The concept of human rights is relatively recent and the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights was only adopted as recently as 1948. The basic premise described in the declaration, which is the standard measure for human rights, is that all individuals have the right to equal freedom, opportunity and justice as well as education and health. The declaration has 30 articles that explicitly outline human rights (United Nations, Universal). Even though many nations have signed this declaration, there is still a prevalence of human rights violations across the globe. There are many reasons why someone’s human rights might be violated. It could be for financial reasons, such as the trafficking of humans for forced labor and the employment of child laborers. It could be because of conflicting religious ideologies which has caused eruptions of violence, imprisonment and genocide. It could also be for cultural beliefs which require female genital mutilation in some cultures in Africa (Abusharaf 128). It could also be for prejudices such as the discrimination of homo and transexual populations.
For something to qualify as a human rights violation, the infraction would have to infringe upon an individual’s right to freedom, opportunity, dignity, justice, education, health and other basic rights. Where it gets tricky to enforce human rights laws is when a culture has certain practices deeply ingrained into their society. For example, in some predominantly Muslim nations, women aren’t allowed to drive, go to school, be seen in public with their hair uncovered or without a male family member as an escort. If a woman infringes on any of these social rules, the punishment can be severe, from being beaten, disfigured or having acid thrown on her face. In cases such as these, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights serves as a strong support as it values the integrity of the individual’s rights above cultural beliefs and practices. When the now-famous human rights activist Malala Yousef spoke out against the Taliban’s prohibiting of women and girls’ education in Pakistan, a gunman boarded her school bus and shot her in the head. This event drew international attention to the widespread human rights violation of prohibiting the education of women and girls due to religious beliefs (Malala Fund).
Many victims of human rights violations later become advocates for human rights. Like Malala, who uses her persecution to highlight the importance of education for girls and women, Omar Alshogre, who became a political prisoner in Syria where he was viciously tortured for three years, has spoken at conferences and events to share his story in the hopes of preventing further atrocities from occurring and to put a stop to prisoner torture in his home country. Today, he is the Director of Detainee Issues at the Syrian Emergency Task Force (CBC). Other famous and well-known victims of human rights violations who went on to become leaders of the highest order are Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.
Prosecuting human rights violations can be frustratingly difficult. That’s because the infractions are often interwoven into corrupt and biased systems that make witnesses and victims afraid to speak up and where authorities and officials attempt to cover up infringements (Olken 92). Uncovering such practices and corruption is precisely why human rights are so important. The Cato Institute highlights of worldwide religious persecution for 2020 stated that “There is value in exposing and shaming persecutors. And embarrassing government officials whose policies undermine the right and opportunity of people of faith to live their beliefs.” And the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay wrote that, “It is fundamental that States develop or refine their own capacity to investigate and prosecute gross violations of human rights. In many cases, this means setting up new and specialized institutions that can handle international crimes and gross human rights violations. This is not a luxury, but an obligation.” In light of the innate challenges in processing human rights violations, advocacy and watchdog groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Global Rights, UN Watch, the Human Rights Foundation and others are important actors in the fight to ensure universal human rights.
Despite the existence of laws and declarations that uphold human rights, violations of human rights are prevalent. From religious persecution to bias against women to the torturing of political prisoners, human rights violations come at a high cost to their victims. Advocacy groups play an important role in defending human rights and preventing further violations. Each citizen should know their rights and work to defend the rights of others.
Abusharaf, Rogaia and Halim, Abdel. “Questioning the tradition: Female circumcision in Sudan.” African World Press,2000.
CBC, “10 years into the war, this torture victim fights to bring the regime to justice.” March 18, 2021: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-thursday-edition-1.5955008/10-years-into-the-syrian-war-this-torture-victim-fights-to-bring-the-regime-to-justice-1.5955031.
Malala Fund: https://malala.org/malalas-story?sc=header.
Olken, Benjamin “Corruption Perceptions vs. Corruption Reality.” Journal of Public Economics, vol. 93, no. 7, 2009.
United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights: https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights.