Human rights are relatively new, conceived in the European ‘Enlightenment’ of great thinkers and humanitarians, developing through the centuries and becoming ratified through the adoption of the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris 1948. Human Rights are commonly understood to be inalienable, fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled, simply because she or he is a human being, regardless of their nationality, location, language, religion, ethnic origin or any other status. They are deemed, by agreement, applicable everywhere and at every time in the sense of being universal, and they are egalitarian in the sense of being the same for everyone.
‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’ — Article 1 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
In a secular, democratic society many people take them for granted; they expect to have their human rights upheld by government, the law and law enforcement and they have recourse through the law courts. In Western democracies they are held ‘sacred’ because they are the result of centuries of oppression and suffering being overturned. But are they practiced by everyone?
All too often we still see people’s rights ignored; dictatorships routinely ride roughshod over people’s rights with false imprisonment, destruction of property, torture, death camps and disappearances. I don’t need to recite the long list of countries in which the people of that nation have suffered at the hands of ruthless, corrupt governments; dictators/regimes eventually die or are replaced in time, however Human Rights’ legislation is evidently not enough by itself; it’s an ongoing fight to change what amounts to a nominal acceptance of human rights by national governments into the fully committed practice of those ideals. Notwithstanding fleeting totalitarian ideologies, there is yet one other huge obstacle to the fulfillment of universal human rights – religion.
Religion holds itself to be the ultimate dictum and unlike human dictators, this authority testifies not to have limits. There are no rights in religion, everything is mandated and the authority is absolute. To follow a religion means you ‘subject’ yourself to its rules, give up your rights and bow down before, what you believe to be, a supreme being. Women suffer a double whammy, subjection to both religion and men, who dominate in every line of text; their lives can be one long, hideous ordeal of suffering violence, misogyny, isolation and cruel punishments without hope of redress. Furthermore, religious cant often incites the followers of one religion to infringe the rights of adherents to another. If ‘god’ says some people, who worship different ‘gods’ or pray in a different manner should be killed, human rights legislation is of little avail. Ancient scriptures and the words of prophets usurp the rights of their followers, by their own consent! You are told you have no rights, no entitlements, no mercy – unless you conform to certain rules and if you do, you will be rewarded when you die; however, promises of paradise can never be fulfilled in this life, if paradise doesn’t await you when you die, there’s no comeback. The scriptures are awash with rules on what you can’t do and very dry indeed on what you get in return.
For human rights to become truly ‘universal’ there are choices of action. One is to separate religion completely from government, as many countries have with varying degrees of success, countries such as Sweden and Denmark are rated amongst the best examples. Another is to reform religion by incorporating into it the ideals of human rights which seems unlikely, given the nature and goals of religion. A third would be to simply opt out of religion all together, whether as an agnostic or atheist. Whichever way is chosen won’t be easy and with some religious adherents willing to kill or die rather than treat their fellow human beings with dignity and respect, it may be a long and bloody choice.
Writer: Kay Saxon
The writer is a UK based columnist working with THE PASHTUN TIMES. She is graduated from the University of Central Lancashire, North of England. She can be reached at
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