HUMAN RIGHTS: LIBERATION AND ENLIGHTENMENT TO HUMANITY OR THE CHAINS THAT BIDES SOME?
The sanctity and importance of Democratic values and Human rights has been one of the most over flogged issues on the global scene both of particular interests to the industrialized nations, the latter more than the former are supposed to lay the foundations for the fundamental inalienable rights that is accrued to every human being in all regions of the world, irrespective of religion, race, sex, language. Adopted after WW II under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948. It proclaims that “all human beings are born free and equal” and establishes basic rights for all people and norms for the behavior of governments in many areas. As it states, and goes to say that all people have the right to liberty, religious and political freedom, education, and economic well-being. It bans torture and further states that all people have the right to participate in their governments. And the former an experiment of the “Greeks” which gained wide acclaim and acceptance as the “best” form of governance, together forms the best of human evolution and innovations but it is sad that this evolutionary human ingenuity has over time become a tool for evil manipulation and domination when wielded with vested interests and ulterior motives.
As noble as this declaration is, never did the unsuspecting people of the world, especially of the global south imagined that something as simple as a declaration that was to bring about their rights, to live free from the subjugation will be hijacked and metamorphous into the very chains that bides them and also the whip that forces them onto paths they would not have consciously taken at least not at the time they were chastised to. Its authors may have never thought, that as they drafted a document for freedom it will someday be hijacked and turned into a weapon of domination and discrimination by the powerful league of states, which can be seen in the actions and inactions of their governments, political parties, NGOs amongst others. This then begs the question where does one’s rights end and another’s begin? it is only at that point when we can truly answer this question to the satisfaction of the person who is demanding for his/her rights and the person whose rights are being infringed upon, can we truly say we have achieved equitable human rights for all and justice.
Understanding human rights “Human Rights 101”
The first and basic of human rights is the right to life and basics for living in a dignified manner, with many different regions of the world and difference in demographics, cultures, traditions, socioeconomic realities and history, A solitary universally acceptable sets of human rights outside the basics of rights to life is impracticable as a one-off all-encompassing goal, as in many other aspects of human rights is subject to the collective opinion of the generality of a homogeneous or quasi homogeneous people (majority in a group, thus democratic) in a given area or region. Thus what is accepted as a dignified life in Africa can be an abomination to the lifestyle in Europe or Asia. What then is the problem is some interest groups and governments of one region erroneously seek to enforce what they consider “rights” which they enjoy which could alienate the “rights” deprived side/group/sate to a state that its irreconcilable and thus provides the spark and fuel which generates and enflames conflicts and crisis/insecurity that burns for decades or centuries.
In the pre-historic and pre-renaissance era in Europe most of the barbaric norms and traditions that Europe seeks to eradicate from other countries and regions where prevalent and widespread in Europe (Witches hunting and executions, absolute power and authority concentrated in one institution usually crown or clergy).
The way and manner Europe rode out of that era gives credence to the premise that, as barbaric as such norms were, it was the process necessary for its evolutionary growth and development thus attaining enlightenment barring which they will still would have been stock in that medieval mentality and practice, the key was just as it is today, that will found in people to always no matter the risk, question the status-quo at a great price to their lives, family or possessions in some quotas they are called martyrs, today we call them activists, who pushed and campaigned for reforms and championed the cause of dignity for all men. They questioned age long traditions in education, economy, governance and a host of other spheres to achieve a desired result the successes and challenges of their forbearers guided them to unlock gains of their predecessors and pushed for more reforms to suit the changes in society and time.
This was the model that brought democracy and human rights to Europe, America and other developed regions of the world, and because these people and places were not completely homogeneous but attained same or similar results, it is then safe to say this model which seem more of an internal process is the optimal way to go, which then can best be achieved through dialogue and respect for one’s values even as you advocate and push for value you feel or are convinced will serve him/her better and the generality of humanity. Thus outside the rights to life with different reasons rooted either in faith or ideals any other push for a universal set of “human rights” should follow the evolutionary path to growth and enlightenment of a people or region chosen by them, is best through and through this internal process of change which may be slow guarantees the best long term sustainability of the goal to be attained, and in so doing avoiding the pitfalls to a perpetual circle of conflict, insecurity, distrust and mutual suspicion.
Conflict of interests in serving and defending the rights of people
Growing up in a suburb of Jos metropolis of central Nigeria in the 90’s a neighbourhood with a mixed residence of Christians, Muslims, indigenous locals, and tribes from other parts of the country, in a city which was predominantly Christian and a proud one at that after all we pride our city as Christian haven which is further buttressed by its name being an acronym for “Jesus our Saviour”, “JOS”; thus the question was not whether or not, one was a conservative but how entrenched those values were in you and how far he/she was willing to go to defend his set of conservative views. These values were of course not all the same as ethnicity, along with faith and education played differing roles in blending our perception of what constitutes a right or a wrong, along with what are our duties in defending and propagating such values. In the midst of these, there were of course people that had a more liberal outlook to what extent it was difficult to say as contact with such persons were deemed unhealthy, and as kids you avoided close contact with such persons or you get spanked by your family or worst still get ostracized for days or weeks by your friends depending on how far one was adjudged to have been involved with such of society’s “delinquents” (whose crime was wearing of trousers by ladies or girls, double or multiple ear/nose piercings, too much makeup, clothes that are too tight or revealing of body parts, drunks etc.).
Either Christians or Muslims there are issues that enjoy broad consensus and are thus kicked against vigorously e.g LGBT, abortion, prostitution etc. these are thought of as being against “Traditional African values” which was seen as a collective responsibility for all to protect, not barring the fact that within the population exists dissenting views and opinions, due to a variety of factors, but more emphasis seems to have been placed on foreign influence, and or financial inducement, which is seen more through the lenses of practicing of an alien culture though true in itself but negating the full and broad picture to determine the immediate and remote causes of such untraditional values/views.
As experts and historians continue to research and argue one fundamental reality is that such divergence in views and practices form the least of minorities related challenges facing societies the world over. And for African societies whom are new converts in the temple of democracy the views and traditions of the majority supersedes and dominates over and above the views and concerns of a few and rightly so.
The major concern for me in my latter days growing up in Jos Nigeria, was the safety of my life and that of my family and friends because as teenagers in a conservative African society holding on to divergent views from our peers even as teens discussing sensitive issues such as religious differences often results to heated arguments, trading of insults and occasionally descending into fist-cuffs between friends that minutes earlier were playing, personally I have been involved in many of such scenarios at that early stage, what was lacking then and now in many parts of the world is an understanding of people’s rights to worship freely, along with provision of a comprehensive DE-confliction mechanism of seeking redress when one feels such rights may have been violated without resorting to violence. Coming to an age of understanding in a digital era with a steady stream of information overload, my concerns have not really changed but my understanding of the problems and what should be the solutions, have. Perhaps one of the principal reasons for persecutions and heavy loss of lives in human rights struggles is that of religious freedom/spirituality, because 20 years on this remain one of the hot-button flashpoints of security related issues that still confront my city, and as I piece together the puzzles of my city’s security problems I find out that they are one part of a bigger challenge to human rights globally.
The right to life I believe is so sacred that for no reason whatsoever at all should anyone, group or government see it as duty bound to terminate a single life in furtherance of any creed, race, ideology etc. and definitely not because I choose to worship in a different way or deity from another who chooses otherwise, I should not neither should anyone else move around with a bulls eye on their backs, which can be used for target practice because someone feels, or has a conviction, or urge that being outside their believe system, I am expendable or less of a human.
The dignity of being whosoever, or whatsoever
This is where I believe the challenge of providing and safeguarding the fundamental rights of human being’s lie, because the boundaries/lines of limitation or defiance/fight to attain a perceived right(s) are blur at best in some cases, and in this apparent loophole lies opportunities for exploitation towards gains for state and non-state actors done in furtherance of a political or economic clout, with sometimes little to show for, in actual basis for a person, communities in terms of deliverables etc. for those “rights” that were fought for and defended against, thus such threats are at best either perceived or imaginary.
Human rights are viewed as a core Tennent of democracy and establishing democracy and its other components is seen as a basis in establishing good “human rights” values for any country which seeks good relations with particular states who are “custodians of human rights”. The concept and precepts of democracy along with human rights and human dignity are not universal, but if any semblance of success is to be achieved is best attempted if we take an in-depth look at each of these concepts individually, and try linking same to different regions of the world’s cultures, traditions, and history in a bid to develop human rights specially tailored to suit a given region of the world in a way and manner that in so doing, granting a particular right to one group does not infuriate or breeds potential crisis between two or more divergent camps.
Then next is combining two or more of these concepts together, one tennent of democracy should guide how groups exercise their rights (the democratization of rights), the majority should not be forced to shed too much grounds to accommodate the behaviours they consider as wrong or abominable (emphasis should be placed on seeing how the mainstream of the population can accept and co-exist with the fringe expressions), while the groups whose activities is likely to be frowned upon by a majority of the population should avoid open display of actions or inactions that might be interpreted as an affront to the views of the mainstream (should they go underground? Not exactly but to protect against any potential clash that could lead to fatalities it should be a temporary switching off being or belonging to that ideal, and full expression of whatever they desire where and when they have a majority, thus the mainstream should exercise same where the views are not the mainstream e.g in gay parades/gatherings). The next angle to this is sovereign law that grants or denies some rights, because of variations in civilizations and cultures, different parts of the world adopt laws and regulations they adjudge to be in conformity with their history and way of life, because of this simple expression by some states the liberal western democracies have bared down lots pressure on these nations and forcing their hands into adopting laws that are alien to the general populace and could generate a backlash that could quickly degenerate into a more serious security challenge.
The economical less productive states or the global south are more caught out in this web imperialist designs of coercing countries into granting such rights, because of its peculiarity issues/rights of the LGBT community and other liberal leaning ideals is the flash point of many of these tensions, e.g when Nigeria passed her anti-gay laws in 2014 there was a huge chorus of disapprovals from the liberal governments of Western nations and threats of withdrawing foreign aid to some areas of cooperation, but the unanimous and multi-partisan approval with the strong backing of the general population meant that that law stood. I believe as many other Nigerians that the political elite will have felt the wrath of the Nigerian people if they gave into the pressures from the liberal wishes of some western governments, other strings of such laws came up and do exists in many African countries facing the same reaction from these same liberals as against the wishes of the local population.
In as much as people have the rights to their own bodies (after all someone thought barbecuing himself was the best language against government policy, which gave rise to toppling of many north African and middle eastern governments) that said, in a highly religious (not necessarily righteous) societies like Africa the mere mentioning of the term gays repulses many telling them to respect and live side by side with such persons in many cases is simply impossible. I personally had a hard time understanding the choice of LGBT’s to be who they are, until I discussed with a friend (Mr. Aaron Ashoms, a onetime national coordinator, Youth Action Movement of the Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria), his experience in dealing with reproductive health issues of young people which included the LGBT community the challenges they face, especially health complications that to me sounds too graphic to explain and how they provide assistance and counselling to them to see the need to turn away from such practices, only then did I feel the need to respect people that belong to the LGBT community and I have ever since, but support them or their activities totally out of the question, but their rights to their bodies I completely acknowledge. What I then term as the weaponization of human rights because is when we take a look into the campaign against the religious communities in liberal societies and liberal leaning governments what is noticed is a flagrant disregard for the rights of the religious circle, the supreme court ruling of 2014 in the U.S on recognition of gays rights to be recognized by the federal supreme court and compels by law the registration of such unions, even when the religious circles, conservative societies/organizations along with states that have high conservative base kicked against such a move, leading to situations where government staff who are to enforce the ruling either had to comply or resign in protest, or get fired from their jobs among other discriminations they have likely faced because of their faith.
Cases of state institutions denying the rights of religious freedom in cases as simple as handing out invitation to a Christmas party or Christian summer camp in J.S v Holly area schools, Patterson elementary Holly, Michigan (2008-2011) and K.A v Pioneer mountain school District , Bennett elementary center, Stillwater, Pennsylvania (2011-3013) among many others, is nothing short of an abuse of citizens’ rights on the basis of their religious believe and to freely associate and share information, if the crusaders of human rights cannot guarantee the rights of the mainstream of its populations such as Christians, to among others freely express themselves and stand by their religious believes, it then begs the question what is the motive for pushing for fringe groups rights in other nations, and when one juxtaposes it with the unreserved and unwavering support that these same champions of human rights shower on the gulf monarchies of the middle east where there is flagrant disregard for the some basic rights, in issues as simple as a women’s rights e.g right to drive, led or govern, or go to the mall without a male company, but still hold tightly to such countries with long histories and record of human rights abuses, to crown their hypocritical show shame they parade and display minorities in western capitals give them opportunities to express themselves fully, but cannot push for their allies to level the playing field so that minorities in those countries will express themselves freely especially to choose and follow any religion and spiritual teachings of they so choose such as Christians, atheists etc. in these same middle eastern nations, how is it that a first or second generation Muslim in the EU or America warship and profess his faith freely, while a middle eastern Christians for generations and other minorities cannot enjoy same as they are force to abandon their believes because their faiths is not in conformity with state religious laws or making it increasingly difficult to be who they are by adopting stringent guidelines for building and maintaining churches or other religious centers in those countries such as building permits Egypt a case in point among many, why is it that champions of human rights don’t make it a priority for such allies of theirs to provide such rights to its own citizens which they so “cherish” and pretend to “protect”, never has there been strong condemnation by the US or any other rights championing country of the many human rights violation by some gulf monarchies, nor do they withhold any technical assistance or package, economic, or otherwise as a precondition for cooperation, only then is this scheming seen for what it is, as tools of oppression and domination. They are just wolves in sheep clothing, or should we say as oppressors in “equal rights for all” clothing delivering submission of will and sovereignty of states to the empire’s whims. People should live free and express themselves to the fullest and in so doing not infringe on the rights of others, as the right of one man is not superior to that of another.
Even though all people are equal before the law and thus should be entitled to the same rights, what we notice is the aggressive push for the “rights” of minorities in all intends and purposes designed to overshadow centuries old traditions and values, were the conservatives or majority are forced to apologize for their stance against practices that are inimical to their core values and believe systems.
This is done to subdue the will of the majority on the mainstream to the schemes of interest groups with demands that are either real or imagined disguised to hide more sinister designs and plans to achieve a political, economic or geostrategic advantage. If a religious person say a Muslim or Christian is compelled by a rights movement or government domestic or foreign to apologize, pay or shut up and live with an ideal or practice that are considered wrong and abominable by his/her religious teachings which enjoy him to speak against (preach) such, if such persuasions are registered against persons with particular believes shouldn’t that be considered and treated as violations of such a person’s rights?, because if at all its true that these governments, liberal leaning think tanks, and human rights movements are serious and true to their goals on the issue of human rights they pursue then they will realize that because the feel or think that their cause is just and right it in no way negates or diminishes the rights of the persons who think it is wrong, because these people that say NO to such practices that they preach and advocate for are first people, thus the fine line that defines fighting for your right without infringing on the rights of others should be based on respect not coercion, protests, insults or violence.
Watching across the spectrum of the different legitimate rights that different groups are calling for, and the precarious state that governments and citizens are caught in to willfully or reluctantly accept or potentially coerced into granting a particular right or accepting an ideal. These governments and people should be on the vanguard to defend their own rights along with citizens action against those who seek that they should forfeit their rights in other to accommodate that which they are encouraged to accept, because failure to do so will be accepting the tag of a second class or tier citizen who only accepts but whose own traditions and practices are worthy to be adopted by the people/groups/organizations/government that preach their own values. Change is hard to accept but even though it’s hard for the party that proposes that its position/ideals to be accepted, it is also hard for the receiving party to accept a change in the status quo, thus dialogue and intellectual discuss based on facts or faith/believe should be the only basis for individuals, groups or nations to see the need to change course and or accept an ideal or right, and not through pressure social or economic on individuals or groups and definitely not by violent protests or the use of force.