Contributed by the Human Rights Commission
Today Belize is grappling with human rights violations in every single organ of society. In just a matter of days, two elderly men were killed in Belize prompting the Council of Ageing and the Ministry of Human Development to speak out against violence and abuse of older persons.
That’s just looking at one section of society that is affected by rising crime in the country. Then there are the reports of abuse of authority by law enforcement agencies; violence and abuse of women, girls, and children; improper or lack of administration of justice; and the COVID 19 pandemic exacerbating long-standing inequalities, affecting all sections of the community. Globally, the human rights abuses are alarming – the United Nations Children’s Fund states that over forty million children under fifteen suffer from abuse and neglect, an estimated 27 million people worldwide are enslaved; and in Brazil, according to most recent official figures, police have killed at least 6,160 individuals making it the country with the highest number of police killings in the world. These are but a few examples.
Clearly, human rights are at risk and even more so under COVID 19. Community networks and organizations have been working towards the promotion and protection of these rights, but that responsibility is not theirs alone. Yes, we are all born with basic rights and freedoms. Today, these rights and freedoms are all protected by law, and these are all important. What is also equally important is the responsibility that come with these rights. Rights start with the individual but does not end there.
Rights don’t work without responsibilities. The InterAction Council proposed a Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities on 1 September 1997. The Council believes that a “Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities is not only a way of balancing freedom with responsibility, but also a means of reconciling ideologies, beliefs and political views that were deemed antagonistic in the past. The proposed declaration points out that the exclusive insistence on rights can lead to endless dispute and conflict, that religious groups in pressing for their own freedom have a duty to respect the freedom of others. The basic premise should be to aim at the greatest amount of freedom possible, but also to develop the fullest sense of responsibility that will allow that freedom itself to grow”. It adds that “all people, to the best of their knowledge and ability, have a responsibility to foster a better social order, both at home and globally, a goal which cannot be achieved by laws, prescriptions, and conventions alone,”
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides moral norms for how people should be treated in international law and national constitutions. And just as it entitles each person to basic rights, it comes with an obligation – respect towards others. The Interaction Council also writes that “Rights and responsibility are closely intertwined. Most rights imply responsibilities for their effective implementation.
On the other there are ethical responsibilities grounded in the dignity of the human person and which do not flow from specific rights”. Human rights point beyond ourselves to relationships with others. Eleanor Roosevelt, chair of the first UN Human Rights Commission, said they begin “in small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world.
Yet they are the world of the individual person: The neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.” Rights-bearers have responsibilities with respect to their own rights just as much as they have responsibilities with respect to the person next to them. Human rights should not foster a passive sense of entitlement. After all, it does little good to be alone in our freedoms.