SOCIETY

 

By ÉLIZABETH FORTIER
Sciences de la nature

 

THE BIRTH OF HUMAN RIGHTS

Have you ever wondered how life would be without our rights? Actually, those rights we take for granted are a true gift we should be happy to have. According to Amnesty International 2012 investigations, 112 countries still committed acts of torture against their own citizens that year. Knowing this fact, we should all be proud and thankful to John Peters Humphrey for having an idea to protect people’s rights. This honorable Canadian major contribution to the international community is being the main drafter of the first version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1946. Such accomplishment shouldn’t go unnoticed in a world where wars bloom and human rights violations are not uncommon.

John Peters Humphrey was born on April 30, 1905 in Hampton, New Brunswick. During his childhood years, he lost one of his arms when he was playing with fire. It didn’t prevent him from obtaining three Bachelor’s degrees in Law, Arts and Commerce respectively at McGill University. Later in his life, he was chosen as the first Director of the United Nations Division of Human Rights while also being a teacher at McGill University. Humphrey worked on various cases such as the Women’s Status and Liberty of Press and Opinion through his 20 years of hard work at The United Nations. He gave his last breath on March 14, 1995.

The horrors that were perpetrated during World War II motivated many world leaders to find a solution to stop such inhuman actions. After many drafts and revisions, the solution finally became a reality - the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was adopted in majority on December 10, 1948 in Paris in the presence of many notable members of the Declaration Committee such as Eleanor Roosevelt, René Cassin and P.C. Chang. Out of all the countries that participated in the vote, only eight abstained from giving their approval to this idea. However, even this brilliant idea wasn’t enough to contain violence since during the following years, a large amount civil wars sparked around the globe. For instance, in June 1950, the Korean War started and caused several casualties like the Bodo League Massacre where 100 000 alleged communist followers were brutally murdered by South Korean forces. The numerous murders committed by both sides and the detention of war prisoners transgressed various articles from the Declaration and mainly Article 3, which claims that every single human being has the right to freedom, security, liberty and life. Still today, North Korea infringes Article 13 by keeping its population from leaving the country. Many thought that human nature would change and become less incline to violent instincts but is it truly the case nowadays?

Still, infringements to human rights are daily business. Civil wars in the Middle East have been blooming lately. Even though humanity has evolved in the past fifty years, human beings haven’t changed that much concerning conflicts. In April 1992, during the Bosnian War, various articles weren’t respected. The use of armament in heavily populated areas, numerous murders and ethnic cleansing were a few of the many war crimes committed. Bosnian Serbs persecuted Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Muslim due to religious beliefs and resorted to murders, rapes and deportation of people. The Muslims returned the favour to the Serbian people, which resulted not only in human lives lost but by the destruction of various buildings, religious ones particularly. Such actions go against Article 18 which states that every human being has the right to religious liberty, and Article 9 stipulates that no one should be victim of detention or exile. Sadly this conflict lasted for four years and more than 100 000 people died. Besides World War II, the Bosnian War is the most ravaging conflict to have taken place in Europe.

More recently, the Syrian Civil War has also taken a spot for human rights violations. It started almost four years ago and is still raging on. Caused by political instability and popular unrest against the government policies, it has, so far, caused the death of approximately 190 000 people. It all started in March 2011, when mass protests erupted in many regions. Because of such conditions, fights between protesters and police officers were the reason of the death of 90 civilians and 9 policemen as of March 25, 2011. Lately, in June 2014, there was an attempt to a democratic election which failed since most of Syria is controlled by revolutionary groups particularly the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). Due to the fear it creates, in more than 60% of the country, no elections were even held. This prevents the people from fulfilling one of their most important rights- the right to vote in a democratic system. The situation of Human Rights in Syria has been a problem for decades. Until 2011, the gatherings of more than five people in public were punishable by law. This decision contravenes to Article 20 which claims that everyone has the right to take part in peaceful assemblies and associations.

Such facts should make us realize how lucky we are to be born in a society where human rights are way more respected than in the situations above. This doesn’t mean that there are no infringements in our country but obviously we are in a considerably pleasant situation. Even if we tried our best, there would still be inequalities. This is the way the world is but we can do our best so every human being on Earth can have the same protection and rights that we have now. At the same time, this would surely help to lessen the number of armed conflicts. This should be a world priority, to make this dream a reality.

Ultimately, John Peters Humphrey was one of those human beings who did such feat and weren’t rewarded enough for it. Not only he worked on the Declaration of Human Rights but also was an ardent defender of women’s rights and status all around the world. He worked on various cases where women were abused and flouted. He was a man who was ahead of his time. He never faltered to stand up for those who couldn’t and this is a true example of humanity.

 

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