Statement of Lok Raj Sangathan, 30 December, 2022
December 10 of each year is observed by the international community as Human Rights Day as decided by the United Nations Organization. The UN itself was formed at the end of World War II; and adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
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A modern definition of ‘rights’ should include those that are supposed to be inalienable to human beings by mere virtue of their being human beings. “Human’ simply emphasises this quality. Freedom of conscience and of religious beliefs are also said to be enshrined in the principles of the Declaration.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has many noble clauses, including ensuring human beings their right to dignity, freedom from want and hunger, of protection from the forces of nature, or clothing and shelter and of a secure future and of education for children and well-being of all. It is expected that countries that are signatories to this declaration
ensure that all persons living in it, get all the protections mentioned in the Declaration. In addition, those who are citizens by birth or by naturalisation are entitled to further protections which the constitution of each country accords. Immigrants too are expected to be treated with dignity.
All of this sounds very good for sure. But neither the Declaration, nor any of the subsequent accords on these matters provide for any enabling mechanisms. Thus, people in countries that are signatories to it may not have any way of ensuring that they actually get these rights in practice. Moreover, the Declaration does not make it binding on its signatories to guarantee the inviolability of these rights. This is because some of the signatories had the notion that rights can be given to some and not to others, given at one time and taken away at another time at the discretion of those in power. Further, the Declaration ignored the demand of the Soviet Union to recognise the Right to Work as a fundamental Human Right, due to the resistance of countries like the United States. Thus, the Declaration which voiced lofty ideals did not have enabling mechanisms did not include important Rights as fundamental human rights. These are shortcomings whose effects have been felt all along right up to the present times.
After the end of World War II, the colonial era also started ending. The greatest colonial powers like Britain and France, and Portugal and Spain and others left their colonies. The newly independent nations also enthusiastically joined all the international efforts and also signed into these noble principles. India proclaimed itself to be a sovereign democracy and went on to adopt a constitution with long articles on Fundamental Rights, as well as a section on Directive Principles. The latter contained many principles which enlightened human beings strove towards. The only problem was that there is no compulsion on the Union or State Governments to actually implement these principles!
Seven decades after the declaration of formal independence from Britain, India ranks amongst the worst in terms of Human Development Index, as well as other indices. Much of the population suffers from endemic malnutrition, low levels of literacy, very poor life expectancy, high infant mortality, high rates of preventable blindness due to lack of vital minerals in the diet during infancy and early childhood, and all kinds of oppression, characterized by violence, discrimination, and debasement of the human persona.
Instances of human rights abuse are widespread. Tens of thousands of people fighting for democratic rights, for economic demands, against the seizure of tribal lands and agricultural lands under the pretext of the `Eminent Domain’, people fighting for dignity of national or religious minorities have been put behind bars, many of them held without trials for long periods and given harsh sentences in several instances. Even today, many areas of our country, such as Kashmir and vast areas of the Northeast, are virtually under military rule. The notorious Armed Forces Special Powers Act gives immunity to Army and paramilitary forces deployed here against all human rights violations. This Act, as others, are totally against the letter and spirit of not only the Declaration of Human Rights, but of many principles of natural justice. Repeal of AFSPA has thus been a demand made by millions of peoples of these regions for decades on end.
Apart from AFSPA, many other draconian laws have also been passed over the decades which deprive people of their fundamental rights. These include the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act UAPA, National Security Act, NSA etc. It is only the resolute struggle of the people which made the Supreme Court keep the colonial era law against the ‘crime’ of sedition in “abeyance”. Earlier, it was routinely used against journalists uncovering the truth and activists fighting for the rights of various deprived sections of the people. The Citizenship Amendment Act passed in 2019, which gives preferential treatment to applicants of religions other than Islam, is another instance of blatant discrimination against the spirit of the Declaration too.
Human rights violations are also only too pervasive elsewhere in the world. Members of the “Big Five” of the UNO themselves are guilty of the worst war crimes. Driven by their insatiable thirst for cheap raw materials and markets, they have laid entire countries to waste. In many countries draconian laws have been passed, which provide for imprisoning their own national minorities and giving them harsh sentences under the smallest of pretexts. Creating prison-industrial complexes where millions are forced to work in unpleasant jobs, US imperialism is guilty of the worst war crimes, most recently in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. It operates prison complexes like in Guantanamo Bay where the worst abuses of rights are an everyday occurrence.
What is also evident from the near total lack of mechanisms to enforce the ideas enshrined in the Declaration of Human Rights is the utter powerlessness of the Indian people in particular and masses of people around the world in general. It is very clear that political power in India is not wielded or controlled by the people, but by the superrich who ensure that governments formed by political parties carry out their dictate. Sovereignty does not vest in the people of India, but in the Union Cabinet. No wonder that violations of human rights are all so common. No wonder laws are enacted and enforced to incarcerate and punish people fighting for their rights instead of being enacted to enforce those human rights! For, if human rights to indeed become universal, it is essential that sovereignty is vested in the people, and that people wield real political power.