“What we often fail to realise is that human rights are not a zero-sum game and recognising rights on the left does not remove rights on the right.
“Recognising the human rights of former slaves to be free did not diminish the human rights of the former colonials to freedom. Recognising the rights of women to vote and hold property did not remove similar or any rights from men.”
The following Letter to the Editor on the continuing struggle for human rights—within Trinidad and Tobago and without—was submitted to Wired868 by attorney-at-law and former minister of justice Christlyn Moore:
Are you a man/ woman/ black/ white/ brown/ Christian/ Muslim/ Jew/ atheist/ communist/ socialist/ democrat/ child/ adult/ State/ province/ ward/ country?
Then somewhere on this earth, you have no rights.
What we often fail to realise is that human rights are not a zero-sum game and recognising rights on the left does not remove rights on the right. Recognising the human rights of former slaves to be free did not diminish the human rights of the former colonials to freedom. Recognising the rights of women to vote and hold property did not remove similar or any rights from men.
Note we are not talking about ‘bestowing’—because they are not ours to give—but rather about ‘recognising’ rights.
Third and fourth generation institutions go much further than ours in recognising new rights. Quite apart from our typical first generation rights of assembly, freedom of religion and speech, newer constitutions recognise the right to clean water, unpolluted air, access to information, cultural, religious and linguistic association, among others.
All the world’s rights-recognition issues are not resolved and some of these issues were actually created by laws.
Australia’s aboriginal rights movement is still ongoing. As recently as the 1970’s, Australia’s first people had their children—particularly mixed race children—forcibly removed and put into homes run by whites because of fear that the mixed-race fraction of the population would overrun the national population. These children were denied a now recognised right to their parents.
This situation was underpinned and supported by four Acts of Parliament. South Africa’s apartheid system was also held in place by at least five Acts of Parliament. Laws are not always just.
Many struggles that were long and hard-fought have not ended. In the United States, for example, the struggle for racial equality did not end with slavery’s disappearance. It did not end after the Jim Crow era. It did not end after Rodney King or Trayvon Martin or Barack Obama.
The education rights struggle in the US continues with a Senate pick who refuses to say whether she supports the seminal decision of Brown v Board of Education—a decision that integrated all American schools and recognised the right of black children to be educated with whites. And there remain segments of society who have refused to recognise the decision in Loving v Loving and cling to discredited miscegenation laws prohibiting interracial marriage.
If we are truthful, we will admit that we, right now in this moment, are struggling to assert some of our own fundamental rights, which have not yet been recognised by our government or by other State or group actors.
In Trinidad and Tobago, the issue of human rights continues to be litigated in the courts and in the Parliament. The immunity for marital rape was only removed in Trinidad and Tobago in 2000. The right of children as young as 12 to be protected from marriage and the matters associated with marriage were only addressed in 2017.
Domestic Violence was an offence unknown to law until 1999. It is only in 2015 in Ho v Simmons that the Court considered whether the privacy rights enshrined in the Constitution were relevant to revenge porn.
Actors so strident in denying rights of others today often don’t have far to look to see that their own rights were denied in the past or are currently denied in other parts of the world. We still live in a world where Christian crusades killed 1.7 million in Europe, where ISIS has killed and is killing untold numbers in the Middle East, Europe and North America, where domestic terrorists murder at will in the UK, Canada and the US and where Sunni and Shia Islamic factions are at war—all in the name of the one God.
We still live in a world where women have been denied the very right to bear life in China, are subjected to honour rapes and honour killings in India, to forced marriages in Pakistan, to genital mutilation in Nigeria and to human trafficking in Vietnam and Cambodia. And where black men kill other black men in Rwanda’s tribal and sectarian violence.
We live in a world where slavery is still very real—Mauritania only abolished slavery in 1981 and today 17% of that country’s population remains enslaved.
In our world today, Jehovah’s Witnesses are banned in Russia, having been branded an extremist group; in China, only two churches operate legally and North Korea maintains State-enforced atheism.
In short, your ability to have some or all of your rights recognised is completely dependent on where in the world you happen to be born—so it”s sheer dumb luck.
Rights are not a zero-sum game. Denying rights, however, may just make a cause appear more legitimate over time.
Now go light that fyah.