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Have we liberated the oppressed, or redistributed the oppression?

Posted by Grace Browne on 3 December 2018

  All human beings... should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. (Image: Pexels)

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience  and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” -Universal Declaration of Human Rights

December provides us with the opportunity to celebrate the modern movement to enshrine human rights in binding international treaties. It also provides us with a time to reflect upon the upheavals and conflicts which gave rise to widespread abuses and violations of human rights. On the 10th December we will mark the celebration of international Human Rights Day. In this month we also celebrate the International day for the Abolition of Slavery and the International day of Persons with Disabilities.

People v personhood

Our human rights systems are premised on the belief that people have human rights by virtue of being human. Thus the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights can state that “rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human person” and that “Every human being has the inherent right to life”. The lesson seemed to have been learned from history that at various times, attempts have been made to restrict rights to certain categories of people. These attempts to separate ‘personhood’ from ‘human being’ have led to some of the world’s most grievous and disturbing tragedies.

Non and sub humans

Between 1525 and 1866, those of colour were branded ‘non- persons.’ As a result, 12.5 million Africans were captured and transported around the globe like property. Deprived of any human rights, the African slave existed only under the consent and will of their owner.

The beginning of the 20th century would witness this damaging ideology emerge once more. Launched in 1934, the Nazi eugenic programme T4 saw the murder of over 200,00 disabled people. Driven by obsession for the perfect race, propaganda posters depicted the disabled as ‘leeches upon society.’ Deemed ‘life unworthy of life’, those marked for death were taken to killing centres disguised as hospitals to be murdered by lethal injection. The desire for a race free from imperfection saw the T4 operation last eleven years.

By 1935 under German Law, Jewish people were no longer officially described as ‘people.’ Instead, they were branded ‘untermenschen ‘(sub-human.) Deprived of human rights, they existed only under the consent and will of the Nazi state.

Reflecting back upon egregious violations of human rights of the past can be deeply harrowing. However, International Human Rights Day provides the opportunity to look to our present, and reflect upon how far we have advanced. To do so gives rise to an uncomfortable truth in that the blind spot for certain human beings’ rights of the past has arisen again in our own time such that we have to ask if we have truly progressed.

The discrimination of our time

Under UK 1967 law, an unborn human cannot be considered a ‘person.’ Deprived of human rights, an unborn child exists only under the consent and will of their mother. As a result, 552 unborn humans die each day through abortion in the UK. 2017 in the UK, saw the death of over 200,000 unborn humans. 126,544 were poisoned by chemicals through so-called ‘medical abortions.’ 56,501 were suctioned through vacuum during suction abortions. 27,253 were ripped apart by forceps through Dilation and Evacuation abortions.

Last year in the UK, 3,351 unborn humans were killed solely for being diagnosed with a possible disability. 160 million girls are ‘missing’ from the world, explicable only by abortion. It has been reported that “more girls have been killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they are girls, than men killed in all the wars of the twentieth century combined.”

Abortion stems from a discriminatory ideology that dismantles access to the one basic human right; the right to life. It condemns certain humans as ‘life unworthy of life.’

Have we regressed?

The daily extermination of the unborn must stand as a sombre warning that society has not progressed quite as much as we think we have. I daresay we can pose the question “have we regressed?” We still routinely violate the human rights of others. We still define, degrade and kill the vulnerable on the basis of convenience and a prolonging quest for perfection.

Identifying ourselves as a now ‘civilised society’, the notion of human rights and equality are widely respected and upheld. Human rights have taken such prominence within society, that the thought of our past violations against certain types of humans is enough to make us wince with horror. However, we must ask ourselves; have we truly rid ourselves of these discriminatory practices? Have we truly liberated the oppressed? Or have we merely redistributed the oppression?

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