NGO Committee Upset With the Statement “Everybody has rights”
Yesterday afternoon I attended an event by the NGO Committee on Human Rights. The topic of discussion was “Women Empowered by Learning, Knowing, and Owning Human Rights as a Way of Life.” There were so many different topics discussed that it was really hard to understand what the purpose of the discussion was.
The first speaker, a Human Rights Advocacy Champion, declared her strong dislike of the statement “every human has rights.” This might seem unexpected, but it illustrated her point very well. The reason why she dislikes the statement is that individuals throughout the world do not know what this means. Humans do have rights, she stated, but they must “own them and live them.” This is how “Human Rights Learning” was introduced. It only took a few seconds before the audience was exposed to an example of Human Rights learning. The speaker asked us to recite out loud, as a group, a shortened version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She would say the article number and the rest of the room would recite the condensed version of the article. This made me feel uncomfortable. It reminded me of certain practices of indoctrination that have become infamous during the last century. When we were done with this exercise, the speaker had us repeat, as a group, one more thing, “There is no other option but Human Rights.”
After this, the group attempted to describe the difference between Human Rights Learning and Human Rights Education, which to be completely honest, I still do not understand. The next speaker was a man from Benin. He explained that while education can seem elitist, learning is a process of getting knowledge throughout life and therefore more appropriate to daily life. This man also stated more than once that “all Human Rights are equal,” as if the right to life and the right to participate in one’s government were equally important. The group stressed the importance of differentiating between Human Rights Learning and Human Rights Education but the only distinction I could grasp was that learning was the absorption throughout life of the idea that each person is a subject of rights. Yet the group did describe necessary classes for Human Right Learning so the distinction between both was unclear.
The confused state in which the event left me was not only caused by the lack of clarity in the distinction between Human Rights Learning and Education, but also by the contradiction about the universality of Human Rights. The third speaker was Kishore Mandhyan, the Deputy Director, Political Peacekeeper, Humanitarian Affairs, Executive Office of the United Nations Secretary-General. He stated that Human Rights are “in our genetic being,” that we have to discover them and that they are naturally there. He discussed his mother and father , Pakistani refugees in India who never heard of Human Rights but were completely embedded with them in their understanding of how to approach others. Near the end of the event, however, the first speaker once again addressed us. This time, like Kishore Mandhyan, she stated that dignity is a universal thing, that the group “discovered the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in everyone’s life;” yet she proceeded to say that Human Rights have to be given to people. She then used a metaphor of Human Rights as a frame. Yes, according to her, Human Rights are to frame every word that one writes or speaks. The test is whether the word fits within that frame and can bring about the realization of Human Rights. The contradiction, I think, is evident. If Human Rights are universal and innate, why must they be given to people?
The speaker also said to give Human Rights to children and let their mothers know that their children will not be what they, their mothers, might want them to be. The problem with this is that this is a violation of the parents’ Human Right to educate their children which is stated in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
She concluded by informing us that we had just received Human Rights and should go out with high shoulders to give Human Rights to others. After the event I overheard a university professor say that she would go back to her school and have the student repeat these exercises.
The moderator concluded with what she thought was a rhetorical question, “ wasn’t this a stimulating and inspiring event?” Regrettably my answer was “no.”