We must live up to the ideals of Human Rights Day
December 10th of every year, since 1948, has been declared by the United Nation Nations as the International Human Rights Day. It commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the UN General Assembly. Seventy-one years later much of the world’s population is, in one form or another, still struggling to achieve and protect their rights.
Among the articles of the Declaration, 30 in all, “All are equal before the law and are entitled without discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.” Another: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”
There are so many of these articles to which racialized people and, in particular, Black people can hold up and say their rights are being violated. And, over the 71 years, these violations continue.
In an article published in 2014, Wilfrid Laurier professor, Rhoda Howard-Hassmann wrote that Canada abstained on a preliminary vote on the UDHR in 1948 because it “would give rights to Communists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Japanese Canadians and Aboriginal Canadians.” Canada did vote for the UDHR on December 10.
Of course, Canada is not the only signatory to the Declaration that has not lived up to its principles. And, regrettably, many of the countries of our ancestry – in Africa, India, China – and on all continents are just as guilty. Many of the Muslim majority countries abstained citing a conflict with Islamic law.
In a national survey on the state of race relations in Canada, carried out by Environics Institute, they found that 20% of Canadians experienced racial discrimination. The majority have these experiences on the street and in the workplace equally.
A CBC report on the survey observes that 68% have witnessed racial discrimination in the street. It should be noted that these observations, as with other settings, included White people. That is to say that it is not only the victims of discrimination, but White people recognized the racism. There is no indication that they did anything about it.
The survey also shows that there are regional differences, mainly due to population distribution, as to whom are the largest group that face discrimination: Asians in the west and Indigenous peoples in the Prairies, for example.
There is some optimism about the future, the survey suggests. More than 50% say they are at least somewhat optimistic “that all racialized people in Canada will be treated with the same respect as other people in their lifetime.” What is not clear is whether racialized people share the same optimism.
Perhaps the most unfortunate and disappointing aspect of the UDHR is that the UN does not have a mechanism by which it can discipline the member states that do not adhere to the Declaration. Yes, there is the High Court in the Hague at which war crimes are heard. And, beyond passing some resolutions at the Security Council, some of which can be vetoed by Russia, the United States and China, there is little else the UN can do.
There are also special rapporteurs who may go, at the invitation of governments, to investigate conditions in different countries. These may provide some level of embarrassment for the country being investigated once the reports are published. However, beyond embarrassment, and encouragement to civil society to keep up the pressure for change, governments just shrug and carry on.
Nevertheless, there is the ideal of the UDHR to which we can look and continue the struggle.