08 Nov What Does the World Owe You? The Human Rights Question
I laughed when a colleague sent me a meme with a photo of an empty notepad that included the caption: “Here’s a comprehensive list of everything you’re entitled to and what the world owes you.” This colleague knew that I was part of a team representing United Families International at the September session of the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) meetings in Geneva, Switzerland, and wanted to brighten my day. But her witty meme raises an important question: What are you entitled to as a member of the human race? And, what, exactly, constitutes a “human right?”
While sitting through two-plus weeks of meetings of the Human Rights Council, the United Families International team heard and engaged in dialogue regarding subjects as divers as rights on water and sanitation, rights of older persons, rights of indigenous people and peasants, mental health and human rights, rights of unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents, all the way to reports on “impact of private military and security companies” on people’s rights.
It seems as though any issue and all advocacy efforts related to it – no matter how trivial or profoundly needful – were lumped together under the banner of “human rights”. Any group with an ax to grind – valid or invalid – will attempt to have their grievance aired, at some point in time, before the Human Rights Council. The prize? To have your concern or need labeled as a “human right”.
Why the Human Rights Council?
The United Nations Human Rights Council or HRC (2006) – formerly the Human Rights Commission (formed in 1946) – is “an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them.” (4) The Human Rights Council meets three times a year with a different agenda and set of human rights topics for each session.
What are considered to be “Human Rights”?
The Universal Declaration specifies 30 different “human rights.” Below is a simplified list. You’ll note that the first 21 rights are things which many consider to be “inalienable” or God-given rights. Then the next six or seven “rights” moves into more of a gray area; some suggesting they are the equivalent of a list of “entitlements” not human rights.
The quest for human rights has a dark side