Schools Essay Competition
Every civilized state acknowledges the right of its citizens to certain fundamental rights and freedoms. These rights and freedoms are usually enshrined in and guaranteed by the Constitution of the land and enforced by its law-courts, although it is a fact that in many countries they are granted only in theory or in part. These rights constitute indeed the very foundations of democracy and put, or try to put, every individual on an equal plane with everyone else.
What are these human rights? There are, to cite a few examples, the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of worship, freedom of movement, the right of a worker to a fair day's pay, for a fair day's work, the right of an accused to a fair trial, and equal rights for women. These rights are fundamental and should be granted to every human being regardless of colour, creed, religion, race, sex or social standing. These rights should provide adequate scope for the pursuit of individual happiness within the framework of the law. These rights must be granted in order that, in the words of the Atlantic Charter signed in 1941 by Churchill and Roosevelt, "all the men in all the lands may live their lives in freedom from fear and want." It is indeed on these rights that human dignity is based. It is because Man is free that he is what he is.
Yet the path of human history is littered with the bones of the oppressed, the under, or rather un-privileged, human beings stripped of all their rights and shackled with the chains of slavery. History is full of the records of man exploiting his fellow man, depriving him of all his rights. Slavery, fascism and racialism have blackened man`s history. But it is not only that the denial of human rights has gone on; it is going on. In the Communist States, for instance, freedom of expression exists only theoretically. In America and Britain, supposedly the bastions of democracy, racial discrimination is practised. The most glaring example of all is in South Africa and Rhodesia where the Negro majority is treated like inhuman creatures. No statesman or individual with any sense of right and wrong can justify these actions; none can condone the practices of the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity, as they are indeed. Yet these acts continue.
It is, however, heartening to see that action is being taken and has been taken to ensure the granting and observance of these human rights. The Magna Carta of 1215 and the Bill of rights in l689, passed in England, have led the way to the acceptance of human rlghts as a necessity. Great men have gone down fighting for the cause of the oppressed. Men like Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi and William Wilberforce have striven valiantly to overcome the oppressors by peaceful means. Organisations, notably the United Nations, have been waging an unending struggle to preserve the rights of man. The preamble to the United Nations charter pledged its members "to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small."
Martin Luther King, a Negro American, has been gunned down a few months ago while trying to win equal rights for his race which has within recent times adapted violence as a means of furthering their struggle.
Guyana has not been excluded as far as the denial of human rights and the struggle for these are concerned. Guyana’s past is also black with slavery and even long after slavery had been abolished it had to submlt to this scourge. In 1953 the Constitution of the country was suspended and the leaders of the people thrown into prison. Once again a few years ago, members of the Peop|e's Progressive Party were imprisoned at Sibley Hall for no legal cause. However, the existence of the National History and Arts Council which has been actively pursuing the cause of human rights within recent times, gives some reason to hope that there will be no further such flagrant violations of the United Nations Charter.
It is apparent then that though there is a keen struggle for human rights. There is much to be done for there are still leaders and sections of the population of countries that try to deny another part their basic human rights. They are yet to open their eyes to the fact that the granting of and respect for the basic human rights are essential, important and indeed necessary. It is time that nations great and small live up to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights which proclaims as Pope John XXIII said in his encyclical Pacem in Terris, "the right of free movement in the search for truth and in the attainment of moral good and of justice, and also the right to a dignified life."
|Note:||This essay was awarded first prize in a country-wide competition organised by the National History and Arts Council. It is being published with the kind permission of this body.|