Wednesday, June 18, 2008
A throwaway comment I made somewhere (I can't remember where, it might have even been on this blog, but I can't find it) was about human rights, and it was pretty damn astute, and I'd like to spend a little time on it now.
In Canada, human rights are very much in the news. If MPs criticize Israel's human rights record, they're hit with the "antisemite" stuff, and it doesn't come off very well. Calling someone a bigot in Commons is okay, because speech is protected by law (libel and slander can't reach there), but it's still akin to asking a fellow member "So when did you stop beating your wife?" It sneaks the idea in there, and the more vehement your denials, the worse you look.
There's also the much bally-hooed apology by the PM for the treatment of Natives at residential schools. I've said before that my criticism of the Conservatives is largely policy-based (though I just don't like that dude), and I am proud of him for accepting responsibility on our behalf.
Macleans Magazine recently faced the BC human rights tribunal for publishing an article by Mark Steyn. I don't like Stryn, either, but he has a right to his opinion, and Macleans has a right to publish it. I'm a big fan of the human rights, but one of those rights is the right to free speech. You ought to be able in Canada to say whatever you want, and then everybody else should have the right to call you on it if you're wrong. Incidetally, from what I've read of the piece, it doesn't look to be wrong, bigoted or inflammatory. I'm not a fan of the way Canada handles its human rights. Free speech is too fucking important.
South of the 49th, California has a gay marriage holiday, until the voters go to the poll and revoke that right. Even now, assholes are being caught out because they think gay people are icky and don't want to marry them (to each other).
Everybody and their dog has an opinion, it seems, on the Beijing Olympics, because they're not nice to Tibet, or to dissidents. Most of the nations criticizin China have no moral high ground, but they're strident in saying that China is bad. I've commented on this before.
But the question of human rights is really never at issue, despite what people think. Honestly, everyone agrees what human rights are: freedom of speech, assembly, conscience, equality before the law, no slavery, no torture, no murder, fair trials and access to legal council, etc. The Canadian Charter and the Bill of Rights are more or less in sync (though that whole 'right to bear arms' thing is still a bit baffling), and agree largely with the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. No argument. Here are the rights.
But who has them?
To whom do these documents apply? That's the million dollar question.
In theory, everyone. But in theory, communism works, and in theory, Chirstianity says we ought to be nice to each other.
But let's be realistic. We spend an inordinate amount of time deciding who gets these rights, who doesn't, and thn providing justifications for our discrimination.
Mark Steyn and Macleans don't have the right to free speech, because it apparently infringes on someone else's right to not feel threatened (or at least their right to not feel abd about anything). In 48 states, gay people do not have the right of equality before the law because they are cunning linguists or like penises and other people have the right to follow a religion that teaches them to hate fags. Suspected terrorists do not have the right to a fair trial, dignity in prison, or to not be tortured in American Prisons becuase they're brown and Muslim. In the past, Canadian Aboriginals did not have the mobility rights or free association rights because white folks knew what was good for them (apparently it was raping and beating). Minors don't have the right to vote (admittedly, I don't trust most adults with their ballots...). In fact, the right to vote has a very checkered past: first only citizens, and then everyone who owned property, and then only white people, and then only men, and now only adults. And that's in actual democracies. There are dozens of countries that don't even pretend to let their people have a say in governance.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is far from universal, and most of the signatories have bloody hands, Canada included. I don't stand on our record as a good example. It's appalling. And yet we have the gall to criticize China, to badmouth the 48 states that don't allow gays to marry, and to say that Israel is engaging in Apartheid in Palestine, or call the people that say that nasty names.
But that gall, that chutzpah, is vital. It's the only thing that might drive us forward. We are all guilty, and thus no one can stand in judgement. However, we need to keep calling each other on our crimes. No one else will. There's no higher power, there's no ultimate authority, except each other. That's the point of democracy, and that's the ideal of the United Nations.
What we need to do is stop pretending. Human rights documents do not apply to everyone.
They should, but they don't. Until they do, we must keep fighting.