Stand up for Someone’s Rights

Today, we all commemorate the Universal Human Rights Day, the day the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, in 1948. Under the theme of Stand up for Someone’s Rights’, we have given a great opportunity to defend someone’s human rights. As it is expected by the article 29.1 of the UDHR, ‘every one of us have duties towards the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible’, today we need to defend the rights of someone.

In 1998, when the UDHR reached its fiftieth anniversary, The UN General Assembly adopted the ‘Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms’, known as the ‘Declaration on Human Rights Defenders’, emphasizing that we all have a role to fulfil as human rights defenders. The declaration refers the ‘defender’ as people who, individually or with others, act to promote or protect human rights’.    

Accordingly, it is expected to respect all human rights of all, everywhere, and act at local, national, regional and international levels, by collecting and disseminating information on human rights violations, and whilst supporting the victims of human rights violations and acting to secure accountability, supporting the duty bearers including publicizing the information of the government, in meeting of the international human rights obligations for a better governance. The defenders are also required to contribute to the implementation of the human rights obligations, and most importantly engage in human rights education and promotion. The foremost idea of this Declaration is active engagement in defending human rights in a paid or voluntary basis, but with and through commitment.

We being women and women writers can play a significant role in the advancement of human rights, not by standing for someone, but taking ‘special efforts’ to create change in the lives of those people, and in the societies. If so, as women writers, we need to take special efforts to seek, obtain, receive, hold and disseminate information relating to the human rights violations, and stand together in advocating and acting towards change.

The year 2016 is reaching its end, leaving behind many stories of depression and challenges. Yet these depressions and challenges are not going to end with the sunset on 31st December 2016. Each dusk and dawn continues to carry these year after year. Human Rights Watch, in its World Report 2016, reveals that one in nine girls in the developing world marry before they are 15, and one in three at the age of 18. This pressure and force on girls cause for school dropout, domestic violence, a cycle of continued poverty, and an increased risk of serious health problems and death, as effects of early childbearing. Meanwhile, the European Union’s 2016 Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World, has noted that ‘the number of girls having access to quality education is still too low, and yet it is seen as the highest in human history’.

The 2016 report of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office ‘Human Rights & Democracy, states that ‘despite the progress that was achieved at the UN level and elsewhere in 2016, significant challenges remained. These included: ending the many different and pervasive forms of violence against women; securing sexual health and reproductive rights; achieving gender equality in the workplace and in political and public life; and women’s economic empowerment and equal access to education. But it remained the case that the human rights of women and girls, including adequate healthcare and access to justice, were often restricted at the provincial and community levels even in countries where good domestic protections exist on paper’.

As of 2016, women’s representation is almost half of the 244 million migrants and half of the 19.6 million refugees worldwide. Migrants, especially migrant women, have higher labour force participation rates (72.7 per cent) than non-migrants (63.9 per cent).

Focusing our attention toward women prisoners – another major issue faced by women, the Report of the World Prisons Brief , the Institute of Criminal Policy Research discloses that female prisoners generally (in about 80% of prison systems) constitute between 2 and 9 percent of the total prison population. It is provisionally estimated that the total world prison population has increased by around 20 percent since 2000, compared with the approximate 50 percent increase in the number of imprisoned women and girls.

Global Gender Gap Report 2015 whilst highlighting the positive achievement in the sectors of health and education has indicated it to be low 0.6 and very low 0.1 in economy and politics respectively.

It is evident that there are many unseen untouched, unaddressed human rights issues at all levels, from local communities, to the national governments, and across the global seas, which some of us will contribute to, where another some of us will be victimized, which will require some more of us to defend human rights of all.

We need each other to protect and promote our rights.

“Get up, Stand up, Stand up for your Rights”.

While recalling and appreciating these words of Bob Marley’s song from 1980, and while ‘standing up’ for our rights, let us also join hands today in this globalized world to Stand up for Someone’s Rights’.

E. Ariyaratnam|Founding President |Asian Press Institute