In conjunction with International Human Rights Day on December 10, I was invited to present a talk on “Introduction on Human Rights” yesterday, organised by Democracy Academy of Malaysia and the Civil Rights Committee of Kuala Lumpur at the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall. This year marks the 67th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). I am always excited, yet anxious whenever I receive an invitation to either speak or discuss human rights. I am excited because I get to share my thoughts by speaking on the topic. I am also anxious because everyone has their own interpretation when it comes to human rights and it is never easy to come to agreement.
Here are some of the points that I shared during the session. Human rights are arguably almost a form of “religion” in today’s world; they are the great criterion to measure a government’s treatment of its people. That is one of the main reasons human rights remain taboo and controversial in many corners of the world. Throughout history, there are different philosophies and historical foundations of human rights. These different perspectives inescapably invite internal contradictions on how we should promote and protect them.
What do human rights mean? Who defines it? Who decides? What make them universal? What about cultural concerns? Additionally, how can human rights be a good thing when so-called western liberal democracies that have been championing human rights are also the violators? These are some of the debates that were constantly being confronted. When it comes to practice, I think these contradictions can be bridged by consensus. If all or most of us agree upon the basic principles and practice of human rights, activism should be allowed to proceed without much concern for the fundamental theory. Most importantly, human rights are basic to humanity.
Although human rights education is still rather limited in the country, I consider myself as fortunate for being able to teach human rights and international politics in university. Some view human rights from the perspective of abuses or violations – there is however another perspective we neglect most often. For example, the right to life, right to rest and leisure and so forth. Human rights are not some big jargons as how it seems to be, it is after all, just something that we deal with in our daily life. After all, every small step counts.
This article appeared in The Malaysian Insider on 7 December 2015. You may also find this article in the website of National Human Rights Society (HAKAM).