We are all born free and equal. We are all entitled to human rights. We all have the right to life, freedom and safety. Gender, race, nationality, class and education level are non-factors. We do not have to earn human rights. There are inherently ours.
Yesterday was the last day of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. The campaign started on International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ended on International Human Rights Day. Human rights are often misunderstood, often seen as a vague term with no real meaning or a replacement for a more specific term (such as LGBT+ rights). Human rights are actually quite simple and it would be beneficial for everyone to understand them.
The preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has equal human rights, they are universal (meaning everyone is entitled to human rights), inalienable (meaning they cannot be taken away), they are indivisible (meaning all human rights have equal status and denial of one impacts another) and they are interdependent and interrelated (meaning they affect one another).
The declaration itself has 30 articles. The first five articles state everyone is equal and free, irrespective of difference in identity or demographic and ought to be safe from harm. Articles Six through 11 make it clear we are all equally entitled to protection under the law, have the right to remedy for the violation of rights grants by law, should not be arbitrarily arrested, detained, or exiled, have the right to fair hearings regarding their rights where criminal charges are concerned.
Article 12 covers the right to privacy and protections from attacks on our reputations. Freedom of movement is covered by Article 13, and Article 14 states that we all have the right to seek asylum, in other countries, from persecution. Article 15 covers the right to a nationality which is important to remember in discussions about immigration and citizenship. There are circumstance wherein people are born stateless because their country of birth does not give automatic citizenship and the place of their parents’ birth does not give citizenship when they are born outside of the country. This is a violation of the human right to nationality.
Everyone, at the age of maturity, has the right to marry under Article 16. The following articles make clear the right to own property individually or with others, freedom of thought, conscience, religion, freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of association and assembly. We do not have to agree with one another’s opinions, associations, or expressions, but we all of the right to them.
Article 21 affirms the right to democracy which includes the ability to participate in government directly or through representatives. It states the people’s will is the foundation of the government. Social security and workers’ rights are covered by Articles 22 and 23; the latter includes the right to equal pay for equal work and the right to form and join trade unions. Rest and leisure, food and shelter, and education are the human rights detailed by Articles 24 through 26. Article 27 covers the right to protect what we produce through copyright. The last three articles state what must exist for these rights to be protected and effective – a free and fair world requires order, we have to be responsible to one another as a community and none of the rights affirmed in the declaration may be taken away by any state, group, or individual.
Knowing about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not the same as understanding the human rights it affirms and protects. The above description of the 30 articles gives general information about human rights, but true understanding comes from application. They need to be put in context. To do this, we can take our situation today as we continue to experience the effects of Hurricane Dorian.
Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights focuses on social security. We have the right to affordable housing, healthcare, education and childcare. These are economic, social and cultural rights necessary for human dignity and development. Let us consider the people still living in the shelter at the Kendal GL Isaacs gymnasium. They are being housed in tent in conditions that are, at the very least, questionable. The government has announced that it’s closing the shelter and no plan has been shared for the housing of the people who would, again, be displaced. It is their human right to be adequately housed while it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that all residents are safe.
Many children evacuated to Nassau from Abaco and Grand Bahama. They needed to be enrolled in school. The existing capacity of schools, cost of the influx of students and the requirements for registrations and attendances – including school uniforms and provision of school supplies – did not, do not and cannot outweigh their human right to receive an education. The government is responsible for ensuring school-age children are enrolled and attending school. The same applies to healthcare and childcare. Public services exist because there is a responsibility to ensure everyone has access to them, regardless of their ability to cover the cost of the service. This is the way human rights are acknowledged and protected by governments. The government is not to say: “Sorry, all of the schools in Nassau are full.” Its job is to make accommodations, whether that is opening a new school, adding classrooms, making use of technology, or some other means. It is obligated to educate the children living in The Bahamas.
Human rights are easy to understand and agree upon when we are talking about children. The concept seems to be more difficult to grasp when we talk about other groups of people. We can look, for example, at Haitian migrants. We know that Haitian migrants have been impacted by Hurricane Dorian. They, as human beings, have human rights that we are obligated to acknowledge and protect. Article 22 affirms their right to social services. There is no exception. There is no loophole.
No part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights suggests that citizenship is a prerequisite for human rights. Haitian migrants have the right to be properly housed, to access health services and to be educated. Not only is it the Christian thing to do (if we are still insisting The Bahamas is a Christian nation), showing brotherly love - but it is a legal obligation.
Making a festive gift of sustainability
We are complaining about the Christmas tree in downtown Nassau, wearing reindeer headbands and playing Christmas music. The holiday season is really here. One of the things people get most anxious about at this time of year is gift-giving. What should you get for mom? Dad? In-laws? Friends? People you like, but have not known for that long? Ideally, gift-buying would be done by now, but the traffic we will see over the next few weeks will certainly prove the search and the spending both continue.
Over the past few months, I have been paying more attention to my consumption habits and the amount of waste it produces. I have decided not to give people more clothes they do not need, toys to add to what is probably enough, candles they will never light, plants they do not want to care for, or anything else that will bring a few seconds of happiness before fading into a mess of other things. I am giving people things that I hope will encourage them to be more mindful of what and how they consume. Bamboo utensil sets, reusable straws and canvas shopping bags are among my go-to gifts this year.
The plastic ban is just a few weeks away and while companies have been given a grace period to use the plastic they already we have, we need to change our habits. We do not have to spend a lot of money to do it, and it is definitely worth the positive effect it will have on our environment. We took a lot of lessons from Hurricane Dorian, but we are still not as focused on climate action as is necessary. It is time to practise less consumption, or at least more mindful consumption and enjoy the savings – financial and otherwise.