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Today, December 10, Guyanese join with peoples throughout the world in recognition of International Day of Human Rights. The significance of the recognition of human rights cannot be overemphasised. Human rights are the fundamental moral principles or norms that prescribe general and specific standards of human behaviour or conduct and are regularly and routinely enshrined in, and protected by national laws and international treaties and agreements. They are commonly understood as inalienable, fundamental, and apply to everyone equally. They are rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being. It is intended and expected that each person shall respect the rights of others. And, perhaps most importantly, it is incumbent upon those in positions of authority — with particular emphasis on governments — to understand, respect, and comply with the norms that comprise those fundamental entitlements. Further, it is now generally accepted that such norms and standards form the most basic foundation upon which human civilisation is built. Guyanese, Therefore, have an obligation to ensure that government is not permitted to violate the rights of citizens.
The modern conception of human rights arose following the second world war. The atrocities committed during that conflict played a large part in providing the momentum for the creation of a document that articulated such rights. The document that came out of that process is The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
The UDHR, is an international document adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, that enshrines the rights and freedoms of all human beings. It was accepted by the General Assembly as Resolution 217 at its third session on 10 December 1948 at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, France. the Declaration consists of 30 articles detailing an individual’s basic rights and fundamental freedoms, and affirming their universal character as inherent, inalienable, and applicable to all human beings. Adopted as a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.” The UDHR commits nations to recognise all humans as being “born free and equal in dignity and rights” regardless of “nationality, place of residence, gender, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status.” The Declaration is considered a milestone document for its universalist language and widespread scope which makes no reference to a particular culture, political system, or religion.
The 30 articles of the UDHR sets out the basic concepts of dignity, liberty, and equality. The document establishes other individual rights, such as the right to life and the prohibition of slavery and torture. It refers to the fundamental legality of human rights with specific remedies cited for their defence when violated. The UDHR articulates the rights of the individual towards the community, including freedom of movement.
The Declaration spells out too, the so-called “constitutional liberties” as are recognised by the constitutions of many countries, as well as the spiritual, public, and political freedoms, such as freedom of thought, opinion, religion and conscience, word, and peaceful association of the individual. The document covers an individual’s economic, social and cultural rights, including healthcare, and it provides for additional accommodations in case of physical debilitation or disability, and makes special mention of care given to those in motherhood or childhood. The final two articles of the UDHR establishes the general means of exercising those rights.
Guyanese are encouraged to know and understand the contents and provisions of the UDHR. In that way, citizens will be in a position to defend their rights. Importantly, governments that want to take away the rights of citizens and establish dictatorships, often do so by incrementally and steadily whittling away the fundamental rights of the people. It is therefore important that Guyanese are in a position to realise if that process is occurring, so that citizens can put a stop to it and preserve and protect our fragile democracy.