International Human Rights Day

The Struggle for Human Rights for All

TORONTO (10 December 2004) -- The proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948, marked the "advent of a world" where the protection "of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family" was recognized as the highest aspiration of all humanity. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights established the fundamental civil, political, economic and social rights that every human being deserves to have protected without discrimination. Fifty-six years later, the notion of universal human rights still represents the aspiration of humanity but it is being trampled by the very governments that have ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights since its inception, including the Canadian government. Just as it was in 1948, it is true today that "disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind." In the face of the deteriorating situation, the world's people have had no choice but to renew the struggle for the establishment of fundamental human rights for all, against the brutal forces of exploitation and aggression that are showing "disregard and contempt for human rights" in every corner of the globe.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights set out the basic economic rights that should be afforded to every person, regardless of the political system existing in his or her country of residence. It states that "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control."

The government of Canada is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but it has never provided a legally enforceable guarantee of the basic economic rights contained in it to all Canadians. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms sets out "democratic rights," "mobility rights," "legal rights," "equality rights" and "minority language education rights" but does not consider an adequate standard of living to be a right worth protecting. Instead, the trend has been to force people increasingly to fend for themselves in the face of the feverish scramble by governments at every level to amass the lion's share of the society's wealth for the rich minority. An alarming increase in child poverty, deaths of homeless people on the streets, a reduction in available health services and the robbery of funds for employment insurance are just the most recent examples of the contempt of the ruling circles for the human rights of Canadians.

The civil and political rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are only recognized in Canada to the extent that they allow for the interests of the wealthiest sections of monopoly capital to prevail in the society at the expense of the rights of the majority of the people. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that "The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government" and that "This will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage." We have "universal and equal suffrage," more or less, but the governments at all levels still impose the dictate of the most powerful economic interests because no effective mechanism has been established to hold accountable the representatives chosen in the "periodic and genuine elections."

Denial of due process of law

Increasingly, official policy is being imposed through rule by decree, where no consultation with the people is considered necessary and an atmosphere is created where no facts or reasons need to be given for serious decisions taken concerning people's lives. In particular, the right of due process of law is being systematically denied, without justification, under the fraudulent pretexts of "national security" and "anti-terrorism." The most blatant example of the disregard for fundamental legal protections at the present time is the security certificate process, which allows for any permanent resident or foreign national to be arrested, on the signature of one cabinet minister, and to face deportation if the secret security services of the state consider the person to have "terrorist" associations. In this process, the accused person is not given the right to see the "evidence" against him or to confront his accuser and is thus deprived of the basic right to make a full answer and defence to a false accusation. Instead, the "evidence" against him is summarized and presented at a secret hearing to a judge, whose role is not to decide whether the accusations have been proven true but only whether the conclusions of the security services are "reasonable." The decision cannot effectively be challenged since the secret "evidence" is never disclosed.

Whose "security" is being defended?

The Canadian government tries to justify its denial of civil liberties by citing "national security" and "anti-terrorism" but its record increasingly reveals whose "security" it is interested in protecting and who it considers to be a "terrorist." Its "human security" agenda is designed to defend the interests of Canadian finance capital around the world, as a junior partner to US imperialism, and has nothing to do with protecting the weak and vulnerable. Similarly, the Anti-Terrorism Act purports to treat as criminal all politically-motivated violent acts of intimidation, wherever they may occur in the world, while, in practice, the Canadian government does nothing to oppose and in fact eagerly supports the state terrorism of the US, the Israeli Zionists and their allies.

The dangerous situation in the world today has resulted in the denial of human rights on a massive scale. The kind of "barbarous acts" referred to in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are being perpetrated under the banner of "freedom" and "liberation." In the face of this retrogression, people all over the globe are renewing the struggle for their human rights which were proclaimed as the aspiration of all humanity 56 years ago. The struggles of the people of Iraq, Palestine and other occupied nations for their liberation and the struggles of the people of Canada and all other countries for their civil, political and economic rights are all part of humanity's struggle for a world of justice and peace.

*Lorne Gershuny is a lawyer based in Toronto, Ontario
Source: TML DAILY, December 10, 2004 - No. 203

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