Beyond Human Rights and into the Borders of Society

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Transgression of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is considered a serious breach of freedom. Citing national interest and security, political leaders are inundating their citizens with a xenophobic and racist rant which is void of ideology, instead reflecting prejudice with the premise of leaders being in harmony with the people.

Conveniently forgetting that humanity is born “free and equal in dignity and rights” compels the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to remind us of what should be common knowledge.

Throughout the years, the degeneration of political implications has resulted in millions of people dispersed around the world, portrayed on documentaries in which migrants are huddled in makeshift tents, relatives greet each other through a border of barbed wire fencing, children scooping up clods of earth from the other side of the border as a keepsake of home. As long as the reality depicted in the documentary does not reach the sanctity of our lands.


Displaced people are imbued with an illusory nationality that translates into an existence devoid of a fundamental freedom that the majority of the human race takes for granted. If freedom is so fundamental, it stands to reason that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a charter that was forced into existence as a result of annihilated liberty.

What is not so reasonable is the fact that the oppressed are not safeguarded by the Charter as intended, for its implementation remains a gift bestowed by the political power of the concerned country.

Whether refugees are created by dictatorial governments, extreme poverty, war crimes, displacement of people through appropriating land, the usurping of natural resources by capitalism, and the historical havoc inflicted on poorer nations through years of colonial power, the major observation is an immediate classification into “us” and “them”.

If society created the conditions that gave rise to the issue of human rights, it follows that the same society and individuals are concerned with ultimately deciding the fate of those who suffered transgression. A political refugee who escapes persecution is as defenceless when escaping to another country, where the refugee’s right is decided by another supreme authority.

The reality of a refugee’s plight indicates that there are many things amiss within a society that deems itself civilised and receptive to needs.

As stated on the UNHCR website, granting the right of asylum to those fleeing persecution in other countries has been “one of the earliest hallmarks of civilization”. If it was deemed civilised to grant asylum, then it seems that society has degenerated into an unprecedented occurrence; that of being less civilised than our ancestors despite the so called progress and advancement of humanity.

There is a concern that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an excellent document to disparage in political rhetoric. The prime concern cited by many governments seems to be the funds allocated for assisting refugees in the host country. Yet, few governments of economically stronger countries are forced to face the realisation that the history of meddling in other countries’ political affairs and aiding dictatorships to seize power may be one of the reasons causing so much instability in many third world countries. Reason and conscience” and “acting towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”, as in Article 1 of the Human Rights Declaration does not extend to the vision of human rights beyond the safe cocoon of riches.

As for Article 3 of the same Declaration, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Maybe there is too much leniency in allowing the governments the authority of granting such freedoms. There should be no amazement if one starts to question the definition of contemporary democracy.

Coupled with the senseless racist, or as many apologists call them, racialist remarks, society is being attuned and receptive to their fears of the unknown. A ‘contaminated’ race, a lost culture, illegality, a dominant, external religion, different skin colour, the protests against religious display and attire – many of these concerns are exploited upon as a way to garner votes and instil xenophobia in an insular mentality. A thorough study of community relations in different cultures would do more to bring about harmony than riding on a wave of insecurity to promote party propaganda.

Indeed, leaders who cite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when infringement strikes home would benefit from a reminder that the nature of the voyage to other lands is a result of illegalities committed against migrants. It is deplorable to portray refugees seeking freedom as illegal since there are circumstances when citizenship fails to protect people and safeguard their freedom. Possibly, the easiest justification for such attitude is attributed to ignorance. However, the ramifications of ignorance become an infringement of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when it is exploited by leaders in order to motivate an already prejudiced mentality.

In spite of all the advances brought about by science and art, there has not been a positive reaction to a plight affecting so many people around the word. The need for recognition brought about a Declaration that many feel does not concern them – as they pursue life within the confines of safety. The ideals of a civilised society may turn out to be as primitive as those of a dictatorship, where the interests of a satisfied individual take precedence over the well-being of the masses.

Maybe society needs to face the realisation that the concept of need is one with many visages. In turn society should question the reason why the Universal Declaration of Human Rights came into existence and what needs to be remedied in its implementation.

Whatever the reason society comes up with, there is no escaping the fact that need controls the fundamental freedom of every person – it is the concept which created such an insistence on the obvious – that every person is a human being.

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One Response

  1. Joanne Grech

    April 21, 2011 4:16 pm

    So true! I cannot understand why minorities are treated as ‘others’. In a recent paper I read, religious minorities were described as being the ‘others’. To say that minorities are ‘others’, it may also (naturally) mean that they are aliens or invaders. Even though one might say that they are not being treated badly (physically or psychologically), the fact that one is describing these minorities as ‘others’ worries me alot. Automatically, by just saying the word ‘others’, society will treat minorities as if they were really aliens or a threat to the community. Even though we live in 2011, I still believe that we haven’t reached proper civilisation (whatever that means).

    Another point which I wanted to discuss is that in Malta there are no laws which tell tenants that they cannot be xenophobic. So, basically the tenant is given the right to refuse to rent out a place to an immigrant, a person whose race is different to his and a person with a different religion. In other words, the government is actually giving the right to everyone (since theoretically everyone can be a tenant) to be xenophobic. Back in time not 2011!