Perhaps we have reached that point in our history when the world is so divided and so broken that it has only one option. The option to come together finally embrace human rights entirely.

Photo by Crystal Sing

Our contemporary rights have many critical historical antecedents, including the Cyrus Cylinder, the Magna Carta (1215), the English Bill of Rights (1689), the French Declaration on the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789), and the US Constitution and Bill of Rights (1791). These are all important precursors to the 20th Century Human Rights Documents. Yet, many of these documents excluded women, people of color, and members of particular social, religious, economic, and political groups.

The notion of Human Rights started in 539 BC. That year, Cyrus the Great and his troops conquered Babylon. In his conquest, Cyrus freed the slaves, declared that all people had the right to choose their own religion, and established the principles of racial equality. These principles were scripted on a baked-clay cylinder known as the Cyrus Cylinder, which inspired the first four Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

With time, society and civilizations continued to make progress, leading to another cornerstone of the history of Human Rights. Centuries later, in 1215, the Magna Carta, also known as the Great Charter, was recognized by King John of England. Thus, the Magna Carta is considered a starting point for modern democracy. 

As Eleanor Roosevelt, chair of the United Nations Human Rights Commission once defined it: “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the “international Magna Carta for all men everywhere.”

And it should ideally continue to be, but does it really? Have we reached again a pivotal time where society needs to expand the principles of human rights?

The Apology of Time.

Albert Einstein said: “that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion. Time is an illusion.”  

Yet, time is an essential key to understanding the evolution of our human rights. Are Human rights a reflection of the times we live in? Just like time, humans are ever-changing and evolving creatures. Therefore, their rights should also develop accordingly through time. 

Today, we are interacting in a globalized world, and respect for our universal human rights has also become a source of concern in the private sector. The global economy fosters new forms of employment and alternate networks for the provision of goods and services. As a result, in a worldwide paradigm, new kinds of violations have emerged: forced labor or modern slavery being part of these violations. 

Some eras have a resistance attached to our rights. There is indeed some resistance to specify a general notion of who we were in the past. Humans have established principles such as slavery and then abolished them only to give slavery a new form. 

Evolved and current human rights are an idea whose time has come. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a call to freedom and justice for people throughout the world. Yet, every day, rights can be violated, and when the rights of their citizens are challenged, governments are called to task. 

The question remains: how do we address fundamental human rights in 2021?

Bold times are about achieving the impossible. In this era, we are achieving human and technological prowess – we need to observe human life to understand the evolution of our rights and the need for their expansion. In that sense, we can sometimes benefit from the apology of time. How many times have we heard: “back then, we could or could not do such things?” Timing is key to understanding the evolution of our rights. 

Our legacy towards human rights should be integrity, and it takes a lot of courage to live in integrity.

Transcending time, we can look through what we have learned since the last version of the universal declaration of human rights. I believe that the declaration was born out of a simple yet immensely profound question: What are we living for? I humbly assume that this is a question many of us have had over the past year.

In building society, we must ask ourselves: What are the values that are worth living for? In an era where our environment is in danger, and most political discourse is being erased or misconstrued, we must rethink and reframe our human rights. 

Often we tend to make a judgment based on what someone represents. Still, if we understood their individual story (this person could be transgender, a refugee, a woman who was abused, a disabled person, someone suffering from mental health,) then your judgment is changed; it is re-contextualized. So from this understanding, this new frame is tough to go back and not respect them, not value them, not empathize with them. 

Understanding the complexity of the human fabric is a talent. Fundamentally, the role of institutions, states, and corporations is to foster wholeness; they must understand the human factor. You can’t just deal with the statistics. If we look at the person, not the statistics, we can ensure that the person is not rendered invisible or irrelevant because of their circumstances. 

When we look at that, and we deal with the context before the statistics, society thrives. However, a part of us is still fighting to be accepted, still fighting to prove our worth in all the components of our human fabric.  

Recent events prove a reckoning is happening: racial, women’s conditions, and LGBT. The real part of an apology comes from a revelation that we have done wrong in the past and are wanting to make amends. But, it turns out, in 2021, when it comes to human rights, we still have some work to do. We still need to understand the depth and the scope.

We still need to understand the depth and the scope of women and LGBT rights. We must address, how we see, how we perceive. We must address micro aggressions that are so pervasive that not even the apology of time can make sense of (“this was then, this is now”). We still need to have the hard conversations, the ones that make us uncomfortable, that stir the human spirit.

Our human rights are forged in crises; history and time have proved this. We can use recent events and this global pandemic as an opportunity to expand our human rights in our daily lives. Time and history have also proved our rights are forged in tension between hate and fear on one side and love and hope on the other side. Human rights are a significant component of our history and of our time on earth. Every era is a struggle to get to the good side of our human rights.

The generations that had come before us and fought for these values would certainly want us to thrive and ‘live’ the values we all cherish, such as education, health, and prosperity. 

Perhaps we have reached that point in our history when the world is so divided and so broken that it has only one option. The option to come together finally embrace human rights entirely.

If we look at the time, 100 years ago, it was the roaring twenties – if I had been a woman then, I, along with millions of other women, could not have voted nor owned land. 

The only way out of injustice is to choose to tell a different story. We collectively have a new story to tell. This is a collective story, where everyone gets to tell a part of it. 

That story is our collective civic duty. A 100 years ago, presidents, the press, the media, academics, businesses were all faced with the choice to tell a different story. We all tell the story we choose to become every day. 

Throughout history, fear of the unknown has fed the beasts of racism, xenophobia, isolation, and division of all forms. 

Today, 100 years after the roaring twenties, we can choose to enter the caring twenties, an era where our existing human rights are celebrated and an era where we foster new ones.

Our world has changed; digitally, we need rights that protect and promote freedom. Our sense of self has evolved too; part of this sense of self is proof that sexuality, sex, and gender appointed to our bodies are ultimately illusory, just like time.

In all its illusion, time is often used as an apology for our collective wrongdoings, but history is also the sum of our human experiences. Our History is unfinished, and we are perpetually becoming. Can we use this crisis to become the best version of our history? Can we use this time to create a new frame of work for our human rights? These rights need not be left at the door of every corporation or institution; these rights need to be the building blocks of the new society we all yearn for. Perhaps our new normal is one where human rights go beyond rhetoric. They become the guiding lights for a new sense of environmental responsibility, a new sense of time, and a new collective sense of self. 

We are only here for a short time, but what we do while we are here can change the future. It can change the course of time, and it’s up to us. 

As part of the content provided by WHo CAREs Chronicles, human rights will be the subject of a panel at the Change Now Summit on May 29, 2021. 

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