Saturday, 10 December 2016

Where the human rights begin and where they end

- Can you imagine walking down the street with your wife and not knowing whether the religious police would think that she is not covered enough? If they think so, they would start shouting “infidels, infidels”, take your wife away from the street and take her to prison immediately. There is absolutely nothing you can do.

Ahmad (37), Syria

- There were 4 grades in that school, 4 classes in each grade, and 30 students in each class. Over time, only one class for each grade remained, with less than 20 students in it. Some of them managed to leave the city, but unfortunately, many of them lost their lives. Bombing and fighting became an everyday reality. After a few months, we could tell the difference between various types of bombs, we could tell from where and who was bombing us. We learned what bombs were more dangerous, which one could demolish the whole building. We had all this new unwanted knowledge. Every time I heard bombs, I was running to Yara’s school. I didn’t know if I was going to find her alive.

Samar (43), Syria

On the occasion of the International Human Rights Day, we ask ourselves where the universal human rights begin and where they end. 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted on 10 December 1948, in response to the massive human rights violations during the Second World War. This document, to which values we remind each other of, on the occasion of the International Human Rights Day, for the first time in history recognized the rights of all people to "life, liberty and safety ... without any distinction". Pervading principles of human rights, highlighted in the Universal Declaration, are those of equality, non-discrimination, the inalienable rights, and everyone’s responsibility, universality which does not exclude diversity, human dignity, indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights.

However, the main words of this announcement are left to individuals whom we encounter within our daily work, trying to illustrate how true, relevant and applicable the articles of the Declaration are, here and now. Stories that we encounter, while dealing with the protection of and assistance to refugees, do not allow us not to ask ourselves what the Universal Declaration means to a family without shelter, which freezes in the open for days, starves and fears from forced deportation. What is the value of this document for thousands of people waiting in front of closed borders, to those who, sleeping in the crumbling warehouses in Belgrade in the middle of winter,, to families with children waiting outside the police station for hours or days to express their intention to seek asylum? How to understand the Declaration on the eve of the collective expulsion of refugees from the borders on the route, beatings and arbitrary violations of their basic rights? What does Declaration really guarantee to individuals on the margins of protection, security, dignity? 

Universal human rights end with Ahmad and his wife. They end with Samar. They end each time we allow ourselves to forget where the rights really begin. The rights start right here. In an office or a coffee shop in which you are reading this announcement. In a house, a shop, a tram. Universal rights, as Eleanor Roosevelt claimed, start at small places. In the street across the road. In places that are not seen as “the world”, but which represent the world of a single individual. They begin in the neighboring yard, school, factory, at the railway station where groups of refugees seek a shelter from the wind and cold during a December night. They begin in small places, where each of us should strive towards equality, social justice and life in dignity for all, without discrimination. If these rights are meaningless here, in small places close to us, they cannot be significant elsewhere. Without the initiative of each of us, be it socio-political or simply humane, without the joint action, with which we take a stand for values of human rights, here and now, in our immediate environment, the idea of universal rights becomes almost meaningless.


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