60th anniversary of UDHR – Stories and Thoughts

10 Dec

Every Human Has Rights

As we celebrate the 60th aniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), much more human rights work remains to be done.

Specifically on the South East Asia region and Singapore, my thoughts culminated into an opinion piece, entitled, ‘60 years of UDHR and ISA’, that has been published in the Singapore Demcratic Party ‘Vantage’ column. It is a stark remainder of how detention without trial or the Internal Security Act (ISA) legislations in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei has remained in our law books for the past 60 years. The need for ISA is challenged in my commentary:

… The propaganda and rationale for retaining ISA remains deceptively similar over the years, that is, the law is needed to safeguard the security of the state. But security for whom? The ISA has always appeared in the nick of time to either galvanise society against an illusory enemy or to crush a burgeoning and legitimate Opposition.

More importantly, has our society become any safer with the ISA? The Act prides itself on secret intelligence over the rights of individuals. It does not give the individual arrested under this Act the right to defend oneself, something explicitly promised in the UDHR.

At the core of this debate is the balance between national security and the basic human rights of an individual. Singapore’s law books are already armed to the teeth to deal with terrorists and others who will resort to violence…

Besides my own musings, the works of other journalists and activists have also inspired me to continue blogging about human rights. Many of them have demonstrated remarkable insight, speaking what I believe is the true language of human rights  –  those of and by the people, not designated officials.

John Pilger, an award-winning journalist, whose canon of works has often exposed some of the world’s most atrocious dictatorial regimes, penned a piece on the UK Foreign Office, ‘Kafka has a rival. The Foreign Office lectures us on human rights’. He refuses to celebrate their open day or vacuous activity to promote human rights but instead, exposes its culpability for some of the world’s most dire human rights violations. Whether its the Chagos islanders, the Iraqis, the Africans, the Gazans, or the activists in Colombia, Pilger spares no punches and traces Britain’s involvement to these breaches.

Alternatively, Al Jazeera has also devoted a special segment to the anniversary with video reports, features and interviews of human rights stories.

A thought-provoking article by Ahmed Habib on UN sanctions in Iraq during the first Gulf War quoted the UN estimated figure of 1.7 million  deaths by 2003. Says Iraqi, Dr Dahlia Wasfi, “Economic sanctions starved the Iraqi people. Many teenagers and children who were born during the years of sanctions suffer from malnutrition, having literally physically experienced starvation”. Dr Muna al-Bayati, an Iraqi doctor in Baghdad says, ‘she will remember the UN for the “senseless deaths, foul-smelling hospitals, and long line-ups for eggs and fuel” ‘. The UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, Dennis Halliday also resigned back then as he “refused to continue to take Security Council orders … that had imposed and sustained genocidal sanctions on the innocent of Iraq”.

Adla Massoud’s report on ‘Human rights eroding, analysts warn’ reminds us of the danger of the growing irrelevance of the UDHR due to increasing politicisation of human rights values while Omar Shoeb’s analysis of ‘Human rights lost in Darfur’ paints a picture of increasing lawlessness:

… In the first nine months of 2008, 225 humanitarian vehicles were reportedly hijacked or stolen, 32 of the convoys attacked, 144 humanitarian compounds broken into and 11 workers killed.

Unicef says attacks have led to the reduction of food rations by 25 per cent; the theft of a Unicef-supported drilling rig will leave 180,000 people without a clean water supply…

John Dugard’s interview on the Palestinian issue by Laila El-Haddad continues what this blog has persistently tried to highlight since its existence. Dugard explains that while the UN ground agencies such as UNRWA has sought to take care of the ‘material needs’, the headquarter in New York is politically ineffective when it comes to halting Israeli’s disastrous humanitarian and human rights policies on Palestinians.

The 60th anniversary of UDHR should also be a time to think of the courageous work of those who have devoted their lives to the cause. Our Activist section may not be comprehensive but it is a good start. Amnesty International has also put up a special page ‘Making Human Rights a Reality’, profiling four human rights defenders from various regions.

Lastly, declare your support of human rights if you have not done so.

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