Human Rights Day is the anniversary of the day in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The aim of the Declaration of Human Rights is to establish a common standard of living for all people across the planet that everyone is entitled to. Although these rights are seen as more declarative than legally binding, they are commonly acknowledged to have had an impact on how human rights are perceived to be a force for good. Although the fulfilment of human rights is the legal responsibility of nation states, other actors at local, national, regional and international levels play an essential role in ensuring that their aspirations are fulfilment. In this blog we take a glimpse at the connections between human rights and topical issues such as gender based violence , the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, slavery and critical race theory. In so doing we are reminded that in celebrating Human Rights Day we must be mindful as much about what solidifies as what subverts its aspirations.
Human Rights and Gender Equity - a Pervasive Scourge
International Human Rights day follows the 16days of activism against gender based violence which since 2011 begins on November 25. It has been designated as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women This year's theme Orange the World : End Violence Now is an appropriate reminder of the gravity of the situation . Recent data show that in some countries 7 out of 10 women are beaten, raped, abused or mutilated in their life time This therefore is one of the most widespread violations of human rights. Valiant efforts through numerous campaigns are to be noted. They include the UN Secretary General Every Woman Every Child Initiative, the Global Civil Society Social Mobilization , Say No-Unite to end violence against women platform , the Spouses of Caribbean Leaders (SCLANS) Every Caribbean Woman Every Caribbean Child Programme and the UN Trust Fund to support these endeavours. Yet the problem remains a pervasive scourge . The UN UNITE Campaign in support of Goal 5 of the 2030 SDGs is a proactive attempt for global actions to increase awareness, galvanize advocacy efforts , share knowledge and initiate innovative approaches.
Human Rights in the COVID 19 Pandemic - repulsive
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the world to a major crossroads The choice has been either take the route of collective action and concretely address the inequalities that have risen across the globe, or continue on the route filled with deep-rooted injustices and pervasive inequities. What has been termed "the vaccine apartheid" is a repulsive illustration of human rights abuse where some countries hoarded and others lacked access. This has no doubt contributed to the continuing variants according to many scientific studies.
During the pandemic, many city authorities became frontline responders—managing food distribution, organizing testing stations, and enabling the large-scale burials and cremations that were needed. In each case, city authorities and local communities had deliberately applied human rights principles, which enabled them to respond to COVID-19 impacts as they are shaped by social inequality. It is clear that “localizing” human rights will be crucial to the post-pandemic recovery, as the groups disproportionately affected by the pandemic – such as women, persons with disabilities, migrants, and other marginalized groups – must be the focus of targeted recovery efforts.
Human Rights and Climate Change - regressive
The International Human Rights Council has emphasized the importance of a healthy environment and has appointed of a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for the Environment and Climate Change. This is an attempt to accelerate the fulfilment of SDG Goal 13 and the overall pledge to “leave no one behind.” Yet the decisions at the COP 26 in Glasgow provided grounds to suggest that they instead contribute to the regression of human rights principles. Nations will still have much more to do on their emissions cutting goals to ensure the 1.5 limit. The truth for the Planet is that the majority of the 20 largest countries contribute to 80 percent of the global emissions . Consequently, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that if all the current long term commitments were fully followed through, the world would limit heating to 1.8 degrees in the long term. However the gap between the long term ambitions and countries' crucial short term targets for 2030 would result in heating of 2.4C.
This is far removed from the six key demands put forward by Small Island Development States (SIDS) and Climate Justice advocates — decarbonizing, climate financing international cooperation, debt cancellation, taxes for climate related damages commit to global heating of 1.5°C. This failure to respond will contribute to small countries like the Caribbean that contribute least to the problems suffering most including being "entirely submerged by rising sea levels".
Placing a Positive Spin on Slavery - an educational gag order
The 2021 New Hampshire bill requires teachers to put a positive spin on slavery. Between January and September 2021, 24 legislatures across the United States introduced 54 separate bills intended to restrict teaching and training about slavery in K-12 schools, higher education, and state agencies and institutions. These bills appear designed to chill academic and educational discussions and impose government dictates on teaching and learning. In short: they are educational gag orders. Legislators who support these bills appear determined to use state power to exert ideological control over public educational institutions. Further, in seeking to silence race- or gender-based critiques of U.S. society and history that those behind them deem to be “divisive,” these bills, are likely to disproportionately affect the free speech rights of students, educators, and trainers who are women, people of color, and LGBTQ+. What is being promoted is actually a push to censure truthful information about American history. A new "teacher loyalty" bill introduced in New Hampshire would, among other things, prohibit "teaching that the United States was founded on racism." See link https://popular.info/p/new-hampshire-bill-would-require
Human Rights and Critical Race Theory - the Ultimate Subversion
New Hampshire however is mainly one dimension of the subversion of human rights. The distortion of Critical Race Theory is the ultimate subversion. It is not a coincidence that these trends have manifested themselves in the legislative onslaught following the mass protests that swept the United States in 2020 in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. This was pervasive long before. Many Americans and U.S. Institutions have distorted the true reckoning that race and racism have played in American history and society. They have opposed the cultural changes surrounding race, gender, and diversity and have pushed back ferociously, feeding into a culture war. According to several scholars , their framing of “Critical Race Theory” has been applied with a broad brush, to targets as varied as The New York Times’ 1619 Project, efforts to address bullying and cultural awareness in schools, and even the mere use of words like “equity, diversity, and inclusion,” “identity,” “multiculturalism,” and “prejudice.” all elements of human rights.
Historian and writer Jelani Cobb in his new book The Essential Kerner Commission Report starkly described how Donald Trump and his allies skillfully manipulated the notions of Critical Race Theory to be “the perfect villain” and a useful “brand category” to build opposition to perceived dominance of progressives to American educational institutions. Accordingly, “the attacks on critical race theory are clearly an attempt to discredit the literature millions of people sought out last year to understand how George Floyd wound up dead on a street corner. The goal is to leave the next dead black person inexplicable by history.” history.” https://youtu.be/FglqvMDWJ0s
Eleven bills were introduced explicitly prohibiting schools from using materials from the seminal The New York Times’ 1619 Project, a journalistic and historical examination of the modern impact of slavery in the United States. Similar bills prohibit private funding for curricula in public schools, which—given the context in which they were developed and introduced— aimed at blocking specific educational materials that deal with racial justice and sexism.
There was much anticipation that this would have been a two pronged approach to the celebration of Human Rights Day. However it turned out differently. Examining human rights in relation to gender equity is deemed a scourge; in relation to the COVID 19 pandemic - repulsive; to Climate Change - regressive; placing a positive spin on slavery - an educational gag order; and distorting critical race theory - the ultimate subversion . Hopefully others would view the issues with different lenses and project an image of solidarity.
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.