Human Rights, Elusive or Illusive?

Sixty years have passed since the promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 22 years after the ouster of the Marcos dictatorship. But the situation in the country is characterized more by violations of human rights rather than its protection and promotion. And it is the worst forms of human rights violations that are being committed with impunity: enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and the arbitrary denial of liberty through the filing of trumped up charges.

Are human rights, therefore, elusive or illusive?

BY BENJIE OLIVEROS
ANALYSIS
Bulatlat

Sixty years have passed since the promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 22 years after the ouster of the Marcos dictatorship. But the situation in the country is characterized more by violations of human rights rather than its protection and promotion. And it is the worst forms of human rights violations that are being committed with impunity: enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and the arbitrary denial of liberty through the filing of trumped up charges.

While during Martial Law, these violations were justified by the “need to instill discipline” in the country – the slogan of the Marcos dictatorship then was “Sa Ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan” (For the country’s progress, what is needed is discipline) – the justification of the Arroyo government now is the need for ‘political stability’ to sustain the momentum of ‘economic progress’. But then as it is now, human rights violations and constriction of civil liberties brought neither economic progress nor the betterment of the lives of the people. It only brought about the sell-out of the national patrimony, thievery of the nation’s coffers, poverty and suffering for the majority of the Filipino people.

Internationally, this impunity in the commission of human rights violations is justified by the US “war on terror’. Instead of putting a stop to terrorist acts, acts terrorizing peoples and communities to force them into withdrawing support to insurgents are being committed by US troops, consistent with its counter-terror, counter-insurgency strategy and doctrine. Instead of stemming the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, it gave fundamentalists a cause. Rather than foster stability, it engendered armed resistance. Worse, instead of bringing progress and prosperity to the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan, it has brought more poverty and hardships. According to a study by Oxfam, up to eight million Iraqis require emergency aid with around 50 percent of the population living in absolute poverty. In Afghanistan, half of the estimated 30 million people live in poverty.

But of course, historically, that has always been the case. It takes a long, hard struggle for people’s rights to materialize.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was promulgated in 1948. It was based on the principles of liberty, equality, and the pursuit of happiness, which was the banner call of the American Revolution against British colonization. The victorious Americans embodied these principles in the Constitutions of the independent states as far back as 1776.

The French, likewise, achieved victory in its revolution against King Louis XVI under these principles, and embodied these in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 1789. Sovereignty resides in the people, the French so declared.

The principle of people’s sovereignty, on the other hand, was based on the Bill of Rights of 1689, which was the subject of the English civil war between the Royalist forces or Cavaliers loyal to King Charles and the Parliamentary faction called Roundheads. The civil war began in 1642 and ended with the beheading of King Charles in 1649.

Thus, it took a civil war and another 40 years before the first Bill of Rights was made into law in England. And it took another two centuries and half, the victories of two more democratic revolutions – that of the Americans and the French – a socialist revolution in Russia, and two world wars before human rights were recognized internationally through the ratification of an international convention.

But still the reality is far from the ideal, especially for peoples living in backward, agricultural, semi-feudal societies. There are even reversals during times of crisis and social unrest when the ruling elite desperately tries to suppress the majority to ‘stabilize’ its rule.

Thus, human rights violations reached its peak in the Philippines from 1983-85, when Martial Law was purportedly no longer in effect but the broad anti-dictatorship movement was also reaching its peak, and from 2005-2006, when the Arroyo government was embattled by a crisis of legitimacy with the “Hello Garci’ tapes and with so many corruption scandals surfacing. While these issues were never settled and more are surfacing, the Arroyo government was forced to go slow in the commission of human rights violations, especially extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances,because of the strong national and international condemnation it received. Nevertheless, the violations continue.

Internationally, it is no coincidence that the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, and of Iraq in 2003 came after the US economy plunged in March 2000. The World Trade Center bombing in September 2001 merely provided the justification for these wars of aggression. It also provided the excuse for the passage of the US Patriot Act, which effectively created a police state where the US government was given the license to spy on its own citizens, the practice of “rendition” (read: abduction, torture, and arbitrary detention) by the Central Intelligence Agency, and political assassinations – which was previously stopped because of the public furor it created in the 1980s and 1990s – repackaged as ‘preemptive strikes’.

Are human rights, therefore, elusive or illusive? Neither. But the people’s rights have to be fought for every step of the way.(Bulatlat.com)

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