Human Rights and Liberal Democracy
In so many occasions, Eritreans who are living in the Diaspora have now become familiar with the word “Human Rights”. Every mass media is mentioning human rights issue. Particularly, 2015 and 2016 are special years for Eritreans in the struggle of exposing human rights tragedy that was going on since 1991 by the ruling regime in Eritrea. More than 15,000 Eritreans gathered in Geneva to support an investigation report conducted by United Nations Human Rights Council.
A 500 pages report which was released by United Nations Commission of Inquiry indicated that systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations were committed creating a climate of fear. According to the report, it is not law that rules Eritrea – but fear. According to UNHCR Reports, there were around 375,000 Eritreans living outside Eritrea as registered refugees. Some crimes reported may amount to crimes to humanity. These statistical data are nothing but indication of gross violation of human rights.
But what is Human Right? Why nations are responsible for any crimes committed within their territories? And why Eritreans are considered as refugees?
These questions may not be simple to be answered as they seem to be. Many people in the world are either less knowledgeable about human rights or are unable to fully benefit from the Rights given to them through International treaties in their daily life. More than this, there is confusion between “Natural Rights” and “Human Rights”. Plus, almost everyone on this earth considers human rights as something given from above, as “God given”. Consequently, it is not possible how to use human rights in our daily life apart from being benefitting unconsciousnesly. However, solid knowledge about “Our Rights” is important to live peacefully and with full consciousness.
The history of Human Rights has long history. Before the world came to declare a universal declaration of human rights, countries were using different types of rights. And its use dates back to Babylonian period. In 539 BC, the armies of Cyrus the Great of ancient Persia who conquered Babylon freed all slaves and declared that all people have a right to choose their own religion and established racial equality. Gradually, these rights are spread to the world. Today, this ancient declaration is known as the first world charter of human rights. And it was used as a base for the Universal declaration of Human Rights.
With time, different documents started to be declared in different parts of the world that asserts individual rights. For example, in 1628, the United Kingdom had its first known ‘Natural Rights”. The US constitution (1787) is basically about human rights though it is used as a state constitution.
In 1789, France came with a unique document. Before this year, France was ruled by kings. And religion had strong influence on daily life of its citizens. There were strong class differences. The ruling family or the king family, religious leaders and leaders in the clerk circle had absolute control over ordinary citizens. Citizens had to pay extremely high taxes. Those who work in the government were not paying taxes. French farmers had to sell all their farm products to pay their taxes. Poverty was extremely high. And any person who speaks against the government was facing inhumane treatment and torture. The French people had no freedom and at times they were unable to pay for a single bread to eat at home. Prices for bread was very expensive making life extremely hard to live.
After such long suffering, the French people started to revolt against the monarchies. As a result, from 1789 to 1799, a bloody revolution happened resulting to the overthrowing of the king. And a new government was formed from ordinary people. This gave to the birth of “The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizens.” Followed by US Bill of Rights (1791), these declarations have become the base of all modern human rights declaration.
Modern Human Rights was declared in December 10, 1948 in Paris, France. Out of the then 58 members, 48 members voted “YES”. Though no country voted against, 8 countries abstained and 2 didn’t vote for different motives. For example, South Africa abstained as it was under apartheid period. The declaration is composed of 30 Articles divided into 5 general structures.
Human Rights can be defined simply as, “the rights you have simply because you are human.” This right gives human being a dignity to live equally with others. For example, Article 1 says, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” This indicates, every human being on this earth is equal no matter what color, race, sex, status, religion he/she has. This is very important to be marked.
The significance of Article 1 is becoming critical as humans are continuously getting divided over so many things due to different motives. Politics and religion are playing negative role to divide people. Our awareness should increase so that can use our rights against serious discriminations.
For example, today, Eritreans are facing systematic discrimination. The class-type promoted by former freedom fighters, ‘Warsay – Yikealo” is a classification system imposed by PFDJ and Eritrean Defense Force. At the beginning it seemed to be good intentioned as it was aimed to express the transfer of knowledge and experience to new generation. Today, this classification has become like a class-system which has become part of strategy layout and National development programs. Yikealo has state priorities and privileges in almost every sector of activity. And Eritreans identify them as privileged citizens. While Yikealo has absolute power over Eritrean’s daily life, Warsay is living as a “slave”, working in forcing labout without any freedom. Before 1994, there was no such classification among Eritreans.
Above, it is indicated that about 375,000 Eritreans are living as registered refuges throughout the world. The primary reason for being a ‘refugee” under UN guidance is that a person is considered as a refugee when he/she is displaced from original place due to different reasons and needs protection. This protection is guaranteed under international responsibility of “human rights to life” which is given under Article 3, which reads, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”. When someone is displaced from original place for a reason that risks life, such as politics, war and social discrimination, the world gives full protection by securing its basic needs and liberty to life.
In this article, it is not enough to discuss about what are human rights violations that are going on in Eritrea and what are the motives that are forcing Eritreans to leave their country. But there is one important case to be brought here. Eritreans have lost their rights to leave the country freely whenever they want as indicated under Article 13 sub-article B, which reads, “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country”. If there was freedom of movement, many Eritreans might not have forced to leave the country illegally. If there was any problems which risked their life, they could have left freely. This could have reduced the death of thousands of Eritreans and the expensive cost paid to human smugglers.
Today, Eritreans who live in the Diaspora have have relatively sound freedom of expressing their political opinions without fear. Many mass medias and independent social network channels are broadcasting different programs. This was impossible to imagine being in Eritrea as everything is state owned and there is no freedom to speak what you want. Therefore, Eritreans are benefitting from the Rights that is guaranteed to them by the states they live in.
Such freedoms to express political opinions are indicated in Article 18, which states,” Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”. By being inside Eritrea, because of lack of freedom, Eritreans were unable to develop their language, culture and tradition freely.
It is important to conclude by mentioning Article 30 of the Universal declaration of Human Rights. It states, “Nobody should attempt in any way to destroy the rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. This is very important Article. Countries, governments, group of people or individuals may interpret it according to their own advantage that can risk the rights of others. It is important therefore to know that no other body has an authority to interpret it aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms indicated in the Universal declaration.
States have no obligation to follow Human Rights declarations but are responsible for the well-being of their citizens. And any violation can make them accountable by other states or international bodies. It is important therefore for states to have laws that respect the rights of every individual.
Role of Liberal Democrats
Human Rights is basically the concept of liberal values. No other political philosophy guarantees the rights of people which is provided in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights(1948). And this principled political view of Liberal Democrats gives strong assurance on how people’s freedom can be protected, respected and whenever demanded appropriate remedy is guaranteed through the structure built to safeguard the Rule of Law.
Liberal Democrats believe on Individual rights. And these rights are not comprmised. Sometimes societies tend to violate rights of individuals simply because they consider it is out of the values of societies. But this is not acceptable reason to do so. Though societies could have an opportunity to protect their rights, individuals within the society have an absolute right to be protected. Typical example is the LGBTI community. Like all human being, LGBTI have a right to be who they are and to live freeely. No other community or society has a power to dictate any other other community.
Liberal Democrats role is crucial in this regard. Eritrea is a country of conservative societies. Tradition, culture, religion and way of living makes it difficult to protect individual rights to an extent declared in the human rights. Nevertheless, it is an absolute mandate for liberal democrats to protect every single Eritrean’s rights.