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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

It's easy to fall into the mind-trap of "we're right and they're wrong" thinking, especially on a day such as today when everyone is thinking about the event which sparked the current "War on Terror". Someone whom I consider a friend posted something on FB today that is horrifying in its dispassionate disregard for human life outside the United States. [EDIT 9/18: Said friend wrote to me privately a little while after I posted this, saying, among other things, "Enemies of my country and the freedom of its people are not required to be from outside this country." So I was mistaken in believing his statements to display "dispassionate disregard for human life outside the United States." Alas, sadly, he still seems to display said disregard for human life in other, non-nationalistic, ways.]

I prefer to regard all human life as equally valuable. The UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights goes a long way towards articulating these feelings. And though there is room for improvement, I still think it's good for us to read this from time to time to remind ourselves of what we're trying to achieve.

In summary:

  1. We are all born free and equal, and we must work together to stay that way.

  2. Everyone is entitled to these rights. Everyone. Period.

  3. We all have the rights to life, freedom, and safety.

  4. Nobody has any right to make us a slave, nor do we have the right to make anyone else a slave.

  5. Nobody has any right to hurt us, torture us, or degrade us.

  6. Everyone has the right to be recognized and treated as a person under the law.

  7. Everyone is entitled to equal protection under the law.

  8. Everyone is entitled to petition the legal authorities if any of these rights are violated.

  9. Nobody has the right to arrest us, imprison us, or exile us without due process.

  10. Everyone has the right to a public trial, presided over by an impartial court, for any criminal charges.

  11. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and no one may be subject to ex post facto laws.

  12. No one has the right to invade our privacy—whether that be our persons, our homes, our families, or our correspondence—or to slander our honor or reputation without due process.

  13. Everyone has the right to travel within the borders of their own country, and everyone has the right to leave their country and be allowed to return.

  14. Everyone has the right to flee unwarranted persecution and seek asylum in another country.

  15. Everyone has the right to belong to a country. Everyone has the right to change what country they belong to.

  16. Every adult has the right to enter into a marriage, or to leave it. No one has the right to force anyone into a marriage. Every adult has the right to a family, and the family as a unit is entitled to protection by the community and the law.

  17. Everyone has the right to own property. No one has the right to take that property away without due process.

  18. Everyone has the right to any religion, or none. Everyone has the right to express that religion, or lack, through teaching, practice, worship, or other observance. Everyone has the right to change religions or give them up.

  19. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

  20. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful public assembly and association. No one has the right to force us into an association that we do not want.

  21. Every adult has the right to take part in government through voting, representation, and direct public service. The basis of government is the will of the people.

  22. Everyone has the right to affordable housing, medicine, education, childcare, enough money to live on, and medical care.

  23. Every adult has the right to employment, to earn a fair wage for their work, to the ability to live comfortably off of said fair wage, and to join a trade union.

  24. Everyone has the right to rest and leisure.

  25. Everyone has the right to a good standard of living, including food, clothing, shelter, and medicine. Those who have been deprived of their livelihood through circumstances beyond their control are entitled to be cared for until such livelihood can be regained.

  26. Education is a right. Primary school shall be free and compulsory. Higher education shall be equally accessible on the basis of merit.

  27. Everyone is entitled to enjoy the benefits of art, science, and learning. Authors of artistic or scientific works have the right to retain their interests in said works.

  28. Everyone has a right to live in a world where all of these rights can be fully realized.

  29. Everyone has a duty to respect the rights of other people. Everyone has the right to the full expression of individual rights except in cases where such expression violates the rights of others.

  30. No one can take away your human rights.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 11th, 2013 05:58 pm (UTC)
Punishment or torture?
You said, "5.Nobody has any right to hurt us, torture us, or degrade us."

There is an interesting question here, in my mind: what constitutes torture, as opposed to punishment? If I do not feel that I have done anything wrong (suppose, in this hypothetical, that I am a sociopath incapable of regarding anyone else as a real person) when I have killed someone. I wanted the contents of their wallet, say, and they refused to give it to me, so I killed them. You (the policeman, the judge, the prosecutor, the jury) found me, tried me, found me guilty, and sentenced me to life without parole.

Now, have you punished me, or have you tortured me? Since I (the sociopath) do not recognize your right to restrain me, nor that I did anything wrong, I will likely regard any restrictions on my freedom to act as torture rather than punishment. You, the courts, the jury and the public as a whole, see the decision as just punishment.

So which is it? Punishment or torture?

(While I agree with the original statement, personally, I have a few questions regarding torture vs punishment, and the definitions thereof.)
Sep. 18th, 2013 02:10 pm (UTC)
Re: Punishment or torture?
This is a difficult question. As a Buddhist, I actually consider punishment to be wrong. I feel that we should be working to reintegrate criminals into society rather than carrying out institutional revenge against them. And for those who cannot be reintegrated, I feel we should provide an environment in which they can be as happy and as self-realized as they can be without harming others. Easier said than done, obviously, but when have we ever actually tried it?

I do understand, however, that society as a whole doesn't not embrace this philosophy, so I suppose the best I can hope for is that we apply the legal principle of the "reasonable person" standard. Would a reasonable person consider this punishment to fit the crime, or would said reasonable person consider it cruel and/or unusual? Or torture? The problem with this is that sometimes no one is reasonable when it comes to certain things. Consider the legal punishments in place for "possession" crimes of various descriptions. When a police force can legally confiscate and sell your possessions if you are merely being investigated for a crime, reason has gone straight out the window.

So . . . I guess I don't have a definitive answer for you. But I hope I've at least given you something to think about.
Sep. 12th, 2013 11:41 pm (UTC)
I agree that at the most basic level, rights are human rights. "We don't have to respect their rights because they're foreigners" strikes me as a deeply corrupt and dangerous argument.
Sep. 18th, 2013 01:29 pm (UTC)
I'm glad we agree on this.
Sep. 19th, 2013 01:25 pm (UTC)
What are rights?
Sadly, the only "rights" that we seem to have are those that we can defend, with force where necessary. And yes, before you comment, I understand that this really classifies them as "privileges" rather than "rights".

And yes, I also understand the dictionary definition of "right": "a moral or legal entitlement to have or obtain something or to act in a certain way". But it seems as though we have to "fight" for our rights (or those of others) as individuals or as a group (or nation). Which puts these rights into the category of "I can obtain them" rather than "they are mine" - and the obtaining of them all too often seems to involve breaking heads.

Or maybe I'm just being a bit over pessimistic here...
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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