“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” – Nelson Mandela
The world has struggled with the concept of human rights for centuries and sadly it took two world wars encompassing the death of millions of people and the carnages of the Holocaust for it to be initially secured by the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948; which in its preamble acknowledges that “the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…”.
This however has not prevented some of the governments of today from abusing, ignoring and denying the basic rights of their populations; in fact many governments are just as incongruously tribal as they were in the past, willing to do almost anything – including instigating violence- in their attempt to command power and resources.
This is evidenced by the plenitude of humanitarian crises occurring simultaneously all over the globe; millions of people suffer every day at the hands of their governments who fail to acknowledge or utterly disregard the basic rights of their populations. I speak of the draconian laws against homosexuality passed by Uganda, India and Russia, the helpless women in Afghanistan who are forced to undergo vaginal examinations to prove virginity and the current threats to reintroduce public stoning for adulterers, the mistreatment of Palestinian children in Israel, the ongoing internal conflict in South Sudan, Syria and Mali which has resulted in extrajudicial killings, numerous human rights atrocities and thousands of refugees to name a few.
I find it so ironic that the discourse around human rights is so vibrant yet still its practice is so poorly communicated around the world. What I have discovered is that states are always quick to highlight issues which affect their national interests and which have particular bearings on the achievement of their personal goals, and any other issues detached from that is often considered to be unimportant.
Someone recently told me that after careful reflection they had realised that noone cared about human rights. The fact is that we hear about human rights every day and the various international legal norms, conventions and protocols that have been invested to protect the human rights of people. However, state practice all over the globe and the state of the world today proves that there is rampant and utter disregard for international human rights principles. I find it hard to fathom how cruel we can be to each other and the extent governments will go to protect their interests, all in the name of political ideology, creed and religion.
I do not believe as human beings we are innately inhumane to each other, it is not in our makeup, we are born and shaped with love; however, we are often socialized and programmed to hate. Unequivocally, I believe like any other learnt behavior we can be taught to love. I grew up in a society where I never felt completely free; where from an early age I realized that I would never be able to access the same rights and to lead a healthy normal life because of my sexual orientation. In Jamaica it is completely appropriate and acceptable for people to have negative attitudes towards people of homosexual orientation; most Jamaicans view this intolerance towards homosexuality as a part of the cultural history and national identity. In my experience, the Jamaican society by way of popular music, socialization and by its very legal fabric encourages a culture of violence against homosexuals, especially gay men.
As a result from a young age I faced assaults, scorn, and judgment from people who perceived me to be gay. As I grew older the abuse became more pugnaciously physical; I remember an incident where I was attacked by a young man on my school premises. I had been attacked before, but this one was more extreme; I literally believed he wanted to kill me. The young man wore a mask and accosted me with a cavernous plywood board which shattered as it connected with my shoulder blades. He then began to thrust the now broken and sharp edged plywood to my throat while uttering ‘You are going to die today faggot.’ Fortunately, I was rescued; however, this young man got away scotch free because there was no justice to be sought for me. His actions were celebrated as being patriotic and a warranted punishment for me being who I am, which by society’s standards is simply taboo.
It is inconceivable how abhorrence and the discrimination it fuels can incite people to do very malevolent and unpleasant things. I share this to emphasize that I know what it feels like to be oppressed. It is for this very reason why my soul cries out for the people of the world who are being burdened by the despotic hands of their governments. Nelson Mandela taught us that kindness is at the core of humanity; as human beings we all share this trait and with it we can transcend any conflict.
In short, justice, love and tolerance can overcome even the greatest brutality. We must be reminded of the fact that every man, woman and child on earth are born equal in dignity and rights; we are brothers and sisters of the earth and therefore we have a duty to look after one another. We should be friendly towards each other and respect the rights of everyone to live in freedom and safety. With that said, despite the pessimism that pervades human rights in international politics today, I do have faith that things will change for the better one day. Until then we all need to continue to play our part in promoting and advocating human rights for all.
By Jason Dean Holness
Picture 1: ep_jhu, licensed under CC BY 2.0
Picture 2: andres musta, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0