Category : Year in Review

Saima Sabreen

In the year gone by, human rights violations have continued unabated. Here is a round-up.

‘Human rights’ is a term used to describe the fundamental rights and freedoms that every individual is inherently entitled to, simply by virtue of being a human. These rights are considered to be universal, inalienable, and indivisible. This means that they apply to every person regardless of any differentiating factors such as nationality, ethnicity, gender, religion, or other characteristics. One such right that is often neglected is the right to individuality, to follow a set of principles, to have one’s own routine, or even culture and tradition.
What differentiates a human from any other being in the world is humanity and moral values. It is an umbrella term referring to the collective qualities, characteristics, and attributes that make human beings distinct. Any deviation or divergence in the behavior, attitude, conduct, etiquettes or practices should not be tolerated as it violates basic human rights, ethical principles and disrupts social harmony. However, we need to understand that anything that does not interfere with humanitarian values, but is rather a personal choice of an individual must not be objected but rather respected.
In Indian culture, on one hand we teach our children to respect, care and empathize with everyone around us. On the other hand, parents who hold a grudge against certain members of the neighbourhood teach the same child to behave hostile towards them. Is this not a form of hypocrisy? And when the same children follow their ethical values and show their care and concern towards them and fulfil their rights, they are objected and confronted. This choice to behave good towards those who may have been malevolent, wicked or evil earlier is the individual right of the child which must be valued and respected. Don’t you think that planting such seeds beginning from childhood hinders the child’s ability to understand the importance of basic individual human rights?
Another common observation in our culture is the eagerness and longing desire to poke our noses into the lives of others. A basic human right policy that must be honoured is ‘To Live and Let Live’. A person may choose to get up early or sleep late, pick one college for studies rather than the other with a higher fee structure, or opt for one stock market rather than another, like one set of clothes, fashion, colour, setting etc. What then gives us the right to judge someone based on their individual choices? Who has given us the right to question another person’s set of principles that do not violate human rights? Is this not a form of infringement of basic rights? By selecting an act of a person, and expressing our bad opinion about their behaviour because we think our way of performing the same act is superior is an unacceptable action that must be immediately looked into and corrected.
In addition, two-facedness has unfortunately become very common among every individual of our society. We behave sweet, pleasing, nice, welcoming and inviting but choose to backbite, talk harshly, think nasty, and develop negative thoughts about the same human soul behind our backs. Isn’t expecting and thinking good about another person a right of every being? A person may choose to not express, open up or communicate about several milestones of their life. This is their basic right which requires acknowledgement. What harm would it cause us if we get news about an event, incident or occasion from a third person rather than the first person himself? True relationships are built by respect, regard and consideration of another person’s time, schedule and decision. Therefore, one must choose to gratify oneself by respecting and understanding the presence of every individual’s right to individuality.
Moreover, a person’s value increases by choosing to listen, understand and respect basic human rights. It’s not just about increasing our value, but more about being human because humanity is what differentiates us from other living beings. These situations although may appear very common at first glance do not seem to have any impact in the long term. However, a trace back into any incidents of basic rights violations shows that not teaching young children about respecting individual rights in many cases becomes a driving force.

Every year the world records several human rights violations. The numbers, unfortunately, never seem to decrease. A retrospection of the year 2023 shows that human rights violations is unfortunately still a major part of society. In fact, it has been observed uniformly among all nations of the world, though the intensities may differ. Let’s have a look into a few incidents that would not just make us shed tears but rather force us to ask ourselves, are we still human?
In May 2023, a disturbing instance of inhumane conduct by humans unfolded in the northeastern state of Manipur, India. This incident stemmed from a communal conflict between the predominantly Hindu Meitei and the mainly Christian Kuki ethnic communities. By mid-August 2023, approximately 160 individuals, primarily from the Kuki ethnic group, were reportedly killed, with over 300 others sustaining injuries. The conflict led to the displacement of tens of thousands of people, the burning of thousands of homes and hundreds of churches, and the devastation of farmland, crops, and livelihoods. The violations and abuses included alleged acts of sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, the destruction of homes, forced displacement, torture, and ill-treatment. What added to the gravity of the situation was the apparent provocation of violence through hate-filled and inflammatory rhetoric disseminated both online and offline. This rhetoric sought to justify atrocities against the Kuki ethnic minority, particularly women, based on their ethnicity and religious beliefs. Experts expressed deep concern about the reported manipulation of counterterrorism measures to legitimize violent and repressive actions against ethnic and religious minorities. How can killings be justified and legitimized? Does this not decrease our belief in human values? [Source: UN Human Rights, country page – Republic of India]

It is quite shocking to see how humans require human rights organizations to remind them of being human, yet see humans performing inhumane acts. On November 2, 2022, the primary conflicting parties, the Ethiopian federal government, and Tigrayan authorities, concluded an agreement led by the African Union in Pretoria, South Africa, officially halting active hostilities in the Tigray region. Laetitia Bader, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch, remarked, “While the Ethiopian government and its international partners highlight significant progress in the past year, civilians in conflict zones continue to endure the brunt of atrocities.” Unfortunately, combat seemed to escalate in other areas of the country, with past offenders repeating abusive patterns without facing consequences even in 2023. Over the past year, the conflicting parties seemed to persistently commit human rights abuses in Tigray, disregarding the November agreement’s commitment to safeguard civilians. Eritrean forces were found engaged in killings, sexual violence, abductions, pillaging, obstructing humanitarian aid, and impeding AU monitors’ work in their controlled areas. In the Western Tigray Zone, largely inaccessible to humanitarian agencies, authorities and Amhara regional forces and militias, known as Fano, continued an ethnic cleansing campaign, forcibly displacing Tigrayans. Despite some restoration of basic services and the gradual arrival of humanitarian aid in Tigray following the cessation of hostilities agreement, certain parts still experienced cut-off banking and other services as late as October 2023. How does one build the courage to stop basic necessities from reaching other fellow beings without any guilt? One needs to ask himself; do I even have a heart? [Source: Human Rights Watch]
Another devastating example of how history can have a major influence on one’s present is that of Israel-Palestine conflict. Over a century ago, the British government, through the concise Balfour Declaration (signed in 1917), pledged support for establishing a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. In the aftermath, Israel initiated prolonged military offensives on Gaza in 2008, 2012, 2014, and 2021. These actions resulted in the deaths of numerous Palestinians, including children, and the destruction of tens of thousands of homes, schools, and offices. The latest deadly bombardment, starting on October 7th, 2023, claimed nearly 15,000 lives, including 10,000 women and children, marking it as the deadliest conflict for the besieged Palestinian enclave to date. Reports from the Palestinian Red Crescent indicate that Israeli forces hindered aid deliveries through the Rafah border crossing. Despite a truce for a few days until December 1st, 2023, Israel resumed attacks on Gaza, resulting in the reported death of 175 individuals on the very first day. The question that arises is; How can one exhibit such a thirst for human blood? Do their hands not tremble when taking the lives of innocent children? Have people lost sight of fundamental humanitarian values?
In addition, during October 2023 alone, Syria documented the deaths of 161 civilians, comprising 34 children and 44 adult women, some of whom succumbed to torture. The report by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) highlighted a disturbing tally of at least four massacres within one month. Concurrently, conditions in areas under Syrian regime control witnessed a widespread decline in economic, living, service, and security aspects. Particularly, the services sector experienced a sharp deterioration, contributing to price hikes across all goods. The volatile fuel prices triggered increased manufacturing and transportation costs, further debilitating public life in regions controlled by the regime. In northwestern Syria, the already severe plight of civilians continued to worsen due to deteriorating economic and living conditions, coupled with escalating prices for essential food and grocery items. These challenges were compounded by the diminishing purchasing power of the population, stemming from widespread unemployment and poverty. The Syrian regime appeared to disregard international humanitarian and customary laws, as well as UN Security Council resolutions, including resolutions 2139 and 2042 related to detainee releases, along with resolution 2254. Unfortunately, these violations occurred without any accountability. [Source: Syrian Network for Human Rights, الشبكة السورية لحقوق الإنسان]

The stories and incidents of atrocities on humans do not stop here. While we are reading this, several unfortunate events are happening around where humans are being denied their basic rights. Unfortunately, it is not an alien but a human himself responsible for torturing his fellow beings and not respecting their fundamental rights. Is this the modernism we are proud of? Using human inventions for killing, bombarding, troubling and pestering others? We develop organisations to safeguard our own rights and break rules formed by ourselves. We call ourselves developed. But, are we developed in the true sense? Does this not challenge our own ideologies? Are we not hypocrites? What gives us the right to call ourselves human? These and many such questions indicate that it is time we learn to respect human rights to develop a world that may seem Utopian today. However, a little bit of contribution that begins from each individual in their own sphere of home, society, office, school, college, or university can help in the development of a world where everyone respects and values the rights of others.


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