The adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the UN General Assembly on 10th December 1948 constituted a historic landmark in proclaiming the freedom and equality of all human beings regardless of their colour, nationality, religion and ethnicity. In doing so the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the first time constituted a international agreement which brought human beings and not the power politics to its core agenda. Formulated in the context of the massive loss of human lives due to the bloody violence caused by Second World War and the resultant violation of human rights with impunity, the UDHR heralded a new era upholding the proposition in its very first article that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. It put an end to the doctrine of differential rights championed by colonial and imperial rulers who framed a set of rights for themselves and denied the same to peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America on the grounds that they were not entitled to those rights based on race and other manufactured factors. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights negated the doctrine of differential rights and ensured equal rights for all. Social and Economic Rights and other Expanding Scope of Human Rights
While Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a landmark step in recognising the rights of all human beings of the planet it remained confined to civil and political rights only. The social, economic and cultural rights were not part of the Declaration. That is why UDHR has been criticised as a Declaration with a limited perspective to promote western culture which gave primacy to the civil and political rights over social and economic rights. It is for this reason that the developed western countries always cited violation of human rights in developing countries as a plea for denying them the aid and other benefits. While human Rights cenering around cvil and political rights were the flavours of the western capitalist world, social and economic rights were the flavours of the socialist world. Slowly the social and economic rights were recognised and given importance equal to the civil and political rights. President Roosevelt had said that social and economic rights constituted the second Bill of Rights. It is worthwhile to note that the first Bill of Rights guaranteed civil and political rights to American citizens. With the disintegration of Soviet Union it was understood that the culture of liberal democracy would spread across the world and all would enjoy human rights. The UN also came out with a Covenant of Social and Economic Rights which for the first time recognised the immense importance of social, economic and cultural rights of all individuals along with their civil and political rights. Later in early 1990s it was adopted by the UN that "Women's Rights are Human Rights." This for the first time provided a much needed gender perspective to human rights. So gender equality and women's empowerment are central to human rights. The struggle continues and of late along with civil, political, social and economic rights a new class of rights are now recognised. These rights are environmental rights which flow form expanded interpretations of human rights at the core of which remain the right to life. Our Supreme Court has interpreted right to life to include the right to work, health, clean air, clean water and shelter. India enacted Protection of Human Rights Act in 1993 and it defined human rights as the rights, liberties and equality and equal opportunity guaranteed by the Constitution and embodied in the international Covenants and enforced by the Courts of Law in our country. As a result of legislation concerning Protection of Human Rights we have today National Commission on Human Rights at the national level and Human Rights Commission at the State level. Now there is more expanded scope of human rights wherein right to access to credit and right to connectivity is being said to be human rights. While right to credit as a human right was flagged by Mohammed Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank, right to connectivity as a human right was proclaimed by founder of the Facebook Zukerberg. The Supreme Court of India has held that right to access internet is a fundamental right. Unfortunately there was the longest shutdown of internet in Kashmir and such harsh measure violated the fundamental right and human rights of people of Kashmir. The evolving and expanding scope of human rights coexist with intense and persistent struggle for human rights in a world where rising levels of inequality in income and rising levels of awareness among ordinary people that they are entitled to their rights as any powerful and rich define the march of humanity to ensure human rights to all. Unfortunately of late majoritarianism is emerging as a threat to human rights in India.
Women’s Rights are Human Rights
It is worthwhile to that the UDHR framed by the representatives hailing from diverse legal and cultural backgrounds treated all human beings as equal and thereby laid the foundation of human centered approach to governance, rule of law and progress and advancement. Thanks to the vigilance of women delegates that the UDHR became gender neutral and provided the same rights to women as it guaranteed to men. In this sense the UDHR recognised the basic notion as stated earlier that women's rights are human rights. Such interpretation of human rights from the perspective of women have given much needed space to gender equality and women's empowerment which have now acquired new currency to flag the complimentarity of men and women in taking forward the cause of growth and development and creating quality human resources. The critical mass of women in legislatures and in other spheres of collective life is now understood as a step to take forward the cause of human rights. By fielding women in one third of seats of parliamentary seats of Odisha and creating numerous other opportunities for women's empowerment Biju Janata Dal and Odisha Government have set a revolutionary trend which is being acknowledged across the nation as a major step for inclusive politics and development. It has affirmed the ideal of gender equality and greater representation of women which are central to human rights. It partially fulfills the vision of Mahatma Gandhi who during his participation in the Round Table Conference in London in 1931 had stated that he would boycott the legislature of India if it did not have more women in its fold.
Now many more political parties have taken steps to field more women candidates in elections so that they would be elected to the legislatures. The Trinamool Congress Party fielded women candidates in 40 percent of seats in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Now Congress Leader Priyanka Gandhi has declared that her party would field women in 40 per cent of seats in UP where elections are scheduled to take place in 2022.
Rule of Law will Protect Human Rights
It is noteworthy that the UDHR itself proclaims in its preamble that human rights should be protected by rule of law. In other words any attempt to subvert rule of law is an attempt to subvert human rights. Our freedom struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi adopted non-violence as a method for freeing India from foreign rule and bringing about positive and progressive social change in post independence period. He expounded the wider meaning of non-violence and stated tone key aspect of non-violence involved social enfranchisement of women. India’s struggle for independence by employing the method of non-violence was as much a struggle for achieving our independence as for human rights of all and women’s empowerment.
Non-Violence, Climate Justice and Human Rights
It is noteworthy that Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has been been consistently advocating for inclusion of Nonviolence in the preamble of our Constitution. It will be a huge boost to the movement for protection of human rights and upholding the cause of gender equality and women’s empowerment.
There is now a new threat to human rights in the form of global warming and climate change. This threat is as dangerous as weapons of mass destruction. We require new bench marks of governance anchored on clean energy and change of life style so that our ways of life remain harmonious with nature. The World Future Council, a German based organisation published a book titled “Surviving the Century : Facing Climate Chaos”. In this book it is stated that pursuance of four normative principles -Non-violence, Sustainability, Respect and Justice- is critical for saving the planet from the threat of global warming and climate change. Now there is a need to relocated the human rights perspective in the context of these problems so that planet earth can be saved from too much of human activities which are encapsulated by the term “Age of Anthropocene”. It means that humans as a species of life are dominating through their hugely multiplied and augmented actives and disproportionately consuming resources and energy of the planet. This “Age of Anthropocene” has caused a crisis of planetary dimensions and given rise to many problems including the rise in global temperature. As a result frequent extreme weather patterns and recurrent natural disasters of far greater intensity have become new normal and are gravely endangering human rights. Now climate justice is the new term gaining currency across the world. The human rights perspective factoring climate justice casts greater responsibility on developed countries to address the problem which is a by product of their carbon foot print which is far greater than that of developing countries. Such a renewed perspective on human rights apart from protecting human rights will protect planet earth.
Odisha has set a global bench mark in protecting human rights from natural disasters and the UN has applauded the endeavours of the State in this regard. Let us all rededicate ourselves to uphold and protect human rights of all specifically of those who have become victims of structured forms of inequality and other forms of exclusion. It will put an end to exploitation and proclaim triumph of human rights.
#The author served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan and had a tenure in Prime Minister’s Office and Joint Secretary in Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Views expressed in the article are in his personal capacity.