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Letter: We must be vigilant to protect our human rights

Alongside the UN's “Declaration of Human Rights,” there is the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights Defenders.” It is also known as the “Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.”

It defines a human rights defender as anyone working for the promotion and protection of human rights through peaceful means at the national and international levels. The first was proclaimed in 1948 and the second in 1998.

Today human rights are under attack around the world and there is a slow erosion of the gains we have made. Violations are widespread. Promoting and protecting human rights is essential or we will lose them.

The latest report (2016) by Front Line Defenders on defenders at risk claims that more than a thousand were killed, harassed, detained or subject to smear campaigns. Last year, at least 281 defenders were killed in 25 countries, 49 per cent of whom were protecting land, Indigenous and environmental rights.

Human rights are violated in so many ways. At least 61 countries imprison people for exercising their rights and freedoms. Over 100 countries restrict freedom of expression and of the press. Actions taken against human rights defenders include arrest, abduction, detention, travel bans, death threats, excessive force by police, beatings, surveillance, travel bans and disappearances.

Amnesty International has launched the “We Defend” campaign in solidarity with human rights defenders around the world. The mantra is that threats on human rights defenders are threats to all of us. Oxfam is voicing its concern about the treatment of human rights defenders in Latin America. Non-governmental organizations like the Centre for Applied Human Rights, the International Federation for Human Rights, the World Organisation Against Torture, and Human Rights First are engaged in the defence of human rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights opens with the words, “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in our world.”

The declaration projects a vision for our world which expresses the ultimate values of our common humanity.

We can never take human rights for granted. We always need to be on guard. We must call out injustice wherever it happens. Such an engagement can be costly, and for some it costs their very lives. Once again, on Nov. 11, in a different but related context, we remember the costly sacrifice of opposing tyranny and defending freedom.

 

Everett Hobbs

Conception Bay South

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