Human rights for all
On December 10th we commemorated the 63rd anniversary of the approval by the General Assembly of the United Nations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As we celebrated the Human Rights Day and the immense triumph of the international community we need to closely read the text and remember the fundamental freedoms enshrined in it, which each human being without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language or religion, is entitled to.
Countries, nations, nations without state and peoples alike are entitled individual and collective civil and political rights as much as economic, social and cultural rights. Rights such as the right to life (!), the right to vote, freedom of movement, freedom from slavery and torture, right to education, right to work, are just some of the indivisible and interrelated rights we all have to continue aspiring for.
As former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan pointed out in his report to the General Assembly in Larger Freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all, we must undertake a comprehensive approach to human rights and mainstream human rights in the work of international institutions and governments worldwide. The report emphasises that we will not enjoy development without security, security without development, and either without respect for human rights.
Having worked for many years at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, when I read the Human Rights Declaration -and I try to do so often- I remember all those survivors of human rights atrocities worldwide; the voice of the voiceless needs to be voiced so to remember the importance of international surveillance to provide reparation to victims and to fight impunity.
Today, when I teach at University I often think about the sensitivity our youth are being brought up with and I wonder if human rights are sufficiently taught in our schools. Human rights education is vital to accomplish human rights for all. Human rights education starts at home with family values such as respect and must be included in school curricula. In an interdependent world and a heterogeneous society like ours with a high percentage of immigration, respect for diversity in all of its forms is indispensable. Freedom of thought and religion are values that need to be taught at an early age.
Respect for our inalienable rights becomes especially important in the midst of the international economic crisis. We must work together more than ever to balance the inevitable economic cuts that governments must undertake and the protection of basic citizen rights such as the right to an adequate standard of living including access to health, education and housing. We must also be cautious in voicing our concerns making sure that while exercising our right of expression or assembly we do not undermine other democratic rights. The work that the Ombudsman carries out in monitoring human rights practices is important to protect and promote fundamental rights and freedoms for all alike.
Values of integration, charity and respect are cherished in the Catalan society. Our civil society is organised in communities and federations of non-governmental organisations which daily assist those in need. We can find for instance, NGOs that help trafficked women forced to prostitution in the highways of Girona, or NGOs that work to fight racism in Tarragona, we can find communities and NGOs helping immigrants in Barcelona or food drives throughout the territory aiming at providing support to developing countries. The Catalan organised civil society has been traditionally very active in working for the promotion of human rights. It remains a challenge to reach out to the population at large.
Many think that human rights violations are far from their reach, far from their life or from their community; unfortunately this is rarely the case. Human rights violations can be seen or suffered right across the street from our university, in our children’s schools, or in our work place. It is precisely for this reason that in a changing and dynamic community like ours where we face challenges daily, we must work together to accomplish human rights for all.
Associate Professor at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra and member of InTransit’s Advisory Council