Monday, 27 June 2011

Human Rights - People struggling with the definiton.

On the BBC's Sunday Morning Live, Susannah Reid asked viewers to vote on the following question:
Do Immigrant Criminals deserve Human Rights?
I'm afraid to resort to cliché but I very nearly spat my tea out. It's not so much that the question was asked but that it was asked by the BBC who, up to now, I had thought able to grasp the definition of a) what a Human is and b) what a Right is. I know the Daily Mail struggle with it but the BBC?

Unfortunately, this does seem to be a common problem. There are no shortage of people who feel that Human Rights are used almost exclusively by criminals to better their conditions or get off with their crime in the first place. Of course, it's absolute nonsense. Yes, there are examples of clever lawyers using Human Rights legislation in ways that seem highly unfair and distasteful and while it's justifiable to feel aggrieved about such examples it's is wrong to assume that this is the sole purpose of human rights.

Across the world, the battle for human rights is not about helping criminals better enjoy their time in jail but about stopping people being sold into slavery, it's about preventing women from being violently oppressed, it's about fighting religious discrimination and a multitude of other horrors that occur daily. At home, it's about holding the police to account & not being interned without charge, it's about making sure your child isn't disadvantaged because of the colour of his skin and it's about your friend not being turned down for a job because he is gay.

Getting back to the definition - they are called Human Rights for a reason. They apply to all humans and they are rights. There is no room for dilution here and that is the point. No one is exempt, no matter how offensive they may be and at no point can anyone suspend those rights. If they could then what use would they be? History has shown us that time and again, people will decide that other people are less worthy than they are and that usually leads to tragedy. Human rights are effectively a code for all governments to apply to their citizens.

The world will never agree on certain things such as mode of government or the ideology governments should adopt but the world can agree that a few specific rights are universal and cannot be suspended. When we do that we can set about trying to better the lives of millions of people who live without them. Really, who has a problem with that?


  1. The other thing that one hears often is "What about victims' rights?" This fails to understand that human rights are exclusively related to how governments treat people and to prevent abuse by the state (or its representatives), not by individuals. Do people really mean that criminals should hold to a charter of rights for their victims? Well, it's a nice idea, I suppose...