Saturday, September 7, 2013

An examination of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The United Nations' "Declaration of Human Rights" ( appears to be an excellent starting point to ensure freedom, dignity and artistic expression.

Closer examination, however, reveals the need for some significant changes. Most pressingly, the required changes have to do with confirming the right to live fully as an individual, gender equality, and to guarantee the right to human dignity irrespective of sexual orientation, intellectual ability, or accident of birth.

> Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Last resort? Rebellion must be the first response to tyranny and oppression. The thinking behind this clause appears to have been the ruling class worrying about the trough being knocked over, and not human dignity as being important in itself.

> Whereas Member States have pledged themselves.....

So, it's not universal, but is restricted to member states ( Taiwan isn't a member, and Kosovo isn't either; South Sudan doesn't appear to be, and Guantanamo Bay is tricky.

> They (human beings) are endowed with reason...

What of those of us who are not endowed with reason? Are to be possessed of dignity? How shall reason be measured? Will agencies of the State carry out tests of reason? Will those who fail such a test be unworthy of human dignity?

> ...(human beings) should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

We must all be brothers, even the women amongst us. Or may we ignore the exclusion of the female gender? No, we may not, for this document of international relevance must get it right. Especially as Articles 10, 11 and 12, to cite a few, insist upon the use of the male pronoun, to the exclusion of the female.

Article 25, on the other hand, goes the other way, with its protection of widowhood, but not of men bereft of their, presumably female, mates.

> Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

What about disability, caste and sexual orientation? Can any or all of these be grounds for exclusion from our brotherhood?

What about age? Do these rights apply only to "adults"? This latter point is especially relevant as certain articles specifically refer to the age of the human.

> No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy,....

Even in the most prosperous, liberal parts of the world, individual privacy is under threat today. This article could do with some strengthening: e.g. to link privacy with the core of human dignity. We have enough accounts of the so-called re-education camps of the previous century to support this demand.

> Everyone has the right to a nationality

That is a good thing. However, the point must be explicitly made that human beings, irrespective of the state of their papers and whether their police-issued documents have expired or not, are to be treated with dignity. Nations are temporary political constructs, and are by no means essential to, or sufficient for, human dignity.

> The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

This is a little scary, as it clearly implies that single women and men are an abomination. They must find mates. The State will protect the family? Will it also insist upon the family dining together, and co-habiting?

> Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

This convoluted sentence essentially implies that those born in parts of the world that are not doing well economically will just have to go without human dignity. The feeble "international co-operation" bit falls far short of placing the burden of ensuring human dignity and freedom in all member states on all member states. The next step would be to extend to all humans, irrespective of whether or not they can be proven to belong to, or live in, a member state.

> 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.

I wonder if "scientific advancement" also refers to medical care? Will all human beings have access to the latest medicines and expert care?

In conclusion, this declaration needs significant and urgent overhaul. If we must pay for diplomats, then let there be increased chances of freedom and dignity, and for all.

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