International Human Rights Day

December 10 comes, December 10 goes. And Human Rights Organisations (HROs) across the world find it increasingly difficult to cope with the ever rising incidents of human rights violations. It doesn't matter whether the regime is democratic or autocratic, violation of human rights is on the raise.

For decades, HROs have been working for the release of "prisoners of conscience" throughout the world. These individuals are often serving long prison sentences in excruciating conditions; they have been jailed for nothing more than their beliefs and non-violent advocacy efforts.

HRO campaigns, however, do not operate in a political vacuum. Once campaigns gain momentum, repressive governments often attempt to invalidate their claims. In the context of campaigns in support of prisoners of conscience, government responses often attempt to discredit the prisoner by accusing them of engaging in violence. Sometimes, like in the well-known case of Nelson Mandela, political prisoners have acknowledged their past use of violence. Other times, however, prisoners of conscience have been accused of violence without clear evidence that they have engaged in it. Such attempts at discrediting increasingly include labelling the abused individual a terrorist. This is the general trend everywhere. And it has become a handy tool for the governments to silence voice of dissent after America launched "War or Terror" globally.

To a considerable extent, the success of HROs depends on their ability to mobilise individuals. As potential supporters of an HRO campaign are deciding whether to lend support, they often receive information from both the HRO and the repressive government. Repressive governments try to discredit prisoners of conscience because they believe that tactic to work. Not that violation of human rights across the globe is a recent phenomenon. The persons in power, aggressive powers, warlords, dictators, even democratically elected governments violated human rights yesterday, and they are violating them today and they will violate rights tomorrow.

In 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army killed about 200,000 Chinese civilians and raped many of their women. The ghost of Nanking massacre continues to haunt the Chinese psyche even today. How the Japanese army brutalised Korean Women—they called them comfort women—during WW II is one of the most inhuman aspect of the then Japanese regime.

During Nazi rule in Germany, from 1933 through 1945, Jews and other "non-Aryan" races were subjected to various atrocities, which included segregation, forced sterilization, cruel "scientific" experimentation, and finally extermination in gas chambers.

Moved by such crimes against humanity, the United Nations General Assembly, on December 10, 1948, adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As the very first worldwide assertion of basic human rights, the Declaration was accepted as "a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations."

"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," asserted its first Article.

"Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person," declared Article 3.

"All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law," proclaimed Article 7.

In this manner the Declaration set out various basic human rights in its 30 Articles.

But in spite of the Declaration, some discriminatory and sometimes even barbaric practices, continued. Since 1948, millions of people have been killed in various wars and conflicts.

No longer feeling secure in their own homes, millions of people have been forced by current wars and conflicts, to walk thousands of miles across unknown seas and lands, to seek refuge in far-away lands. According to the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are nearly 20 million refugees and 40 million displaced people.

Women in many parts of the world are still being denied even some of the very basic human rights. In some countries they cannot even venture out without being accompanied by a male escort. Even in the United States many women are paid less than their male counterparts.

Torture, rape and mass murder by terrorist organisations like Boko Haram and Islamic State continue to brutalise minorities in parts of Africa and Asia. These non-state actors are no less barbaric than some autocratic state actors in Asia and Latin America.

Rohingya Muslims and Tamil Hindus are being terrorised by some extremist Buddhists in Myanmar and Sri Lanka while the governments pretend not to know it.

Muslims in India are forced to keep a low profile. A person can be lynched for eating beef.

African-Americans have difficulty in finding housing in "nice" neighbourhoods, in the United States—'the land of opportunities and democracy'.

Also in the United States, African- Americans continue to be unfairly targeted by law enforcement officials. Two-fifths of all drug offenders in the US state and federal prisons are African- Americans. And as compared to other racial groups, many of the African-Americans end up serving harsh mandatory minimum drug sentences.

Even Planned Parenthood clinics have been terrorised by some extremist individuals and fundamentalist Christian organisations.

HROs have a long way to go before the UN Declaration becomes a reality and make the marking of December 10 sensible to a large section of people. Mere ritualistic observance of December 10 won't be able to stop human rights violations. What is needed is a co-ordinated rights movement. Unfortunately it is not developing in India, it is still sporadic and isolated.

Vol. 48, No. 24, Dec 20 - 26, 2015