Today marks our country’s 29th national holiday in remembrance of the momentous August 1 1838; when enslaved Africans of the then British Caribbean were freed from bondage.
And this of course, in the midst of Malala Yousafzai’s visit; the young Pakistani girl who was shot in the head because she stood up for equal education, who in turn praised T&T for our free education..
Poignant movements; freedom for humankind, great strides for humanity. Hooray for us right?
We belong to a local and international body that still reflects age-old ideals that rights are subject to. Whilst strides were made over a century and half ago to free millions of people from chattel slavery, and stop the genocidal slave trade, there is still a growing sex trade that touches our sands and the bloodshed of innocent children and adults continue at the hands of criminal elements. Malala for whatever reason was banned by an Imam from speaking at a local mosque and all sources seem to point at the fact that it was a matter of elder perception that as a female she could not address the congregation at the masjid.
The rights to being born free and equal in dignity and rights are subject to conditions and mind-sets…the “UNLESS”es.
Let’s take a brief and uncharacteristically cynical glance at some statutes of our Human Rights’ Act and its attached modus operandi, shall we? http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/
- Everyone has the right to life, UNLESS you are still in your mother’s womb and not considered “anyone”.
- Everyone is entitled to all rights and freedoms without distinction of sex, UNLESS you are a woman in a man’s world.
- Everyone is entitled to all rights and freedoms without distinction of any kind, such as race or colour, UNLESS you are one of the millions who experience frequent racism.
- Everyone is entitled to all rights and freedoms without distinction of religion or politics, UNLESS you are a Christian in China or an Arab in America.
- Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person, UNLESS you were born into poverty, child neglect, or to parents like Lena Fokina https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T7ihdsjIqhI or those who believe in capital punishment with a shovel.
- No one shall be held in slavery or servitude in all their forms, UNLESS you are the victim of sex trafficking or have to earn your keep as a child labourer.
- No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, UNLESS you are a prisoner at Golden Grove facility or a prisoner of extremist militants like Boko Harem.
- Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law, UNLESS you are a prisoner on death roll.
- No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile, UNLESS you are a bearded Muslim at the airport or a black American in a white neighbourhood.
- Everyone is entitled the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according and full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of any criminal charge against him, UNLESS you are a youth man from Morvant, Laventille.
- No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation, UNLESS you are a political whistle-blower or activist straight arrow.
- Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution UNLESS you are a Serb, Albanian, Turk, Haitian, Libyan, Syrian, Pakistani, Lebanese, Ugandan, or Cuban.
- Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, are entitled to equal rights in marriage, UNLESS you are a Sudanese Muslim marrying a Christian.
- Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses, UNLESS you are a Yemen child bride.
- No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property, UNLESS you are a national of Cuba or a member of an indigenous tribe.
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, UNLESS these beliefs are too extremist, too unnationalistic, too queer or too liberal.
- Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers UNLESS you are a journalist for the Trinidad Express.
- Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives, UNLESS you are a migrant citizen.
- Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment, UNLESS you are a temp, trainee or factory worker in Bangladesh
- Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay, UNLESS you are a local worker on obligatory periodic contract.
- Every author has the right to the protection of any scientific, literary or artistic production, UNLESS you are unsigned, unpatented or live in piracy capitals.
- Everyone has the right to education and parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children, UNLESS of course you are in the “care” of parents who value extra income from selling pimentos at the roadside over books.
- Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality, UNLESS you are an orphaned child at the St. Michael’s home for boys, or an innocent civilian in a country that is at turf war, under siege, or ruled by corrupt officials.
- Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control, UNLESS the government’s priority rests elsewhere
And the list goes on.
Human Rights should not be ambiguous or conditional. It is a natural law that is the epitome of our progress as a species. We are conscious and intelligent beings whose interdependence on each other should fuel a resilient brotherhood, but still we bicker. We spew hatred and intolerance, we place our needs above others, and we treat others’ life as insignificant. We sit back and idly observe as some do the rebelling for us against tyranny and oppression. We converse in general indifference that human rights should be protected by the rule of law but do little ourselves. When it is essential to support friendly relations between nations, we debate who’s right and wrong and pick sides between the Palestines and Israelis or state that payback is required for any Eastern Caribbean aide given.
It is imperative for us to recognise that “inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights” for ALL comprise of “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”
Yes, we have made lots of strides that mark “human triumph over evil”, but our world still bleeds blood and tears as there are many who show blatant disregard and contempt for these human rights in favour of barbaric acts for control and self-rise. Only through this unshackling of these prevailing egocentric and dated mental mantels would true emancipation and intellectual progression prevail.