How to stand up for your human rights

History teaches us that the struggle to assert basic human rights is central to the development of all societies. Wars have been fought, terrible tragedies endured, in the name of concepts such as liberty, freedom, and all manner of “rights.” Indeed, democracy is founded on the recognition of at least some (if certainly not all) basic human rights. Although nowadays it seems rights have proliferated, so that one can easily find some supposed “right” to this or that, for the purposes of this article, we will limit ourselves to the “core” ones, such as the right to life, the right to freedom of expression, of association, thought, etc.

The problem with rights is deceptively simple. First of all, rights are difficult to uphold, to assert. Individually, it is virtually impossible. Collectively it is manageable but, as we all certainly know from personal experience, it then becomes a question of compromise, a question of individual choices and priorities. And sometimes these come into conflict or clash with others’ choices and priorities. Still, for the most part, we choose to compromise because the benefits clearly outweigh the disadvantages. Second, rights can easily be lost. Worse, they can be lost through erosion, in such a way that while we may not perceive this loss, there are clear signs it is happening. For example, government secrecy. Can anyone argue that governments – yes those institutions that are supposed to serve the people – don’t increasingly withhold information, citing a host of reasons? What about freedom of speech? Isn’t it becoming increasingly difficult to express one’s opinions without suffering repercussions? I could go on. Now, individually these types of examples don’t appear menacing. But collectively they create a web of narrow boundaries within which we, as individuals, must tread carefully in order to go about our daily lives. The web tightens. Is there a difference between this and iron shackles? Except that we don’t seem to notice them tightening.

So people should stand up for their rights. Even if it requires some effort, some time, some organisation, individually, people should fight against this erosion. Stand up for your rights because they were hard-won by our ancestors with much blood sweat and tears. Will we go down in history as those who let their rights slip away?