By -Y.S.R. Murthy :The 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is being observed the world over this year. ‘Dignity and Justice for all of us’, which is the theme chosen by the United Nations to commemorate this event, is a timely reminder to all Governments, NGOs and other stake holders that this lofty ideal is the aspiration of the international community towards which all of us must strive for.
Even today, dignity and justice elude many who, on account of their gender, race, national or social origin, disability, poverty, sexual orientation and other grounds are discriminated against and do not enjoy the full range of their human rights on par with others. On the occasion of the Human Rights day on 10th December, it is necessary to remember these voiceless, dispossessed, marginalised persons and take steps to protect and promote their human dignity and other rights.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR] was adopted on 10 December 1948 by the UN General Assembly. Chastened by horrors of Second World War during which mindless killing of millions of Jews, gas chambers and concentration camps took place, the UN Charter was adopted in 1945 which was followed by the UDHR in 1948. Both of them assert in unequivocal terms the importance of protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The adoption of UDHR is a major milestone in human history. It’s Preamble speaks of inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. The UN General Assembly proclaimed UDHR as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. It remains the single most invoked human rights instrument.
It is the first authoritative statement of basic rights to which all persons are entitled. It represents the first comprehensive agreement among Nations as to the specific rights and freedoms of all human beings. It serves as conscience for the world and a standard against which the attitudes of societies and Governments can be measured. It is the basic international statement of the inalienable and inviolable rights of all members of the human family. It has inspired and sometimes become part of many countries national legislation, and has been cited with approval in national courts. It has led to creation of many international and regional Human Rights Conventions. It is a living document which has continued to inspire generation after generation.
To quote the UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon,
“The extraordinary vision and determination of the drafters produced a document that for the first time set out universal human rights for all people in an individual context. Now available in more than 360 languages, the Declaration is the most translated document in the world — a testament to its universal nature and reach. It has inspired the constitutions of many newly independent States and many new democracies. It has become a yardstick by which we measure respect for what we know, or should know, as right and wrong.”
UDHR proclaimed the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want as the highest aspiration of the common people. Today, we still have a long way to go in securing freedom from fear and want. Rising food prices have endangered the food security of many people. The recent global economic meltdown has also grave portents for the livelihood of many persons in developing countries and indeed their right to food and right to life itself. The recent Mumbai attacks have also brought home the point that terrorists do not respect human rights. Mindless and indiscriminate attacks against civilians in market places, hotels, places of worship, public transport have grave implications for the right to life and to lead a life free from fear.
The United Nations in 1994 asserted that “Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstances unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them.” Subsequently, it also proclaimed that “terrorism, in all its forms and manifestations, whenever and by whomever committed, can never be justified in any instance, including as a means to promote and protect human rights.”
The situation of the girl child is a cause for concern as female foeticide has adversely skewed the sex ratio in many States. In addition, the National Family Health Survey 3 has brought out serious findings about malnutrition in children, which is a serious
human rights issue. The number of offences against women including rape, molestation, domestic violence, and dowry related offences are cause for serious concern.
In India, there have been several initiatives on the legislative and institutional front for better protection and promotion of human rights. These include the enactment of the 86th Constitutional Amendment Act in 2002 to make right to education a Fundamental Right, Right to Information Act, 2005, National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 and the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Act, 2006 which seeks to uphold autonomy of NHRC and to strengthen it further. The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, which is a far reaching social legislation to protect the rights of elderly persons, was also enacted. In addition, the Government has also set up the National Commission for the Protection of Children’s’ Rights. The Government of India has also signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2006 on 1st October, 2007, thereby signalling its intention to protect and promote the rights of persons with disabilities.
While we have one of the best possible legal and institutional framework for protection of human rights, what is required at the ground level is strict enforcement of existing laws. On the occasion of the Human Rights Day, there is a need for sustained efforts for the protection on dignity and justice for all of us which requires concerted efforts by all sections of the society. There is need to challenge entrenched mindsets regarding status of women, Scheduled Castes, minorities, persons with disabilities, HIV positive persons through education and spreading of awareness of human rights and enforcement of laws.