Introduction

Introduction

The concept of human rights means that regardless of the circumstances of a person's birth, social status, beliefs, which side of a border they happen to live upon or any other classification, they are entitled to a reasonable level of human dignity. To those tortured, brutalised or excluded however, the mere concept of human rights is worthless if nothing is done to claim those rights.

That so many human rights violations are preventable is a failure of the global community and the more fortunate members who have the most to give, shoulder much of the responsibility. We as wealthy nations are in a position to make a positive difference in the world around us, however, our energies are shamelessly spent in enriching ourselves, often at the expense of the poor and vulnerable that we should be helping. Our wealth in and of itself is not inherently immoral, it becomes so when its unequal distribution means gluttony for some, and starvation for others.

We have an internationally agreed-upon document that sets out a firm basis for the protection of human rights. This document, signed by most of the world's nations, is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The majority of the world's people, therefore, have theoretical human rights which their governments have agreed to. It is easy to sign pieces of paper, it is not so easy to give up some of what we have. The agreement our countries entered into when signing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should ethically bind us to act according to its principles. It should compel us to the implementation of the articles contained within it because we understand that the cost of non-compliance is so great.

We in the developed world have largely failed humanity in this task. We have abrogated our responsibility to use our own freedom to fight for freedom and equal opportunities for others. Whilst we remain transfixed by our possessions, competition and entertainment, others suffer.

Many of us in wealthy nations don't even realise that slavery is commonplace in our world and in many places increasing, that torture and oppression are a daily reality for so many, that brutal dictatorships oppress their people with the weapons and support that our nations give them.

Many of us are completely unaware that the corporations who are profitting when we fill up our petrol tank, or invest in shares, or buy many basic products such as coffee and chocolate, are making their profits by robbing the common heritage of poor and powerless people. Not only robbing them but lining the pockets of the very people who oppress them, a litany of corrupt and despicable regimes, giving them the resources they need to continue their tyranny.

Morality is not only about what we do, it is equally about what we fail to do.

Whilst so much suffering and injustice goes on in our world, a person cannot stand by in a comfortable existence and claim neutrality.

The garment worker that you are currently wearing the product of, probably works in conditions which would be justifiably illegal in our own countries. We purchase their cheap products, yet take absolutely no interest in their welfare of the people who produce them, this is globalisation of the most self centred kind. We cannot purchase oil, procured by the blood of the dispossessed, and claim no part in their oppression. We cannot purchase the products of slavery, helping make it profitable and claim no involvement in it.

We need to take some responsibility as independent citizens for the world we help create, that we are a very real part of. If we assign a level of human dignity, it degrades what it is for us to be human to allow it to be violated, whether it be our own or another persons.

People who believe in really existing human rights realise it should not be solely up to those being oppressed to struggle against their injustice. They are often the poor and the powerless, and there is often little hope for them without the compassion and help of others in the world community.

Human rights are everybody's concern, and for those of us who have the luxury of relative freedom, I believe the responsibility is the greatest.

There is much we can each do to assert our common humanity. It begins with educating yourself about the world, the one where people are struggling to survive against great odds, the one that isn't bought to you because it isn't profitable and entertaining, because it might distract you from consumption.

The majority world, the people living on a fraction of what we do each day, peering back at us through the bars of border controls, trade monopolisation and military might, hoping we will act.

Universal human rights is one of the great tasks of humanity. It is achievable in our lifetime and until it is completed we cannot claim live in a fair world.

The poor, the oppressed, the downtrodden and all those who care about the upliftment of the human spirit, have awaited a just world far too long.