The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights assures that all human beings have certain rights that are granted without consideration of race, ethnicity, sex, language, religion or other condition of their birth (UN General Assembly, 1948). The spirit of the declaration is to ensure the liberty of all human beings on earth. When one examines the state of the world, it might be difficult to argue that the Declaration had any impact on the state of the human condition. Every week brings news of violations of the Declaration in many countries around the world. The following will explore the state of human rights in the world. It will support that thesis that despite the existence of the Declaration, the condition of human rights has not improved considerably over the conditions that led to its adoption in 1948.
Some of the most shocking violations come from North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Jong-Un (Human Rights Watch, 2016a). A United Nations Human Rights Inquiry found multiple violations of the Declaration. Article 13 of the Declaration states that, “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country” (UN General Assembly 1948). Jong-un has placed tight controls on the border between North Korea and China, making it nearly impossible to escape from the atrocities of the regime (Human Rights Watch, 2016a). Within the country, the citizens have been subjected to enslavement, extermination, murder, torture, and many other forms of violence (Human Rights Watch, 2016a).
Those that assert their rights are subject to arbitrary arrest. Violations include possession of censored videos of Foreign TV shows or movies (Human Rights Watch, 2016a). Perhaps one of the most horrendous violations includes the collective punishment of entire groups of people, including children (Human Rights Watch, 2016a). Hundreds of thousands of North Korean citizens of all ages are being held in deplorable conditions in forced labor camps for supposed anti-state offenses (Human Rights Watch, 2016a). The conditions in North Korea virtually ignore the Declaration of Human Rights altogether, with blatant violation of numerous articles.
Terrorism and the Case of Saudi Arabia
The global specter of terrorism has led to accusations of Human Rights violations by not only the terrorists, but by many states. In 2015, Saudi Arabia executed nearly 50 human beings for supposed involvement with terrorist activities (Sethi, 2015). The Shia population in Saudi Arabia has faced persecution for many years. They have been subject to arrest for supposed protests and face execution for their crimes under Saudi law (Sethi, 2015). The main complaints are that those to be executed were subjected to multiple human and civil rights violations during their trial (Sethi, 2015). There were few procedural safeguards in place using the methods that were used for the conviction. Prosecutors did not even have to disclose the charges and evidence that was presented against them (Sethi, 2015).
Saudi Arabia considers it a crime to comment dissention against the government or its actions (Sethi, 2015). Defendants at these trials are being executed for crimes such as demonstrating and repeating chants against the state. The defendants have been sentenced to crucifixion and beheading for these violations (Sethi, 2015). It has been claimed the Saudi Arabia gets away with these violations due to its close political ties with the United States (Sethi, 2015). Surprisingly, even amidst allegations of human rights violations, it was awarded a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council (Sethi, 2015). This in itself is evidence that the spirit and language of the Declaration on Human Rights is not being enforced, and that it has virtually no impact on human rights. It no longer serves its intended purpose.
Growing Global Concern
The list of countries at risk for human rights violations continues to increase. In 2008, 20 countries were listed as high risk for human rights violations. That number has risen to 34 since that time (Gates, 2013). The countries of Egypt, Syria, Mali, Libya, and Guinea-Bissau have seen the worst deterioration of human rights in the world (Gates, 2013). Northern Africa and the Middle East account for a majority of the riskiest countries for an individual to experience a human rights violation (Gates, 2013). Violations in these areas are considered extreme and widespread.
One would expect that global economic growth would result in fewer human rights violations against workers, but this has not been the case. Global economic growth has sparked worsening violations against workers, spurred by demand for low wage workers (Gates, 2013). In addition, growth and expansion by businesses has led to land grabs and displacement of citizens by corrupt governments hoping to take advantage of the opportunities (Gates, 2013).
Countries with the lowest risk of human rights violations were Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Sweden (Gates, 2013). The United States is considered a moderate risk for human rights offenses (Gates, 2013). In the United States, the risk is associated with groups that are unable to defend themselves such as children, prisoners, the poor, immigrants, and ethnic minorities (Human Rights Watch, 2016b).
Article 12 of the Declaration of Human Rights declares that citizens have a right to protection from interference with their privacy, family, home, correspondence, or attack on his or her honor and reputation (UN General Assembly, 1948). It is difficult to examine the contents and its mass surveillance programs, erosion of freedom of the press, and the rise in discriminatory investigations against American Muslims and not considered the United States in violation of the Declaration (Human Rights Watch, 2016b). Muslims are facing increasing alienation in the United States.
The United States has a rising prison population, with sentences for drug crimes continuing to creep higher (Human Rights Watch, 2016b). The prison system in the United States has a high disparity in the population regarding race. Nearly 3 percent of the current male African American population is currently in jail (Human Rights Watch, 2016b). While African Americans represents only 13 percent of the total population of the United States, they represent nearly 41% of all state and 42% of all federal prisoners (Human Rights Watch, 2016b). These statistics point to major disparities in the criminal justice system of the United States.
The purpose of the Declaration of Human Rights was a symbolic recognition of the inherent rights of all human beings. When one thinks of human rights violations, countries such and North Korea and sub-Sub-Saharan Africa come to mind. However, and examination of the records of developed nations, such as the United States reveals that no one is immune. Human rights violations are a concern for every country on earth.
Instead of getting better, the status of human rights is deteriorating on a global basis. One can find horrific examples of human rights violations in many major countries of the world. The Declaration on Human Rights is being blatantly ignored in many cases. It seems that the document was a good idea, but is not enforceable in its current form. It lays forth declarations, but has no provisions for enforcement and punishment. Lacking these elements makes it a weak document. If the goals of the document are to be achieved, it needs to be revisited in a way that will set forth provisions for enforcement and periodic review. Everyone shares the vision of the document, but to make it a reality will take more than resolutions. Countries need to be held accountable for the treatment of their citizens.
- Gates, S. (2013). The 10 Worst Countries For Human Rights. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/03/human-rights-risk-atlas-2014-violations-maplecroft_n_4374133.html
- Human Rights Watch (2016a). World Report 2015: North Korea. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2015/country-chapters/north-korea
- Human Rights Watch (2016b). World Report 2015: North Korea. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2015/country-chapters/united-states
- Sethi, A. (2015). Saudi Arabia uses terrorism as an excuse for human rights abuses. Aljazeera. Retrieved from http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2015/12/saudi-arabia-uses- terrorism-as-an-excuse-for-human-rights-abuses.html
- UN General Assembly (1948). Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/