It is remarkable that out of the bloodshed and destruction of the Second World War there was forged perhaps the defining guarantee of all that allows democracy and liberty to be defended – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
What may prove even more remarkable, in the long term, is that this declaration was endorsed by member states reflecting all of humanity’s diversity of philosophies, religions and political systems.
That in itself should prove a positive and timely reminder of the values that we share across the globe in the face of those who seeks to spread division and discord, either behind the barrel of a gun or from the top of a soap box.
At its heart the declaration is a recognition and codification of the inherent dignity and rights of all members of the human family.
It is not a bestowal of rights by a generous overlord, state or international organisation. We might wish to reflect on this as we look at the Human Rights situation within our own jurisdiction.
Across the United Kingdom of course we have our own contributions to the recognition of human rights. The Magna Carta for England and the Declaration of Arbroath for Scotland also provided a fundamental recognition of the freedom from tyranny, usurpation and subjugation by foreign powers.
But whilst these rights are timeless, and universal, that does not mean they are always recognised in practice. Nor does it mean they can be taken for granted. All individuals have a responsibility:
“to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance”
as it says in the preamble to the declaration.
No more so than when these rights are imperilled by those who do not recognise them; whether that is those who use coercive violence at an international level or those who refuse to recognise and uphold the fundamental dignity of those who are unemployed or sick or disabled.
We have seen charities and human rights groups say in no uncertain terms that the government’s welfare agenda is damaging the rights of disabled people. Amnesty International UK called in 2013:
“for urgent action to halt the abrogation of the human rights of sick and disabled people by the ruling Coalition government and its associated corporate contractors”.
In some cases the right to life itself is being infringed, with suicides closely following on from a withdrawal of support from genuinely disabled persons, who are later found to have been assessed incorrectly.
I’m gravely concerned by the direction of travel, the rhetoric and the philosophy of the Tory government when it comes to Human Rights. Indeed two of our finest organisations in this field, Amnesty International and Liberty, share these concerns and are already campaigning stridently to defend our Human Rights Act.
But whilst the British government is moving in the wrong direction, let nobody think they are supported by the people of these countries in the UK or by civic society at large. We are blessed on these islands to have produced some incredible charities, NGOs and community groups who provide lifelines for their fellow human beings with very little funding.