Human rights: Time to deliver

Jivesh Jha


There is a difference between enactment and enforcement. Enforcement comes after enactment, it is only the echo of its source and it is proud to be the echo. In this age, we can discover almost any law or instrument at our pleasure. Still, are we serious about its implementation part?

Today is Human Rights Day; a day designated by the United Nations (UN) to draw the attention of international community towards the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948 by a vote of 48 to nil with eight abstentions.

That deliberation is considered as one of the five core human rights treaties of the UN that functions to advance fundamental freedoms and to protect basic human rights for all persons. The declaration is neither addressed to nations nor to the member states but to every individual. This UN deliberation is in keeping with the words, “We the people of United Nations” with which preamble of UN Charter rings.

In the words of Palmer and Perkins, ardent commentators on Human Rights, ‘UDHR is a beacon of light for all mankind.’ There we can come across 30 fundamental rights guaranteed to every human being by virtue of being human. The humanity within us demands the need to protect each one of us at national as well as international stages.

Ever since its inception, UDHR has acted as a morally binding guideline to protect humanity and uphold human dignity. Still, this occasion as ‘International Human Rights Day’ always affords a mixed reaction. The UN and other agencies invest huge sums for the protection and promotion of human rights but the job is far from being done.

The instrument has not only been hailed as an historic event of the profound significance and as one of the greatest achievements of the UN but also believed as a ‘path-finding instrument’. Yet, its gross and systematic abuses continue to be perpetuated in broad daylight.

“A day does not pass without news stories of severe human rights violation in countries across all regions of the globe. Are our children being treated humanely? Are our labour rights protected humanely enough? Are our women safe on streets? Are our women, children, differently-abled persons or senior citizens living a dignified life?” asks Dr Laxman Singh Rawat, a faculty member at International Law in Uttaranchal University, Dehradun, India.

In this light, the Constitution of Nepal, which entered into force on September 20, 2015, under Article 16 envisages that every person shall have right to live with dignity.

So, what does dignity means? Is it an integral part of human rights? Dr Rawat explains, “Dignity means a state or quality of being worthy of honour and respect without any hassle. A dignified life has a freedom to exercise his rights and even fight for it. It symbolises equality as an intrinsic right and confirms that every human is equal in this world and that everyone has equal rights and duties.”

More so, “A dignified life demands opportunity to fulfill one’s potential, which rests on the bedrock of having a human level of healthcare, education, income and security. Dignity means having the freedom to make decisions in one’s life and dignity should be the epicentre of all guiding principles of state as well as private actions which should ensure right to livelihood with not only a bare subsistence but also a life with dignity,” maintains the much-admired commentator of Constitutional Law Dr Mamta Rao, who is well-known for her popular work Law Relating to Women and Children.

The question must be asked is: “Why is more not being done to protect individuals from discrimination, poverty, slavery, inequality, or torture?” questioned she.

So, will it be just to conclude that the only thing universal about human rights is their universal violation? Unfortunately, the answer lies in positive sense. Yet 69 years on, we don’t have a long history of commitment to the realisation of human rights.

“Although the provisions of UDHR either constitute the general principles of law or represents elementary consideration of humanity, it has always given an inspirational (or moral) rather than binding flavor,” adds Dr Rawat.


Way out

So, what could be the reformative measures?

“Our education system should encompass values such as peace, non-discrimination, equality, justice, dignity, tolerance, and respect for human dignity,” adds Dr Rao. She then goes on to claim that “Our legal education system is good at imparting knowledge about human rights but bad at educating students about violence redressal and preventive mechanism.”

Nevertheless, “The international quality education based on human rights approach would certainly reflect a vivid picture that the rights were implemented right through the whole education system and in all learning environment,” insists Dr Rao, who is also a faculty member at Constitutional Law in RD University, Jabalpur, India.

Despite this, “Concerns of human rights can no more remain an affair of the state in present world. The only thing universal about universal human rights ought to be its universal acceptance,” further adds Professor Dr Rao. Ironically, the words of UDHR don’t seem to have muscle of measures such as imposing a sanction against the state found violating human rights.

“The only way to ensure a safe and equal society is to educate tomorrow’s leaders against the blunders and injustices that we have witnessed in the past. Yet another giant step could be to raising our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters without any gender favouritism. Also, men need to understand that equality for women is not charity but a right. Similarly, the international community should bear in mind that the observance of UDHR is not a charity but a duty,” argues Dr Rao.

In a concluding remark, this scribe submits: Together let’s stand against all forms of bigotries and transform inequality, discrimination or violation of human rights into a hope for humanity. We must resist efforts to back human rights violations.

And, most importantly, it’s high time for international community to resort precisely towards enforcement than mere enactment.

The writer is currently pursuing Master’s in Constitutional and Administrative Laws from Uttaranchal University, Dehradun, India.

Published on December 10, 2017