Fundamental human rights refer to a bunch of rights that can be claimed and are available to all humans across the globe, regardless of their age, gender, sex, race, caste, religion, nationality, etc. These fundamental human rights were first established in 1948 by the United Nations when it signed and passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These rights were to be available to all citizens of the world, and when individual countries gained independence over time, they adopted some similar features. Lands lay down rules and regulations in their respective constitutions, which became rules that all must abide by within a democracy.
A democratic nation is formed and elected by the people, in the form of chosen representatives that are put in positions of power to work for the betterment of the community. They become the commoner's voice and are responsible for upholding citizens’ integrity by abiding by the rules set by their Constitution.
In most democratic countries, one of the fundamental rights provided is the right to freedom of speech and expression. This means that individuals are entitled to their own opinions and thoughts, are free to voice them, and make them known, and the government shall not censor or stop this unless the speech is anti-national or potentially harmful.
While all democratic nations provide their citizens with this right, one question arises – does it apply? Is the right to freedom of speech absolute or existing merely on paper?
In recent times, there have been many cases that lead us to question the integrity and essence of the implementation of this right. Governments censor what must not be edited, thus curbing this right to no ends, sans logic. Imprisoning people on unjustified and baseless grounds, wreaking havoc on communities when they rightfully practice their fundamental right to speech and expression, has become increasingly common.
Not only does this situation talk about how the government treats its citizens, but it also speaks volumes about how willing the same government will be to uphold fundamental human rights. If this isn’t significantly considered alarming right now, we need to start looking into more such cases to understand the depth of the situation.
One such significant example right now is of the Iranian government curbing freedom of speech and expression. In Iran, wearing a hijab is enforced as a mandate for all women. So, in 2022, when an Iranian woman named Mahsa Amini wasn’t wearing her hijab in public, a very suspicious and ill-fated death followed. She died in a hospital after falling into a coma due to extreme police brutality. Following Amini’s demise, Iranians erupted into a frenzy of rightful protests.
Since then, numerous arrests have been made merely because people chose to speak up. Women, and some men, have been fighting for women’s rights in Iran for nearly seven months now, and security forces have been at an all-time high. They have been working relentlessly to stifle free speech, resulting in disturbing outcomes as over 500 people have perished in the government's attempts at ‘containing’ the ongoing unrest. This includes more than 70 minors.
In the United States, drag shows were recently banned. Laws have been passed to make “adult cabaret performances” illegal in public or before children. Lawmakers think that drag shows affect children and pose a growing threat to them and their impressionable minds. This has been a blatant violation of the freedom of expression, a right that allows everyone to publicly express their emotions, opinions, thoughts, and identities.
When asked about their concern for children and questioned about its legitimacy, lawmakers refuse to comment on the situation. When asked why they refuse to ban weapons in the US, they have only one thing to say – that the right to own guns is a right provided to the average American citizen by the Constitution and that it cannot be taken away from them.
In India, freedom of speech may be implemented, but - in the words of Idi Amin Dada, former President of Uganda - “Freedom after speech cannot be guaranteed.” In 2022, arrests were made when a few individuals dared to speak against the government of India and its actions. The police immediately became involved after a few members of the leading party informed them of a “crime,” and the media did not help. Having become a spokesperson of sorts for the government, the media reported on this case only to worsen matters for those arrested.
In reality, even this situation violated freedom of speech, and nothing could be done to change what was happening.
Regardless of where these violations are happening geographically, they are certainly an attack on the fundamental rights of humans. As the United Nations dictates and the law protects, we are all entitled to these rights. They are ours to claim and ours to practice. So why are they controlled by governments, groups of people or individuals? Why are they curbed and violated without any immediate repercussions so often? Why does the world allow the powerful to keep gaining more power and the helpless to become even more so? The time to know better is now, and this knowledge begins with understanding our worth as a citizen of this world. Equipped with this knowledge, we might one day be able to change the way governments view citizens and create nations that practice the freedom we were always meant to have.
Edited by Whitney Edna Ibe
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