Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing, or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
This one about says it all, doesn’t it? It lays it all out that these rights belong to everyone. It leaves out sexual orientation and gender identity as explicitly protected, though it does not take much of a stretch with the “other status” remark to include those. It goes further, so much so, than today’s Constitutional scholars are willing to go in regards to the rights that document protects, or more accurately, who enjoys them.
We have seen, since the beginning of our so-called “war on terror”, men who are not American citizens detained without charge and without hope of release. We have been told that these are enemy combatants, yet they are not treated in accord with the Geneva Conventions. Much has been made in certain circles, in both major political parties that, because these men are not Americans, they are not protected by the Constitution. No such distinction is made in Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It does not matter, in the eyes of the Declaration, what country you belong to, whether or not you live in a democracy, or even have a nationality, in the eyes of the Declaration, and those that adhere to it, everyone has these rights.
It is a precarious balancing act, weighing these groups against each other. Religion and sex often come into conflict, though other Articles in the Declaration make it pretty clear how to avoid that, even if the group in power does not want to listen to it. More on that later. What I can tell you is that there are times where we give up on it, or decide to be hypocrites about the balancing act.
Take the aforementioned balancing act between religious freedom and women’s rights. It’s less of a balancing act than you would think, but never mind that for now. For now, listen to how the self described right in the Western World mocks Islam for its treatment of women. I would agree with that mockery, if it were not for how ready most of them are to take women’s rights in the name of their own religious expression. You see it over and over again, and not just in the west, a persistent lack of self-awareness about one’s own devotion to human rights, coupled with an inconsistent support in foreign policy.
All the major powers do it, but being American I see more of our own government’s behavior. We condemn Syria for its human right abuses but ignore Nigeria and Uganda. We demonize Iran but lionize Israel. Well these rights aren’t just for Syrians and Iranians. They are for Nigerians, Ugandans, Israelis (regardless of ethnicity or religion) and yes Americans. They belong to us all and we would do well to remember that.
Remember that the next time you accept the oppression of another people as “just their culture” because our leaders, through the media, have convinced us of that. Remember to ask them the next time they want to liberate an oppressed people “why not that other group of oppressed people.” Remember that we have to accept these rights as truly part of the human condition, for all, or else they will always be in question and none of us can really be certain if we enjoy them.