDHR is said to be the first time in history that there was a clear articulation of all the inalienable and equal freedom and rights of a human being. It was a grand summation of the experience of humanity until that point in history which place rights as the centrepiece of all political, social, and economic life, and as an important national and international matter.
In essence, the document reflected the experience of the major western countries most of which also had been significant colonial powers in the past and continued to hold colonies even at the time of the UDHR. The conception of rights and their realisation therefore remained a limited one that did not recognize many important rights, including those of, say the rights of nations, and did not recognise the right of any nation in composite countries to secede. This remained and to this day remains an important sticking point in the conception put forward in the UDHR.
The UDHR consists of a Preamble and 30 articles. The Preamble recognises the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family, denounces contempt for human rights and enshrines the freedom of speech and belief, freedom from fear and want, the aspiration for protection of human rights, reaffirms the principles in the UN Charter among other things. The articles spell out and reaffirm repeatedly, the dignity and rights and in equal measure, and the hope that human beings act in the spirit of brotherhood, lack of discrimination on basis of any creed or differentiation based on colour, gender, ethnicity or national origin.
The UDHR upheld right to life, liberty and security, condemnation of slavery or any kind, condemnation of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment, asserted that every person has a right to recognition before the law, which shall accord equal protection and not discriminate, and that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention of exile, entitled to fair trials, of presumption of innocence, protected from attacks of privacy, security for family and honour and reputation, freedom of movement, freedom to seek asylum, a nationality or right to change it, rights for marital union and rights to raise a family, right to own property and the protection of this right, right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and to change these, freedom to receive and impart ideas, of assembly, participate in government, social security and economic, social and cultural rights. It included the right to work and equal pay for equal work, and just and favourable remuneration, to form unions, to rest and to have recreation, adequate standard of living and access to health-care and well-being, special rights for mothers and children, to education, cultural life, an international order to enforce these articles, as well as duties to community, and exercise of rights subject to reasonable limitations depending on the society, and in accordance with the principles of the UN, and asserted that there should be no self-destructive application of the articles in the document.