Join Us on Blog Action Day 2013 — We Must Collaborate on the Complex Human Rights Issues of Our Time

Today, on October 16th, Blog Action Day 2013, it’s fitting that we are focusing on this year’s theme of “Human Rights,” one of the most important issues on Earth, whether we’re talking about rights of political prisoners, rights of all children to get an education, rights of millions of refugees living in harsh conditions, or rights of immigrants to have a fair pathway to citizenship in their chosen countries (as examples). The United Nations has established an international Program of Human Rights (as defined in the animated video above); but in our complicated, rapidly changing times, there are some newer human rights that need consideration, and they may be perceived to be in conflict with other humans’ “rights.” This presents a real challenge in clarifying what is a “human right” and when does it interfere with the rights of another group of humans.

One such conflict is the right to privacy from government surveillance, in any form, vs. the right to be free from terrorism, either foreign, or from perpetrators within one’s own country. We accept a significant amount of overt and covert corporate “data collection” from our mobile and online activities, but we are upset when the government collects data, in the name of “national security.” (I mean this to apply to any government, not just the U.S. government.) We fear the most ominous implications of government surveillance with good reason, and yet, we know the world has tragically changed so that terrorism is an ongoing threat we all must acknowledge. So how do we resolve this conflict in human rights, between individuals and their government?

Another quandary is the “right to bear arms.” Organizations such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) argue that all U.S. citizens should be entitled to buy whatever weapons they want, with very little, if any screening for psychological disturbances or proper training in storing and handling the weapons. It is unlikely that the creators of the U.S. Constitution were envisioning urban gangs with modern machine guns shooting at innocent bystanders, attacks by the deeply disturbed on innocent schoolchildren, local terrorists making bombs in basements, or the other tragic contemporary scenarios that have taken place related to “the right to bear arms.” One disturbed or malevolent person’s “right” to own weapons clearly infringes on the rights of all others in a society who deserve to be free from such violence.

When considering “human rights,” an international organization such as the U.N. also has to overcome cultural and religious considerations to determine, for example, that girls in a Taliban-controlled country deserve to safely attend school along with boys. Some in the Taliban male hierarchy may see the right of women to an education as an “infringement” on their own “rights” to power, based on their interpretation of religion and culture.

We might also see the “pro-choice” movement as a human rights issue that conflicts with other people’s religious or political beliefs — but the basic human right of being able to pursue happiness and determine one’s own destiny, whether you are male or female, has so far trumped the religious beliefs of one minority in the U.S. and other pro-choice countries. Still, we see the conflict continuing, regardless of the majority-passed law. An obvious similar conflict is the state-by-state struggle to determine whether or not Gay marriage, i.e., the freedom to marry whomever you love, is a basic human right; if so, then logic would determine that it should be a national and international human right, not just a local one.

Creating and sustaining an international bill of human rights is obviously a very complex undertaking, and there will probably always be some amount of dissent in these and other areas of life. In a democracy, we say that the majority opinion rules, and the religious, cultural or political beliefs of a minority cannot take away the rights of the majority. Even in countries that are not democracies, human decency, empathy, compassion, and common sense are supposed to be the prevailing standards, no matter who objects, and no matter how much power they have. In a democracy, we respect and acknowledge the minority, but we make law by what the majority determines; and we accommodate the minority in any way we can, as long as it does not inflict undue hardship on the majority or nullify their “rights.”

An increasing number of people world-wide are also saying that we should apply these same human standards to our treatment of animals, whether they are pets, work animals, lab animals, or consumed as food — or used for more unsavory purposes. Attempts are being made to create an international Animal Bill of Rights — and again, there are many conflicts between different cultures and groups of humans regarding how they view animals, and how desperately they need to use them for food or to survive economically. Do we include all animals under an Animal Rights banner, or just mammals? These questions will continue to be asked, as we continue to learn more about the sentience and ecological survivability of different species. It is now imperative, not just optional, to fairly determine the rights of all humanity to our land, water, food, animals and other natural resources, while we desperately fight for the very survival of our planet Earth.

It seems the only way we can continue to move forward in any area of life, including in the area of Human Rights, is to keep asking the tough questions, to keep listening to each other fully, to learn to trust in each other’s basic humanity, to keep collaborating and attempting to work together to solve the most challenging problems of our time. This means being willing to accept that someone else’s “rights” may trump what you perceive to be your own, if the majority of people of diverse cultures, religions and backgrounds determine that a specific human right is necessary, for the ultimate good — and survival — of all of us.


It’s not too late — you can still participate in Blog Action Day 2013, too! Here’s how:

…And you’ll be able to add this cool badge to your web site:

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