FOR STUDENTS IN THE U.S.
Eric Posner, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, claims “the central problem with human rights law is that it is hopelessly ambiguous” and that this ambiguity allows “governments to rationalize almost anything they do.”1 With that thought in mind, how would you respond to the argument that in calling for banning refugees from Muslim countries from traveling to the United States, deporting undocumented immigrants, and bringing back waterboarding President Trump is ensuring that every citizen’s “right to life, liberty and security of person”2 is enforced? In other words, do some rights (e.g. the right of citizens to be secure) take precedence over other rights (e.g. the right of suspects not to be tortured)? And if so how should the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights documents be amended to specify what should be done when one right conflicts with another?
1 The Case Against Human Rights, https://www.theguardian.com/news/2014/dec/04/-sp-case-against-human-rights
2 Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Article 5 reads: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
FOR STUDENTS IN OTHER COUNTRIES
What is the most important human rights issue in the country where you live and/or the world and what should be done about it?
FIRST PRIZE ESSAYS
Addressing the Balance of Human Rights in Today’s Society by Luke Mozarsky
A Dream Far From Reality by Yaas Farzanefa
SECOND PRIZE ESSAYS
Human Rights by Poppy Livingstone
An Abundance of Those Who Never Had a Childhood by Audrey Obuobisa-Darko
Addressing the Balance of “Human Rights”
in Today’s Society
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations in 1948 as a result of the atrocities committed in World War II. It set forth a long list of principles that, theoretically, all countries would adhere to, to protect the rights of individuals throughout the world. However, the list was so long, and many of the rights so vague, they were often used by governments not to uphold the rights of individuals, but rather to justify oppressive action. In “The Case Against Human Rights,” Eric Posner, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, makes this argument, stating that, “The central problem with human rights law is that it is hopelessly ambiguous,” and in turn, this ambiguity, “allows governments to rationalise almost anything they do.” (Posner) Posner argues that there is no possibility for any form of universal human rights law simply because of the ability that governments have to interpret them differently. However, I disagree with the notion that all human rights laws are necessarily so ambiguous that they can’t be universally applied. While Posner may be correct with respect to some human rights, other rights are so powerful and unambiguous that they can be universally applied and interpreted by all leaders to protect all human beings.
In the United States today, we are faced with a growing debate over how to deal with the various challenges presented around the world with regard to human rights. President Trump has made his opinion clear; he is seeking to reestablish waterboarding as an interrogation method, and he will continue to fight for a ban on Muslim refugees entering the country. Some, like Posner, might argue that Trump, like any other leader, can interpret human rights law to justify such tactics as ensuring the “life, liberty, and security” of American citizens (Article 3 of the UDHR). However, the rights to freedom from torture and degrading treatment (Article 5) and freedom of religious belief (Article 18) are powerful and unambiguous, and they are not susceptible to misinterpretation. Therefore, one cannot argue that these specific, universal human rights can be ignored in order to justify that waterboarding and a “Muslim ban,” ensure every citizen’s “right to life, liberty and security of person.”
The right to freedom from torture and degrading treatment is so powerful and unambiguous that it should be universally applied to all people, because torture is unconditionally morally wrong. Torture, particularly since World War II, has been recognized as inhumane and morally repugnant. Methods of torture, such as waterboarding, unjustifiably inflict pain on human beings and go against the values that have long been held in the US of protecting the inalienable rights that all humans possess. The specific moral violation that torture creates is addressed by Kenneth Roth, in his article, “Getting Away with Torture.” Roth states the following:
[Torture] dehumanizes people by treating them as pawns to be manipulated through their pain. It harnesses the awesome power of the state and applies it to human beings at their most vulnerable. Breaching any restraint of reciprocity, it subjects the victim to abuse that the perpetrator would never himself want to suffer. (Roth)
Torture is used to take advantage of and control the subject through degrading treatment that is morally wrong. When torture is inflicted on another human being, principles as old and as well recognized as the “Golden Rule” (do unto others as you would have them do unto you) are broken. Torture does not only dehumanize the subject, but also dehumanizes the state and the torturer himself. Katie Smith, in “Is Torture ever Morally Acceptable? If so, Under what Circumstances? If not, why not?” states the following:
Torture is not possible without the brutalisation of the torturer; you must ‘lose your soul’ if you are to save the victims. To torture requires us to overcome our socially conditioned abhorrence of violence and to accept the psychological repercussions… [T]orture carries a much greater moral stigma (and therefore requires greater brutalisation) than killing in war, for example, as it constitutes an act of violence against an entirely defenceless being. (Smith)
Torture is morally wrong on all fronts: from the perspective of the victim, the torturer, and the state. It is because of this reality that the right to the freedom from something as degrading as torture should be universally upheld and applied to all people.
Some will also make the argument that torture should not be used, because it rarely elicits truthful information. It has been shown that people who are being tortured often provide false information that they believe the torturer wants to hear in order to prevent the torture from continuing. In the article, Smith says:
Under torture, a knowledgeable suspect may not tell the truth and an innocent suspect cannot; there can be no method of distinguishing between the two. [Maher] Arar, a victim of the US’s ‘extraordinary rendition’ program, claimed that, under torture, he eventually confessed to whatever was demanded, “You just give up. You become like an animal.” In short, torturing a person can give you no guarantee of obtaining accurate or useful information. (Smith)
While this argument may be correct, it implies that if the information resulting from the torture was accurate, the torture would be justified. This implication should be rejected, as torture should be considered morally wrong in all instances, because of the unique physical, emotional, and moral damage it does to the subject, the torturer, and the state. Therefore, the Trump administration cannot argue that torture, such as waterboarding, justifiably protects the rights of all citizens to “life, liberty, and security of person.” In fact, it does the exact opposite.
The right to freedom from religious persecution is so powerful and unambiguous, that it should be applied universally, because religion is a fundamental facet of human self-determination. All humans have the inalienable right to seek their own religious identity and meaning of life; this right is a large part of what makes someone human. John Courtney Murray, in “Arguments for the Human Right to Religious Freedom,” makes this argument, by stating the following:
Undeniably the demand for freedom has its basis in man's intellectual nature, in the human capacity to seek, to embrace, and to manifest by his way of life the truth to which he is ordered. In no other way can he perform his duty toward truth than by his personal assent and free deliberation. What is more, from this single consideration it is already clear that no one is to be forced to act against his conscience or against the demands of the truth that he has in fact found, or at least thinks that he has found. If so forced, he would be acting against his intellectual nature itself. (Murray)
Taking away a person’s right to pursue religious freedom would effectively make this person less of a human being. Therefore, the right to freedom of religious belief, just like the right to freedom from torture, should be considered an inalienable, uncompromisable right.
Based on this principle, one can conclude that President Trump’s policy of banning refugee immigration from Muslim countries does not protect the rights of all citizens to “life, liberty and security of person,” and therefore, it should not be allowed. First, it is evident that, although the Trump administration has argued that this action is not religious discrimination, there is good reason to believe it is. For example, the New York Times, in “Appeals Court Will Not Reinstate Trump’s Revised Travel Ban,” states that the travel ban, “in context drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination.” (Liptak) The Trump administration’s plan is, in fact, not designed to ban people because they are more likely to be terrorists, but rather to ban people based on what god they believe in.
Consequently, it cannot be argued that Trump’s policy protects security of American citizens, not only because it violates the rights of Muslims, but also because it potentially violates the right of all people to the freedom of religious belief. In “The Trump Administration’s Dangerous Attempt to Redefine Religious Liberty,” Claire Markham states:
So narrowly tailoring religious liberty and only recognizing one segment of the faith community devastates the security of true religious freedom for all. While it might suit the current administration to enshrine conservative Christian beliefs into law… all people of faith and those who support true religious liberty should be on high alert. Otherwise, religious liberty stands to become simply another name for protecting the religion of those in power. (Markham)
By instituting this ban, the Trump administration would not only be violating the right to freedom of religious belief for Muslims, but would also set a precedent to allow the violation of all religious beliefs in the future. Therefore, Trump’s ban would not protect the “life, liberty and security of person” of all citizens, and it cannot override the fundamental right to freedom of religious belief. Any security concerns can be dealt with by examining an individual's actual past actions and illegal associations, rather than his mere religious beliefs, to determine if there is a viable threat to security.
Despite the analysis above with respect to fundamental, unambiguous rights, Posner may have a valid argument with respect to other rights. There are many rights listed in the UDHR that are too vague and ambiguous to be universally applied, and they can be interpreted in different ways by different governments. It is also possible that these ambiguous rights conflict with government policy and can create societal tension. However, as shown above, there are some rights included in the UDHR that are so unambiguous and powerful, that they should not be open to interpretation by leaders. In order to make the UDHR more effective and to allow governments to effectively protect their citizens, it should be amended and divided into two distinct parts.
First, the clear-cut, unambiguous rights should be separated from the vaguer rights in the UDHR. For example, Article 5, the freedom from torture, and Article 18, the freedom to religious belief, are two rights that would be included in this section of explicit rights. Rights such as these should not be open to interpretation by government; they are universal in their meaning and apply to all people, no matter the circumstances. These rights override any government policy, no matter the justification.
Second, the rights that are more ambiguous should not be considered uncompromisable “human rights.” This is not, however, to say they should be eliminated from the UDHR entirely. Rather, these statements should be considered human rights guidelines. These guidelines would serve as moral direction for how governments should make decisions with regard to their people. In theory, governments would have reasonable discretion to interpret these guidelines, depending on the circumstances. For example, the right that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile” (Article 9) certainly should be followed in most instances, but there may be circumstances in which governmental policy could override such guidelines. There are instances where governments can argue that the rights of their citizens are protected by ensuring that non-citizens enter their country legally. Ideally, a balance between the guideline and governmental interest would depend on specific circumstances. An example is the Trump administration's policy on deporting illegal aliens, which would theoretically protect American citizens’ right to “life, liberty and security of person,” as well as fairness and economic interests. A balance would factor in, on the one hand, the history of the individual being deported, and on the other hand, the validity of the government’s interests. For example, there is a large difference between an illegal alien who has been in the country for a short period of time and who has committed a crime, and an illegal alien who has lived in the country for 20 years, who has a job, pays taxes, and has raised a family.
The world we live in today is extremely complicated. The debate about how to protect and ensure the rights of all human beings, while also protecting the security and other interests of society, is an issue that will unfortunately never be solved perfectly. The best way to achieve an appropriate balance is to try to think outside the box. One way to do so may be to prioritize “human rights” and to make some rights more inviolable than others. Hopefully by doing so, we can achieve both a more just and a more secure society.
Liptak, Adam. “Appeals Court Will Not Reinstate Trump’s Revised Travel Ban.” The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 25 May 2017,
www.nytimes.com/2017/05/25/us/politics/trump-travel-ban-blocked.html. Accessed 19 Nov. 2017.
Markham, Claire. “The Trump Administration's Dangerous Attempt to Redefine Religious Liberty.”
Center for American Progress, 14 Feb. 2017, www.americanprogress.org/issues/religion/news/2017/02/07/298221/the-trump-administrations-dangerous-attempt-to-redefine-religious-liberty/. Accessed 19 Nov. 2017.
Murray, John Courtney. “Arguments for the Human Right to Religious Freedom.” Georgetown
University Library, Woodstock Theological Library, www.library.georgetown.edu/woodstock/murray/1968. Accessed 19 Nov. 2017.
Posner, Eric. “The Case Against Human Rights.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 4 Dec.
2014, www.theguardian.com/news/2014/dec/04/-sp-case-against-human-rights. Accessed 19 Nov. 2017.
Roth, Kenneth. "Getting away with torture." Global Governance, vol. 11, no. 3, 2005, p. 389+.
Academic OneFile, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=nysl_me_hghsl&v=2.1&id
=GALE%7CA135756527&it=r&asid=cfe8ca90495a1a823480098434030eb9. Accessed 18 Nov. 2017.
Smith, Katie. “Is Torture Ever Morally Acceptable? If so, Under What Circumstances? If Not, Why
Not?” E-International Relations, Creative Commons, 22 Dec. 2007, www.e-ir.info/2007/12/22/is-torture-ever-morally-acceptable-if-so-under-what-circumstances-if-not-why-not/. Accessed 19 Nov. 2017.
Human Rights Essay
Human rights collectively protect and maintain the fabric of society. The loss of even one human right leads to an instability in this structure, which allows more and more violations to occur. We often see this collapse in three steps: words or rhetoric laced with disregard for human rights, leading to power and policy changes, leading to a total removal of rights. Eighty years ago, the world saw this in Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany. These three steps to the total removal of human rights are also present in modern day America. And though I am in no way equating today's situation to that of the Holocaust, there are parallels in this progression of human rights violations. However, today’s nation of protesters and civil rights activists will likely protect the values highlighted in the UDHR. No one human right should seen as more important than the others because allowing one right to be violated sets a precedent for more violations to occur.
Hitler became a prominent figure in German politics through over “5,000 persuasive speeches, … he bewitched his audiences and promised them that his empire would reign for a thousand years” (Businessinsider.com). His speeches were powerful enough to win over a large amount of the German people. His influence came through his words. Hitler's speeches were laced with implied (and often blatant) disregard for human rights. He came to power at a time when Germany was vulnerable. After losing World War I, The Treaty of Versailles was formed. This treaty officially ended the war, and stripped Germany of its colonies, restricted its government, and demanded $63 billion dollars (almost $768 billion today) in reparations (Time.com). The Treaty sent Germany into a crippling economic crisis. The country was at its lowest point economically and in terms of its dignity. Germans believed that ‘Jews were responsible for huge events like losing World War One and the economic crisis.’, and Hitler's speeches intensified that sentiment. To appease the vulnerabilities of Germany, he promised to take away the rights of Jews. This gave Germans a feeling of power. Though human rights were not yet violated in action, Hitler's disregard for human rights in his speeches undermined the foundation of German society. The world didn’t notice the instability Hitler's words were causing yet, but they soon would.
The people of Germany were so appeased by Hitler's words that they gave him more power. Nazis won more votes than any other political party in Germany during the elections held in July and November of 1932 (facinghistory.com). After the death of German President Paul von Hindenburg, Hitler took total power of Germany under the title ‘Fuhrer’ (history.com). By giving himself complete power, Hitler dismantled the final remnants of German democracy. This violation of Article 21, the right to democracy (un.org) gave Hitler complete power over Germany. From here he began changing policy by restricting media, punishing his detractors with military force, and enacting numerous rights-violating laws. Among these were the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, which “prohibit Jews from marrying…persons of ‘German or related blood’… define a ‘Jew’ as someone with three or four Jewish grandparents…among them even Catholic priests whose grandparents were Jewish” (ushmm.org). The Nuremberg laws most obviously violate UDHR's right 16, the right to get married, and 18, the right to religion. Beyond face value, these laws violate nine more human rights regarding discrimination and equality (un.org).
Hitler's rise to power illustrates how human rights violations are not singular events. Violations and the loss of rights stack. As one falls, so do the others. Hitler’s climb to power was enabled by the removal of various human rights. On the first step of his climb to power, Hitler laced his speeches with promises of the removal of human rights for Jews. On their own, these verbal violations were not dangerous, but they laid the groundwork for the next step to power he took. In the second step, Hitler took away the right to democracy and became dictator. Becoming dictator led to his ability to remove human rights through policy, as shown by the Nuremberg laws. These discriminatory laws increased alienation and hate towards Jews, and allowed even worse removal of rights from them (worldhistoryproject.org). These human rights violations stacked and stacked, and Hitler's power grew and grew. By gradually chipping away at the structure of democracy, society, and human rights, Hitler created a system where he could get away with the third step, the mass murder of millions. This was his final step to the total dismantling of human rights.
In the modern day U.S, a chain of events has led us back to the first step, perhaps step one and a half, on the road to a human rights catastrophe. The current administration has shown a disdain for human rights through words, which has encouraged and enabled changes in policy that affect the rights of certain groups.
Verbally, Donald Trump has shown a disregard for human rights in the form of slogans, statements, and tweets. Recently, to a crowd in Huntsville Alabama, Trump said of Colin Kaepernick, ‘‘Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out. He’s fired. He’s fired!’’ (time.com). This statement was a response to the “more than 200 NFL players choosing to sit or kneel while the national anthem played before football games over this past weekend….this is a public statement in the name of civil rights and American patriotism.” (Time.com). Trump saying that these protesters should be fired is a verbal violation of right 19 of the UDHR and the first amendment. This is a clear example, and there are many, of Trumps disregard for human rights through words. This is step one, the use of human rights violations in speech
Trumps human rights violations haven’t stopped at just words. On September 24, Trump rolled out his third iteration of the travel ban, an order that “restricts travel to the US from…eight countries – six of which have majority Muslim populations – indefinitely” (Vox.com). Visa applicants must prove a family relationship with a U.S resident in order to enter the country. This most notably violates UDHR right 14, the right to seek asylum (un.org), among others. The ban was created to “suspend immigration from nations tied to Islamic terror” (nbcnews.com). His stated goal is to prevent terrorism. But in prioritizing Article 2 of the UDHR, the right to security, the travel ban violates multiple rights regarding religion, discrimination, and open borders. Articles 1, 2, 14, 15, 18, and 30, are violated among others. This is the flaw in saying that some rights take precedence over others; in order for one to be more important, others must be minimized and, by extension, violated.
By describing majority Muslim countries as ‘Terror Nations’ and ‘dangerous enemy aliens’ (nbcnews.com) Trump has labeled entire populations as people we should fear and loathe. Trump used similar tactics in saying Mexicans are ‘bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.’, among other derogatory and inflammatory statements. This is similar to Hitler's ‘'Othering' of minority groups’ in the 1930’s (ibtimes.co.uk). One of Hitler's greatest tools in his winning over Germany was creating an enemy in the Jewish people. Donald Trump used (and still uses) similar tactics in his campaign to win the support of America. This circles back to the ascending staircase of power. Trump used verbal violations early in his campaign to play into America's vulnerabilities, just as Hitler did. A prominent example of this is Trump saying that Mexicans “take jobs from hard working citizens” (apnews.com). This idea played into the insecurities of some Americans, and created support for his anti-immigrant policies. Sacrificing the reputation of a group of people earned the support of Americans, giving Trump the power to be elected president. Hitler ascended the first step to authoritarian power in the same way, by blaming Jews on the economic issues of the time.
He is at step one and a half. Step two of Hitler's rise to power was violating human rights through policy and removing democracy. Trump has yet to dismantle democracy, but he has violated numerous rights through policy. The travel ban goes against the right to asylum and religion, and unwarranted ICE raids violate the right to privacy and home, among other examples. Trump’s verbal violations and ‘othering’ of minorities early on in his campaign led to support from the American people. This enabled these unfair policies to occur. Allowing rights to be violated, even verbally, has led us here.
And so we are on step one and a half of three steps. The third step, if we’re using the model tracing Hitler's rise to power, is human rights violations on a catastrophic scale. Technically, we’re halfway up the steps to the total removal of rights. But are we really headed there?
Due to the power of the American people, the answer seems to be no. What prevents our society from solid footing on the second step, the removal of democracy, is the work of individuals, organizations, and protesters dedicated to maintaining the integrity of human rights . There are countless organizations across America dedicated to fighting for and protecting the principles of the UDHR. The American Civil Liberties Union, a nonprofit organization with over 2 million members, works to “defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and the laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country” (aclu.org). By filing cases regarding civil liberties and human rights in state and federal courts, the ACLU prevents human rights violation via policy to occur. Southern Poverty Law Center, NAACP, and The Trevor Project are just a few examples of other organizations dedicated to protecting human rights. Beyond that, normal citizens strengthen human rights by protesting the administration's violations. The Women's March, a nationwide protest that took place on January first, was attended by over 3.3 million people across 500 cities (elitedaily.com). The Women's March goal was to show that ‘‘Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights’’ (womensmarch.com). This, and dozens of other protests, raised awareness that society values and demands their rights . Finally, on a smaller scale, individual people show their concern for human rights. Amy Siskind, an advocate for human rights, created a Weekly List of governmental norms changing in the Trump era. She keeps track of these changes because she read about “how authoritarian governments take hold — often with incremental changes that seem shocking at first but quickly become normalized” (washingtonpost.com). Individuals like Siskind, by monitoring and sharing up to date human rights violations, help prevent further abuses to occur. The main reason that America has stopped at step one and a half on the road to a total human rights catastrophe is that people are identifying violations and fighting back.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written as a direct result of World War II. According to the U.N’s website, the UDHR was made because ‘…the international community vowed never again to allow atrocities like those of that conflict to happen again’. The document was created at a time when the horror of the Holocaust was fresh in everyone's minds. The stripping away of Jewish rights, the imprisonment and death of Germans who attempted to help Jews, and the death of millions showed the stark, unavoidable truth of what happens when human rights violations spiral out of control. The consequences of these violations were staring the world in the face, and out of that tragedy the UDHR was created.
As time has passed, we have had the luxury of forgetting the starkness of these abuses. Time has worn away the sharp edges of what human rights violations once did, which has let people create grey areas out of what was once black and white. And in more peaceful times, we have had the privilege of thinking that there are grey areas. I contend that in times like these, we must remember that somethings must be seen as black and white. Human rights are not expendable, they are not singular, and they are not negotiable. The strength of human rights is in the structure, it’s in the commitment to all of them. At certain points in history, one may have seemed more important than the other. But it's the diligence and steadfastness to all human rights that holds us together. They were, they are, and they always will be equally important to the fabric of society.
“About the ACLU.” ACLU.org, ACLU, www.aclu.org/about-aclu. Accessed 1 Nov. 2017.
Golshan, Tara. “The Trump Administration Just Made Its Travel Ban Permanent.” Vox.com, Vox Media, 28 Sept. 2017, www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/9/25/16360496/trump-travel-ban-permanent. Accessed 1 Nov. 2017.
Haltiwanger, John. “4 Amazing Statistics about the Women’s March.” Elitedaily.com, BDG, 23 Jan. 2017, www.elitedaily.com/news/politics/womens-march-statistics-trump/1762421. Accessed 1 Nov. 2017.
“Hitler Announces Nuremberg Laws.” Worldhistoryproject.org, MCHABU, worldhistoryproject.org/1935/9/15/hitler-announces-nuremberg-laws. Accessed 27 Oct. 2017.
“The Latest: Trump Says Immigrants Taking Minorities’ Jobs.” Apnews.com, Associated Press, 31 Aug. 2016, www.apnews.com/09215cf7f37f4c6ea05f92f8c83e6125. Accessed 1 Nov. 2017.
Macias, Amanda. “Why Hitler Was Such a Successful Orator.” Business Insider, Insider, 13 May 2015, www.businessinsider.com/why-hitler-was-such-a-successful-orator-2015-5. Accessed 27 Oct. 2017.
“1934 – Hitler Becomes Fuhrer.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/hitler-becomes-fuhrer. Accessed 25 Oct. 2017.
“Our Mission.” Womensmarch.com, www.womensmarch.com/mission. Accessed 1 Nov. 2017.
Suddath, Claire. “Why Did World War I Just End?” Time, 4 Oct. 2010, content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2023140,00.html. Accessed 1 Nov. 2017.
Sullivan, Margaret. “Trump Won, and Amy Siskind Started a List of Changes. Now It’s a Sensation.” Washingtonpost.com, 25 June 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/trump-won-and-amy-siskind-started-a-list-of-changes-now-its-a-sensation/2017/06/23/cdba2b12-575e-11e7-b38e-35fd8e0c288f_story.html?utm_term=.6fa5c17192b4. Accessed 1 Nov. 2017.
Umbach, Maiken. “How Similar Are Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler?” Ibtimes.com, Ibtimes, 3 Mar. 2017, www.ibtimes.co.uk/what-are-similarities-between-donald-trump-adolf-hitler-1582136. Accessed 1 Nov. 2017.
“Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Un.org, www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/. Accessed 1 Nov. 2017.
Vitali, Ali. “In His Words: Donald Trump on the Muslim Ban, Deportations.” Nbcnews.com, NBC, 27 June 2016, www.nbcnews.com/politics/2016-election/his-words-donald-trump-muslim-ban-deportations-n599901. Accessed 1 Nov. 2017.
Waxman, Olivia B. “Has This Happened Before? 6 Things to Know about the History behind NFL Protests.” Time.com, Time, 25 Sept. 2017, time.com/4956014/history-anthem-protests-nfl/. Accessed 1 Nov. 2017.
A Dream Far from Reality.
By Yaas Farzanefar, Iran
In my dream, I see a country where the most fundamental human rights are not being violated. A country where basic rights such as: “gender equality”, “freedom of expression” and “freedom of movement” have meaning. I see a country where women are not treated as second-class citizens, not banned from entering sports stadiums, not prohibited from leaving the country without a males’ permission, and have control over their bodies. I see a country where more than 500 people, including juveniles, are not being executed each year. I see a country where more than 40000 underage girls are not forced into early marriage every year. I see a country where “gender equality” is not known to be “unacceptable”.
When I wake up my vision is blurry as I see my reality, which is the complete opposite of my dream!
Over 2 millennia have passed since King Cyrus the great enshrined the first charter of human rights, known as the Cyrus Cylinder. Yet today, after the establishment of the new civil rights, citizens of Iran, especially women, are facing all kinds of discriminations and much more against their rights.
1. Keyhan Daily Newspaper http://kayhan.ir/fa/news/39616
After the Islamic revolution in 1979 and the formation of the Islamic civil rights based on the sharia-law, Iranian women lost many important legal privileges. Issues related to marriage, divorce, inheritance, labor, and restrictions on dress and even access to sports stadiums as spectators, are the most important women rights violations that Iranian citizens are facing against their rights on a day-to-day basis.
But why is it that Iranian women, consider themselves as “second-class” citizens?
A further look into the civil code of the Islamic Republic of Iran reveals all the discriminations and defilements women have to face. Iran’s civil code severely restricts the rights of women to freely choose a spouse and to enter into marriage with free and full consent. Article 1043 of the civil code puts the marriage of a girl, no matter the age, dependent on the permission of her father.Guardianship also belongs to the father or paternal grandfather; meaning that mothers have no obligations towards their children. The right of women to freely choose a spouse is also restricted. According to article 1059, an absolute prohibition is imposed against the marriage of a Muslim woman to a non-Muslim man. In contrast, no such restrictions for Iranian men who want to marry to non-Iranian or non–Muslim woman are seen anywhere in the book of the Islamic republic civil code! The Iranian law on inheritance, which denies the equal share of inheritance between children, implements that “when a father dies each son takes twice as much as each daughter”. In addition, the testimony of a man is often given twice the weight of a woman’s. Moreover, the testimony of a woman is not accepted for certain types of offenses.
The right to free choice of profession and employment is established in article 23 of the UDHR “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.” Yet in contrast to this law, according to article 1117 of the civil code “The husband can prevent his wife from occupations or technical work which is incompatible with the family interests or the dignity of himself or his wife.” This gendered regulation or may I say, human rights violation not only highlights the false and long-gone assumption of men as primary breadwinners and women as primary caregivers but, it also questions our modern 21st century society today, where powerful female Politicians, journalists, and human rights activists, such as: Angela Markel, Christiane Amanpour, Shirin Ebadi and Amelia Clooney, are trying to build an equal society.
Women are once again sullied in article 1105 of the civil code in which it is noted, “the head of the family exclusively belongs to the husband.”
“Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his or her own, and to return to his or her country.” As written, article 13 of the UDHR proclaims the right to “freedom of movement” for
2. Article 1043: “The marriage of a girl is dependent on the permission of her father or her paternal grandfather even if she has reached the full age of majority “
3. Article 1180 – A minor child is under the guardianship of its father or paternal grandfather.
4. Article 1059 – Marriage of a female Moslem with a non – Moslem is not allowed.
5. Universal Declaration of Human Rights
6. Civil code of the Islamic Republic of Iran, article 1117
7. Ibid, article 1105.
8. The right to freedom of movement, UDHR
every human being. But does this law truly refer to everyone? Sadly women in Iran are deprived of this vital right. Even if a woman reaches the highest ranks of politics, sports, or culture, she still needs her husband’s consent for one of her most basic rights, traveling abroad.
To what extent can this law impact a woman’s life? In 2015, Nilufar Ardalan, the captain of Iran's national team, was unable to compete in the Asian Football Confederation's women's championship in futsal because her husband did not give her permission to travel abroad! Unfortunately, many more women have to deal with similar situations every day.
If there are such legislation, and young girls, are thought as such in school, how can they grow up thinking that women are worth more?
It is important to realize that only when women and girls have full access to their rights, equality will truly exist. Therefore in order to establish an equal society for the next generation of Iranians, the authorities must open their eyes to the repercussion of their established laws on Iranian women all over the country. All legislation that violate woman’s rights and make them seem “unworthy” must change. New laws, those that are not biased towards women in any way, and give women equal rights in all aspects, should substitute the unequal rights of Iranian women today. All requirements of the Civil Code, which constitute discrimination against women in matters relating to marriage, divorce and family relations, must be repealed and all appropriate measures must be taken to ensure, on a basis of equality between men and women, the same rights and responsibilities for men and women during marriage and at its dissolution. The authorities must take all necessary action, including legislation, to allow women free choice of profession and employment and freedom of movement, without discrimination. Furthermore, they should abolish the current unlawful arrangements, which allow men to prohibit their wives from working in a certain profession.
Isn’t it the right of every woman to live equally and free from discrimination? Aren’t women’s rights the most fundamental rights?
It can be seen, under the declaration of international human rights law, everyone has the right to freedom of expression and freedom to manifest their religion or beliefs. The way people dress can be an important expression of their religious, cultural or personal identity or beliefs. Therefore it is every human beings’ right to choose what – and what not – to wear. The enforced wearing of the hijab has been one of the most distinguishing characteristics of the Islamic Republic and as such is one of its weightiest issues. Hence, cumpolusary hijab not only interferes the control of women over their bodies but also violates their dignity and freedom. Hijab enforcement actions are not limited to warnings by the morality police and daily arrests. Iranian women undergo various forms of harassment, abuse, and discrimination by authorities on a daily basis for not observing “proper” hijab. Many Iranian women face limitations in relation to their careers, education, public services, and participation in cultural or recreational spaces if they violate hijab laws.
9. ( Dehghan)\
10. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 18
11. Women are required to wear long sleeve, loose-fitting clothing and a headscarf in public. (Milani)
I believe that, new “fatwas” must be given to allow women to retain their freedom of expression in all aspects and have control over what they wear. Similarly, women’s clothing shouldn’t impact their carriers or their education!
Since the revolution, women have been banned from entering stadiums. Today, Iranian women are still banned from entering sports stadiums. The reason being that clerics insist that it is inappropriate to have women at matches, where they would unnecessarily be mixing with men outside their families, where the male players wear shorts, and where, there is often vulgar language and behavior. Nonetheless, non-Iranian women are allowed to support visiting teams in Iran, and have freely attended games! Authorities must realize that women have the right to enjoy live sports as much as men and, that it is unfair to exclude half the society from supporting their favorite sports teams. As a result, they must take actions to lift the ban that prevents women from entering stadiums. “Excluding women from stadiums is part of excluding women from society.”
Another legal act that risks the life of next-generation Iranian women, is the legal age of marriage; that is 13 for girls and 15 for boys. Research shows that Over 40,000 under Age girls are being forced to Marriage Each Year in Iran. The government considers girls to be mentally and sexually mature at the age of 13. Additionally in article 1041 of the civil code: “Marriage before puberty by the permission of the Guardian and on condition of taking into consideration the ward’s interest is proper.” This law is not only against “The right to marriage and family”, but also curtails the opportunity of a child to develop a full sense of selfhood, denies the child’s well-being as well as the opportunity of reproductive health and right to education.
Consequently, in order to prevent child marriages, I believe that primarily the legal age of marriage should be increased to 18 for both genders. Secondly, the results from the international center for research on women (ICRW) must be put into action. “Policies and programs must educate communities, raise awareness, engage local and religious leaders, involve parents, and empower girls through education and employment.”Thirdly, all appropriate measures, including new legislation in order to eliminate the practice of all forced marriages must be taken.
Building an equal society in a world of unequal laws is certainly not easy. Yet I hope to wake up one day only to see that my dream has turned into reality.
Ali, Dr Ansia Khaz. Iranian Women After The Islamic Revolution. PhD Thesis. London: A Conflicts Forum Monograph, 2010.
Banda, Dr. Fareda. "Project on a Mechansim to Address laws that Discriminate Against Women." Office of the High Commissionor for Human Rights 6 march 2008.
Ali, Dr Ansia Khaz. Iranian Women After The Islamic Revolution. PhD Thesis. London: A Conflicts Forum Monograph, 2010.
12. A ruling on a point of Islamic law, given by a recognized authority. (Kabbani)
15. Civil Code of the Islamic Republic of Iran, article 1041
16. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 16
Banda, Dr. Fareda. "Project on a Mechansim to Address laws that Discriminate Against Women." Office of the High Commissionor for Human Rights 6 march 2008.
Braunschweiger, Amy. "Banned from Stadiums for Being a Woman in Iran." 13 june 2016. Human Rights wATCH. <https://www.hrw.org>.
Dehghan, Saeed Kamali. "Husband bars Iranian footballer from Asian championships." 16 september 2015. https://www.thegaurdian.com.
Goosheh, Shima. "Over 40000 girls under age 15 Married Each Year In Iran." 4 september 2015. Center for Human Rights in Iran. <https://www.irNHUMnrights.org>.
Kabbani, Shaykh Muhammad Hisham. "What is a Fatwa." 23 july 2003. The Islamic Supreme Council of America. <www.islamicsupremecouncil.org>.
Milani, Farzaneh. "Veils and Words: The Emerging Voices of Iranian Women Writers." Syracuse University Press (1992).
Mouri, Leila. "Iranian Women Do Not Have the Right to Control Their Bodies." 9 10 2014. Center for Human Rights in Iran. <https://www.humanrights.org>.
Salman Khazaei, Kamyar Mansori, Zaher Khazaei, Erfan Ayubi. "A Look at the Phenomenon of Child Marriage in Iran and the World." International Journal of Pediatrics (2016).
udayi, Ali. "400000 Girls Forced into Marriage in one Decade in Iran." 25 december 2015. BBC. <www.bbc.com/persian>.
"Women's Rights in Iran." 28 10 2015. Human Rights Watch. <http://www.hrw.org>.
AN ABUNDANCE OF THOSE WHO NEVER HAD A CHILDHOOD
By Audrey Obuobisa-Daro, Ghana
As a child, my eyes had beheld nothing other than parents to love me, a good roof over my head, and food I could eat without working for. The worst things I saw happen to children only made themselves known to me from the movies behind my TV screen; it was a thick enough barrier between my world of blissful ignorance, and theirs of staged pain. As more years were added on, however, I came to the realisation that the horror I used to see was closer to me, than I could have ever anticipated.
“Every child has a right to be protected from doing work that is harmful, and to not be deprived of medical care, education or other benefits due to religious beliefs.” Anyone who lived in areas in Ghana where child labour is prevalent and seen as a normal phenomenon would argue heatedly in doubt of the existence of such a right, and even go ahead to question its reasonability. “After all, aren’t the children the ones we need for this ‘galamsey’?” one native may say.
‘Galamsey’ is a local Ghanaian term which means illegal small-scale gold mining in Ghana, West Africa; such workers are known as ‘galamseyers’ or ‘orpailleurs’ in neighboring francophone nations. ‘Galamseyers’ are people who perform illegal gold mining independent of mining companies, digging small working (pits, tunnels and sluices) by hand. (“Galamsey”) Most of those involved in illegal mining in Ghana are children, who were introduced to the labour by parents, friends or other adults who ostensibly want the best for them. The children come in handy especially when gold has to be reached in tunnels too small for adults to fit in.
I choose to throw light on this because it is the most common form of child labour, alongside work in agriculture, home-based assembly operations, respectable trades, factories and even building construction in Ghana.
In my country, it is typical to see children taking part in work done by adults, be it working on the family farm, selling in the family shop, or hawking, as is the case of the less-privileged families. However, give one an inch, he takes a mile. This is illustrated by natives of rural areas who leave their children, between the ages of five and fourteen, to partake in laborious onuses which are likely to cause them harm. I have no right to say it is their fault, because poverty, which is the main cause of child labour in Ghana, is what drives many children into these areas.
Child labour has deprived many children of the opportunity to attend school, and generally live lives devoid of any cares, like a normal child would. In the 18th century, when there was the Industrial Revolution in Britain, even four-year-old children were employed to work in factories for long periods; between 70 and 80 hours a week.
“When they returned from Yeji, they had scars from scorpion stings and snake bites. They were malnourished. They don’t like to talk about what happened there, but to this day they scream in the night. They cannot fully close their fingers to make a fist because of their work on the nets. They hate me … they remind me that I sold them. They are also angry at their sisters who stayed here and attended school. It has destroyed our family,” one Ghanaian mother said (Ubelong, 2016).
In 2009, Ghana designed a holistic approach to the problem, setting into motion the implementation of a National Action Plan (NPA) for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour (Somopac network (social mobilisation partners against child labour), 2017). This move is commendable, as it is concerned about the eradication of such a menace from the country. However, I believe more can be done about it, because although the global incidence of child labour decreased from 25% to 10% from 1960 to 2003, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the International Labour Organistaion (ILO) acknowledged in 2013 that an estimated 168 million children worldwide were still involved in child labour.
Public education is the most fundamental, yet one of the most effective ways of eliminating menaces such as this. Ignorance of the physical, mental, moral and social effects of child labour is mainly what is keeping it alive. On the media, in symposia, seminars and other fora, the public must be educated on how detrimental child labour is to the well-being of the child. Parents must be sensitized and encouraged to find other lucrative means of making money for the upkeep of the family. In my part of the world, Christian religion is common. Churches and other religious institutions like the Presbyterian Church must play a role by educating their members to desist from exploiting children. The victims themselves must definitely not be left out in the bid to enlighten. In schools, Child’s Rights clubs should be established to teach children the rights and freedoms they are entitled to. Victims on the streets and in rural areas must be reached, and their liberties made known to them, for many are affected because they are unaware that their rights are being infringed upon. John Whitmore said, “I am able to control only that which I am aware of. That which I am unaware of controls me. Awareness empowers me.” Awareness empowers individuals, and this can only be made possible through public education.
Also, one of the reasons for which certain families in Africa especially push their children into child labour is the inadequacy of affordable schools and quality education, according to Wikipedia. The government should provide more educational opportunities for children. Recently, the Free Senior High School Policy(FSHSP) was established in my country, Ghana, and took effect on 12th September, 2017, for the benefit of young people who lack the means of continuing their second-cycle education. The implementation of the FSHSP is in agreement with provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), of which Ghana is a signatory (Ghanaweb.com, 2017). This phenomenon breeds hope in the hearts of Ghanaians, that education will be entirely free for all children soon, in order that children who have to indulge in child labour to earn money for school would no longer have to do so. Many parents would choose overworking their children for more money for the household than take them to school, as they deem it unnecessary and fruitless. “Why must I take her to school if the quality is poor, and the fees are exorbitant?” Governments must make reforms in the educational system, employ qualified teaching personnel, provide good educational facilities, and make schooling affordable for those in rural areas. This way, the only labour the child would bother suffering is the preparation for tests or doing homework, and more children would be found in the classrooms than on the fields.
In addition, Part five of the children's Act, 1998 (Act 560) prohibits the exploitation of children and addresses which kind of work is acceptable for children to do. However, the Act does not include the necessary strategies for the Worst Forms of Child Labour (WFCL) which were laid down by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The Act contains a list of areas unsuitable for children to work in, and merely ends there. There should be a proper amendment of the Act and the development of a framework which will clearly provide for the identification of harmful tasks or activities within each of the identified sectors. This way, individuals have no excuse to falter.
Legally, also, severe sanctions must be meted out to adults and parents who exploit children under the legal working age. It must be enshrined in the laws and enforced, that even the legally employed children must be given good conditions at work, and given their deserved wages. Exclusive courts and tribunals should be designated to protect children from the abuse of the WFCL. Perpetrators must be duly brought to book, regardless of their social status, or affiliation to the victimised child. The full involvement of the legal institutions in countries will play a massive role in eliminating child labour.
Lastly, social services should be provided for children under the working age who have been subjugated, and their right to be protected from harmful work infringed upon. Government-affiliated institutions like the Social Welfare centres should step in. Ill-treated children must be rescued and taken in, and given better living conditions such as good food, water, comfortable shelter, and good medical care especially for those who may have been over-worked and injured. This will help to reduce the trauma they have gone through, and wipe away their psychological and social troubles.
The well-being of the child is important for the development of the world, as children are considered as the gem of the universe. When the above-mentioned are put in place, children will be given the chance to enjoy their childhood, just as they should, and child labour will only remain a staged act made known to them, from behind their television screens.
Galamsey. (n.d.) In Wikipedia. Retrieved November 18, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galamsey
Somopac network (social mobilisation partners against child labour). (2017). Modern Ghana. Retrieved 22 November, 2017, from https://www.modernghana.com/news/478329/combating-child-labour-in-ghana-significant-progress-and-cr.html
Ghanawebcom. (2017). Ghanawebcom. Retrieved 22 November, 2017, from https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/Financial-benefits-of-Free-SHS-policy-to-parents-and-economy-587509
Ubelong, U. (2016). Global development. Retrieved 18 November, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/gallery/2016/sep/30/ghana-slavery-child-labour-kids-hate-me-i-sold-them-in-pictures