Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Politically ‘Incorrect’ or Morally Repugnant

When people are categorised as dubious because of the colour of their skin; despised because they are disabled; or detained because they question the claims of their government; they stand little chance of fighting back on their own unless there is a wider system of protection that will throw its weight behind them.

The UN Declaration of Human Rights represents a crucial collective agreement on the dignity to be accorded to all people solely by virtue of their common humanity. Yet we continue to encounter people sneering at the mention of human rights, or blithely brushing aside the condemnation of their violations as mere ‘political correctness’. Why?

Four reasons come to mind, and each calls for a firm response.

First, people all too often forget how hard it is to win better protection, or how precious that protection really is. It is the nature of succeeding generations to take the accomplishments of earlier times for granted. Unless they are effectively reminded of how daunting life would be without true respect for human rights in all circumstances, they will not be ready to resist the encroachment against those rights when it comes.

Secondly, the notion of human rights, like any idea or practice in life, can be exploited by the unscrupulous to benefit themselves at the expense of others. If attempts to invoke ‘human rights’ to justify immoral behaviour go unchallenged, they damage public understanding. Not only must such attempts be swiftly exposed, we cannot allow them to be appropriated by anti-human rights politicians as an excuse for dismantling the essential legal framework that is in place.

Thirdly, there is always a minority who pay lip service to respecting human rights while they try to undermine it surreptitiously. From polluting water supply to human trafficking, those responsible for callously ruining the lives of others should be widely branded as the worst public enemy. Whether it is through better detection, enforcement, or the closing of legal loopholes, the pursuit of these culprits ought to have the highest profile so that the public are aware of the importance of stopping them.

Last but not least, there are people who are so extreme in their views or so egoistical in their inclinations that they openly disavow any respect for various sections of society. To massage their self-importance, they will insist on their own superiority over women, gays, other ethnic groups, people with different beliefs, or people on low income. They cling to feeding their self-esteem by denigrating the ‘others’. Instead of granting any relativist credence to their ‘customs’, ‘traditions’, or ‘faiths’, they should be roundly condemned.

Human rights, as the mutual commitment to defend our basic wellbeing, are indispensable for ensuring abuse, exploitation, or predatory behaviour have no place in a civilised society. It’s time to put an end to the insidious trick of using the ‘political correctness’ label to cast aspersions over legitimate moral criticisms.

Only by taking seriously the implications of human rights can we begin to counter the spread of inhuman wrongs.

[The above is based on a longer essay I wrote for the Global Minorities Alliance to commemorate the United Nations Day of Diversity, Dialogue and Development in 2014]

No comments: