Saturday, January 29, 2011

Freedom of Movement

One human right that is often tabled to the side in the discussion is the freedom of movement. This is the right for humans to be able to openly travel between countries without the current limitation that nations place on immigration, for vacation or political protection.
In the United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights it is stated as Article 13:
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
One of the basic ideas behind looking at this as a human right is that in part 1, it tries to protect people within their own country. A reason for this might be that the government is not allowed to politically isolate someone to their home, or restricted to a person to a district in their own country. This is also a basic human right because if people are self-determined, they will seek out other people beyond their home for political and social movements. Historically governments tried to restrict the movement within countries like in the Soviet Union where interstate travel was limited and to leave the country, exit visas were required. Finally people seeking political asylum need to be secured to provide for their safety and to protect them as they wait to leave their oppressive country.
Immigrants are most likely the most commonly affect group by this issue. Individual government set up quotas on how many, country of origin and qualifications before immigrants are allowed in some countries. Initially this caps the totally number of people who can satisfied their desire to move. Next once some immigrants have arrived under the radar this creates huge numbers of illegal immigrants who exist in a gray world of legality so they are subject to unfair treatment, labor abuse and rapid deportation. Even though most of them are intent on moving in order to get a better job, receive a quality education and try to make their own lives better, they are often seen as a menace and drain on the welfare state. We quickly forget in our societal calculus that if these immigrants move abroad and stay, that is a sacrifice, and even if they seem to be using some tax dollars, their own lives have improved.
One of the major principles about the freedom of movement is that the place someone is born should not limited to just their own country. Instead we should view our neighbors as global citizens, and if we embraced a world of unfettered travel, moving to new homes and go abroad to study, it could help bring more equality of opportunity to the people who really wanted to try and it would protect political victims from being prosecuted or killed in their own country.
So my question is: Could much of the world have open borders and let people move free as they do in the EU or is this human right an unrealistic dream?

The Social Contract in Albania

On January 21, three Albanian citizens were killed while participating in a violent demonstration against the corruption and election fraud committed by the current Socialist Party. The threee protestors were killed by members of the Republican Guard who were attempting to repel their armed attacks.

These tragic deaths have lead to several officials battling over whether or not the officers involved in this incident should be arrested. At the center of the debate over responsibility are Albania's general prosecutor, Ina Rama, and its Prime Minister, Sali Berisha. Currently, Rama is calling for the arrest of six officers involved in the incident, but Berisha has insisted that these arrests should not take place. According to reports, the officers only fired into the crowd with rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons, so the deaths do not appear to be intentional. However, there is debate over whether or not they are an acceptable side effect of this exchange.

It is clear that the events that occurred on that day were quite tragic, but both sides were quite uderstandable in their actions. From the perspective of the protestors, something must be done about the corrupt regime that is in power. Unfortunately, violent prtoest is distincly outside of what we would normally consider just under the social contracts that we have in place. While it is not the case that all societies possess the same social contract, it seems that all societies do have some version of a contract that applies to most, if not all, of their members. Does corruption of the powerful positions created under these social contracts ultimately break the contracts and free the citizens who were once bound by them? If so, are those who remain in seats of power during times of corruption still bound by these contracts and who is responsible for enforcing them upon those powerful individuals who generally remain untouchable by the public? Are government officials bound by the contracts any more or less than the average person during times of content and peace?

Criminalizing Homelessness— A Violation of Human Rights?

If you've lived in Memphis for any length of time, you're bound to have participated in a discussion concerning the issue of the issue of homelessness in this city.

Many cities in the U.S. have some kind of anti-homeless ordinances and policies. Most of them prohibit certain behavior common among homeless people, thereby essentially criminalizing the lifestyle of homelessness. According to a recent survey of service providers in 50 of the largest U.S. cities, 86% of the cities surveyed had laws that prohibited or restricted begging, while 73% prohibited or restricted sleeping and/or camping. Over 33% of the cities surveyed have initiated crackdowns on homeless people, according to the survey respondents, and almost 50% of the cities have engaged in police "sweeps" in the past two years.

The following list includes some examples of actions that have been outlawed in various U.S. cities with the aim of criminalizing homelessness:

  • trespassing on rooftops
  • laying or sitting on a sidewalk in a way that blocks the path of a pedestrian or requires pedestrians to reroute their course
  • camping on private property without the express permission of the property owner
  • panhandling
  • taking a shopping cart off store property
  • setting down a backpack for more than ten minutes on any sidewalk
  • lying or sitting on any sidewalk in the city
  • shaving, bathing or washing clothing items in any public restrooms
  • sleeping anywhere in a vehicle
  • wandering abroad and begging or "going about in public or private ways for the purpose of begging or to receive alms"
  • lying or sitting down on a public sidewalk, or upon a blanket, chair, stool, or other object between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. in certain areas of the city

Although access to safe and secure housing seems to be only human rights issue concerning homeless people, homelessness is not just about housing. Through the above laws, our cities may be directly causing and/or aggravating the violation of the homeless person's right to an adequate standard of living, the right to education, the right to liberty and security of the person, the right to free movement, the right to privacy, the right to social security and the right to freedom from discrimination.

So what do you think? Do these laws effectively make it illegal to be homeless? Are the laws mentioned a direct or indirect violation of the inherent human rights of the homeless? Or are they a just and legal protection of private property and public peace? Which laws, specifically?


Human Rights Porn?

“The central tenet of ethical photography is that subjects should be treated as dignified human beings with capacities, not as objects of pity” - Unite for Sight’s “Ethics and Photography in Developing Countries” guide

Unite for Sight is responding to the tendency of non-profits and NGOs to capitalize on negative images, such as starving children, in order to recruit support for a cause. While the images may compel people to donate large sums of money or get involved in other ways, the counterargument asserts that these visual tools are harmful because they portray people in poverty as helpless and victimized. Rather than empowering the individuals whom the photos intend to help, negative images are further “cultivating a culture of paternalism” between the First and Third Worlds and “rob[bing] people of their dignity,” according to the guide.

As a quick aside, Unite for Sight isn’t the only organization voicing criticism on this topic. A discussion about “poverty porn” aired on NPR a couple years ago, following the release of the hit film Slumdog Millionaire. Here’s the link to the audio clip if you’re interested.

I wonder how human rights photography fits into the debate on “poverty porn.” Media provides a powerful tool for human rights organizations to raise awareness and hold perpetrators accountable for rights violations. Part of the mission statement from Human Rights Watch reads, “By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes.” But, in efforts to raise critical awareness of suffering, is human dignity compromised through the use of media? With the concept of human dignity as one of the foundations of the UDHR, the previous question seems paradoxical.

Human Rights Watch recently published a compilation of photo essays on human rights issues in 2010. In my opinion, the series does a good job of showcasing tasteful photos with captions to provide context, rather than simply relying on the shock factor of a few gruesome images. What kinds of images do you think people find more compelling in terms of evoking sympathy or empathy? Even if a photograph is effective, is it necessarily ethical?

How can human dignity be honored by photographers and journalists? Informed consent is one step, yet it is difficult to imagine that informed consent is always granted, particularly when photographing candid shots of crowds. Perhaps another way is by avoiding facial shots, like the photo at the top of this blog. What do you think are some of the rules that should govern ethical photography of human rights violations? What material, if any, should be off-limits?

I thought this would be an interesting topic to discuss as we begin to design our final documentary projects.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Defining Liberty

To follow up on our discussion in class, I’d like to try and solidify out definition of liberty. Ryley discussed Bentham’s treatment of liberty and criticized the lack of continuity among the authors we read last week. While just about all the authors talked about liberty, I’d like to focus on Thomas Hobbes and Immanuel Kant’s descriptions.

Hobbes defines liberty as, “the absence of opposition; by opposition, I mean external impediments of motion; and may be applied no less to irrational and inanimate creatures than to rational” (67). Hobbes is coming from a position of determinism. He takes a very mechanistic view of the world. For Hobbes, the only thing that can be free is something that can move in space. He argues that when we use the terms ‘free’ or ‘liberty’ for anything but bodies, we are using them incorrectly. As long as one is not physically coerced, Hobbes would argue that you have liberty. He focuses on external constraint. He argues that as long as nothing is stopping us from doing something, we are free or at liberty to do it.

Kant’s definition is slightly different. He says, “…everyone is entitled to seek his own happiness in the way that seems to him best, if it does not infringe the liberty of others in striving after a similar end for themselves when their liberty is capable of consisting with the right of liberty in all others according to possible universal laws” (111). Kant acknowledges the Hobbesian definition of the absence of opposition, but also adds to it. Kant adds the stipulation that our liberty cannot infringe on the liberty of others to strive after ends for themselves. He also stipulates that such liberty must conform to universal laws. Kant discusses some of these universal laws in another text of his, The Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals (which you can find here). In this he argues that we have a will that is free in that it is not only free from constraint (the Hobbesian definition), but also free to choose its own actions.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that every ‘member of the human family’ has a kind of freedom. The preamble states that it comes from the ‘recognition of the inherent dignity’ each human being possesses. The idea of inherent dignity possibly comes from Kant’s notion of absolute human worth. Kant argues that because each of us is an end in his (or her) self and not a mere means, each of us has absolute worth. This dignity within each of us is the reason we cannot take away the rights of others. This might suggest that the UDHR is suggesting a Kantian definition of freedom and liberty. However, most of the articles seem to guarantee rights that have to do with not being coerced. It is only in the preamble that we see this idea of inherent dignity.

Which form of liberty/freedom did the authors of the UDHR have in mind? Is this the kind of liberty/freedom that we actually have? Are there perhaps any other better definitions we should consider?

Is Internet access a human right?

As the New York Times has reported, as well as many other news publications, Egypt has terminated almost all of their country’s Internet access. In an effort to suppress protests and outbursts largely stimulated by videos and groups created in online communities, Egypt has committed what many believe to be a violation of a new fundamental human right. While the Internet in Egypt is only roughly ten years old, its impact on the community has drastically changed the way people live their lives—just as it has here in the United States.

On that same token, President Obama not only mentioned an expansion of broadband access in his recent State of the Union Address, but he has also been a very large proponent of free and equal access of the Internet, an ever growing point of political contention known as Net Neutrality. He believes that no United States citizen should be at a disadvantage when it comes to Internet access and that it is one of very, very few places where anyone, regardless of primarily socioeconomic factors, should be able to speak their voice and have opportunities to start major corporations and companies like Facebook and YouTube.

While the Internet's accessibility is a relatively new point of debate, it will nonetheless become an increasingly larger problem as providers begin to enforce pricing tiers (As Verizon and Google were rumored to begin doing)—each tier having different accessibility rules according to which pricing contract the user has entered into—and countries like Egypt and Tunisia begin to either cut off or largely censor the Internet altogether.

So where do human rights begin to play a role in this ever-increasing technological world? Do we as humans have the right to Internet access? I for one believe that while the Internet should be a public domain for all to be allowed access, it is still a service that must be paid for, which makes this argument a very tricky one. I am still unsure as to how to go about answering this question, but the Internet should be recognized as a public forum that all should be allowed to both exercise their freedom and rights and to organize efforts to change an undesirable situation—as was done in Egypt. In what is already said to be one of the largest Internet blackouts ever, the people of Egypt are being denied these rights; but how fundamental are these rights to being central to the idea of what human rights are considered to be?

Poverty and Human Rights

I have had a hard time coming to a decision in the past on whether or not I personally view poverty as a human rights violation, yet after reading over the UDA, especially articles 22- 27, I have finally come to my conclusion. My main argument comes from article 25 which states that every person should have "the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family." This I think is clearly not true in the case of most people whom I would consider impoverished.

I must admit that I am not an expert on the different divisions that exist between the “lower class” and the “impoverished,” yet I will offer my understanding of the latter by positing that those living without homes or in projects are indeed “impoverished,” and further, they are experiencing a human rights violation. My most recent encounter with this world of poverty comes from an extremely well-written book entitled Gangleader for a Day, by Sudhir Venkatesh, who at the time was a rogue sociologist who immersed himself into the Robert Taylor project in Chicago. In his book, Vankatesh explores the inner world of the poverty stricken Chicagoans, and how they relate to the Gangs that run/ruin/enrich their lives.

The book displayed to me the apparent truth that this human rights violation of poverty, leads to even more human rights violations, such as those acts of extreme violence taken by gangs. This in turn causes an unequal protection policy to be enforced by the government as is displayed by the lack of police activity in exceedingly dangerous areas. The gangs themselves become the justice system and the people living within their regions are subject to their rule.

So aside from the various health issues offered by projects and ghettos and the like, I would argue that this less often considered human rights issue, when violated can act as a catalyst toward more serious human rights offences. That being said, I wonder if many of the more serious offences could be remedied by providing adequate attention to the less immediate violations such as poverty. What do you think?

Personally, I would argue for the building and maintaining of living centers that have more of a chance of succeeding, and possibly and integration plan. By integration, I’m referring to an idea of trying to rebuild slum areas into places where the more privileged would benefit as well from moving into, while still setting up these new living conditions for the impoverished allowing for the two stark worlds of impoverished and the more privileged to coincide. This may be the idealist in me, but I believe that privileged people being forced to face poverty on a regular basis and close to home would tend to connect more with those experiencing it and possibly begin to make moves toward helping. Not only that but they would have the personal want to keep their neighborhood on the up-and-up and thus would have incentive to keep the area nicer.

Seeking Asylum to Persecution II

In 1960 Israeli authorities captured Adolf Eichmann in Argentina and transported him to Israel where he was tried and executed. Argentina’s objection was swift, with calls for Eichmann to be returned to Argentina where he had been granted asylum. On what grounds did a ranking Nazi officer attain asylum? In 1951 the Geneva Conventions outlined the UNHCR’s then qualifications of “refugeedom”:

Article 1 of the Convention defines a refugee as a person who is outside his/her country of nationality or habitual residence; has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion; and is unable or unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution.

This verbiage quite clearly legitimizes Argentina’s decision and yet it is inconceivable that a perpetrator of the Holocaust could have walked free because of a document with such positive intentions. Israel and organization hunting Nazi’s around the word were not persuaded by the Geneva Conventions and Eichmann was brought to a much swifter justice by those who he committed crimes against.

The danger of documents like this is that they are just as easily used to defend victims of genocide as they are to protect those who committed violence against them. In 1993, the new government of post-civil war Rwanda refused further UN assistance and occupation after the international body denied warrants for the arrest of warlords fed and sheltered in UN refugee camps in bordering Tanzania. Only last week did the Saudi royal family grant asylum to ousted Tunisian dictator Ben Ali and his family in a move widely condemned by Western leaders but not unusual for a country that hosted an exiled Idi Amin until his death in 2003. Saddam Hussein’s eldest daughter Raghad is a guest of the Jordanian royal family in a move that has strained relations with the US after it was discovered she funded insurgents.

It was important for Israeli’s to meet their standards of justice to reach closure over a human tragedy and I hope Tunisians demand the same of the Saudis and try Ben Ali in their own courts by their own laws. Rwandans showed remarkable will and determination in the immediate wake of a devastating civil war and made clear that accepting aid was not relinquishing consent over their society’s laws.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Seeking Asylum from Persecution

A Ugandan woman, Brenda Namigadde, fled her home country eight years ago to the United Kingdom because she was being persecuted for being a lesbian. She and her partner were beaten, spat upon, had their home burnt to the ground, and were nearly killed on numerous occasions.  Disheartened, bruised, and fearful for her life, Namigadde fled to Britain, and her partner to Canada. Before Namigadde's departure, however, a chilling warning came from Ugandan MP and "born again Christian" David Bahiti: repent and change, or be arrested upon her return to the country, which now has proposed a legal bill that would impose severe punishment upon any discovered homosexual. If the legislation passes, consenting adults who have gay sexual relations will be at least imprisoned for life, if not put to death, and those who have HIV as a result will be automatically sentenced to death. The offense is termed "aggravated homosexuality."

Once again, Namigadde is on the run. Her asylum has now been turned down by the border agency of the United Kingdom and the courts on two separate occasions, and she now faces deportation back to Uganda.  A judge found no reasonable evidence to conclude that Namigadde is in fact a homosexual. Fearful of certain torture and death because of her sexual identity, Namigadde faces immediate arrest upon her landing at the Entebbe Airport in Uganda. This crisis arises just weeks after the brutal murder of Ugandan gay activist David Kato, known as grandfather of the Kuchus, the name that homosexuals in Uganda have bestowed upon themselves.

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as written by the United Nations, Article 14: "Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution." Additionally, Article 5 states that, "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." Clearly, Namigadde has not been able to securely find asylum in the United Kingdom and according to the the standards set fourth by the United Nations, upon her return to Uganda, inhuman treatment awaits. Due to her sexuality, this woman faces torture and death. Article 2 of the UDHR states that "Everyone is entitled to all of the rights and freedoms set fourth in this Declaration..."

Why, then, are people being denied these freedoms and securities simply on the basis of their sexuality? Is this not a violation of human rights at the very least? If the Ugandan government is by some stretch justified in the new bill, how does this not violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? How does this legislation not violate human rights as we know them? It would seem that immediate action is necessary to save not only Ms. Namigadde from these horrendous violations, but also to save the lives of many other innocent victims from positively inhuman treatment based on something as trivial as sexuality. This is not simply a matter of civil rights, no; this is far beyond a matter of "civility".

Here is the article. Ugandan lesbian awaits deportation

Monday, January 24, 2011

Moscow airport bombing

Hey all,

I'm not an author for this week, but I just was interested in gathering some thoughts on the unfortunate terrorist bombing in the Moscow airport on Monday.

Apparently, surveillance tapes recorded a person bearing the bomb sneaking past rather "restful" security administrators. Additionally, the airport authorities had been tipped that  an attack may in fact take place, however no arrests were made and no searches were conducted. Furthermore, no public warnings were issued (,8599,2044207,00.html). Because of this, I wonder if the authorities are not just as responsible for this attack as the bomber.  It is believed that the bomber came from a heavily Islamic region in Russia that has been under intense and perceived oppressive Moscovian governance for decades.

In The Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau states that "To renounce one's liberty is to renounce one's quality as a man, the rights and also the duties of humanity." Is it the pursuit of liberty and the duties of humanity that may drive people to demonstrate such violence? Is it ever moral or just to pursue liberty at the expense of others, specifically innocent civilians? In the wake of tragedy, I'm hoping to open up dialogue on this topic.

Thanks guys,

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Issue of Slavery

Despite the many aspects of the Christian and Hebrew Bible in support of the universal rights presented in the first chapter of The History of Human Rights, there are activities within these two texts where human rights are seemingly neglected. Pierre Teihard de Chardin, who was a member of the Society of Jesus and an UNESCO respondent, argues that equality, liberty, and fraternity are “inseparable components of Christian love” (25). According to Chardin, Christianity promotes moral equality for all humans (a position he endorsed during his participation with UNESCO). The text, however, subtly explains that early Christian leaders did not fight for the emancipation of the “indentured servants” within the Christian community. Paul, a prominent Christian figure, even encouraged slaves to be subordinate to their masters (26). The text further explains that, although Hebrew slaves were limited to seven years of bondage, foreign slaves were never given freedom. Foreign slaves were given certain rights once they were circumcised, including the right to religious worship and participation in the Sabbath, but were ultimately subject to the individual who owned them (48). Because the Universal Declaration of Human Rights draws heavily from a variety of religious views and traditions across the globe, wouldn’t the existence of human rights violations also evident in the Christian and Hebrew Bible undermine its promotion of freedom, equality, and brotherhood? An individual or group of people would easily be able to argue in support of human rights violations using the same texts. In fact, human beings have drawn from other passages in the Christian Bible to justify the concept of slavery. Genesis 9:25-27 was used throughout the course of history to validate the enslavement of Africans, who were thought to be descendents of Canaan. “’Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.’ He also said, ‘Praise be to the LORD, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. May God extend Japheth’s[a] territory; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth’” (Gen 9:25-27 NIV). It seems that the respondents involved in UNESCO’s search for universal human rights should have put less emphasis on the religious ideas and traditions found within Christian and Hebrew text. The participants (Chardin specifically) would have created a stronger foundation for their findings had they brought the issue of slavery within these two texts into focus and explained them accordingly. If UNESCO allowed other religious traditions greater influence in its inquiry, would the organization have avoided these contradictions?

China and "Human Rights"

In an article on the BBC website this week, China’s president Hu Jintao stated that, “a lot still needs to be done in China over human rights” when speaking at a conference with President Obama. Seeing those key words, “human rights” while browsing the website, I naturally clicked the link. However, I was slightly surprised at how vague and general the discussion was when talking about these “human rights” that supposedly need to be worked on in China. The only time that these human rights were expressly talked about in the article was when President Obama stated, “I believe part of justice and part of human rights is people being able to make a living and having enough to eat and having shelter and having electricity.” Furthermore, President Obama went on to say that, “We just want to make sure that [China’s] rise occurs in a way that reinforces international norms, international rules, and enhances security and peace, as opposed to it being a source of conflict.”

My question when reading the article was is this actually a human rights issue? When thinking about “human rights” I usually default to ideas of torture or the right to life. I guess I do not readily think that poverty is a human rights violation, in the way that the article seems to be making it out to be. However, as we read in “The History of Human Rights,” “Article 22 of the Universal Declaration stipulates that each human possesses ‘economic, social, and cultural rights… indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality” (Ishay 35). If the human right in question is a right to be lifted from poverty, then this could potentially fit into an economic right. However, I was hesitant to believe that these people in China do not have the ability to “pick-themselves-up-by-their-bootstraps,” if you will, and change their economic standings. Granted, I do not know enough about China’s economy to suppose a definitive statement on the matter, so I would rather ask you guys. Do you think this issue of the rise from poverty in China is actually a human rights issue? Furthermore, are there really limitations being put upon these citizens that hinder them from attaining this “right”? Moreover, is it acceptable that the United States Government has stepped in on this issue? I find it curious that our country feels the need to watch over China, which is such a powerful country in itself, as if it were a child in need of reprimand. Are we actually justified in our interests here?

Here's the link to the article.

The Problem with universal.

Those of us who stayed current over the summer will remember French President Sarkozy’s successful drive to ban full-face Islamic veils. Sarkozy cited human rights and national security as the impetus for this controversial legislation.

As the debate in France heated up I was surprised to learn that of the relatively few women in France wearing the veil, none interviewed were in support of Sarkozy’s efforts. Rather, they maintained their religious freedom was being violated and vowed to remain veiled, legal or not.

The idea of a universal human right is inherently ignorant and intolerant of the plurality of our global society. Veiled women in France have lost the right to express their faith over the assumption the veil is a violation of women’s rights.

Each society has its accepted norms and taboos. Human rights groups around the world condemn our use of capital punishment in Amercia and yet it remains a widely accepted use of punishment. The Chinese practice of one-child families and selective abortion seems abhorrent but serves a purpose that has seen China through great economic growth.

To quote Stan Marsh, “I get it now, I don’t get it.” The idea of universal condemns our planet to a monotonous societal existence. What we see as a gross violation of human rights has been cultured by our upbringing and the values our society taught us. All peoples have a ‘social contract’ and the burden lays on individual societies to regulate violations of their own sacred rights, not a universal doctrine that confines Earth to the views of philosophers and humanitarians who fail to account for economic, social and political rights as well.

Should the Suppressed Insect Begin To Eat the Dominant Worm?

In “ A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” Mary Wollstonecraft is advocating for women’s rights and explaining why women should be considered equal within society. Her presentation of how to attain this equality was very intriguing. Much of her writing implies that women should become more masculine in order to be equal among men as women have the ability to reason just as well as men do; Wollstonecraft states, ““,,, all those who view them [women], with a philosophical eye must, I should think, wish with me, that they may every day grow more and more masculine…” (p. 103). Keeping in mind that Wollstonecraft wrote this piece in 1792, the thought of what it means to be “ more masculine” has become different in some societies over the years.

Wollstonecraft goes on to state that after women do exercise their reason and virtue in society , “… the virtue of man will be a worm- eaten by the insect whom he keeps under his feet” (107). It seems that, at times, her philosophy is wanting women to surpass men, by affecting the virtue of men, rather than be equal through performing masculine acts to show women’s capabilities as well as do “ a man’s” job better then even men can. This will result in “ the worm” being harmed by the “ the insect under his feet.”
Thus, if Wollstonecraft’s ideas that women should be “more masculine” and cause “ the worm to be eaten by the insect” were applied to present day societies, I wonder if the results would be dangerous.

The following is an example of women “ becoming more masculine” in their society on December 25th , 2010.
From : “New Year Brings Worries for Muslim Women”
By: SOUAD MEKHENNET Published: January 4, 2011

“Conflict in the Swat Valley and Waziristan region of Pakistan has displaced thousands of people, and reports of attacks are basically daily fare in the country. “You go out in the morning and pray that you will come back home again,” said Fayza. Troublingly, women have started to take an active part in the conflict. As the West celebrated Christmas on Dec. 25, a female suicide bomber attacked a food distribution point in the tribal region of Bajaur in northwest Pakistan, killing at least 46 people and wounding 105. “We are expecting more women who will play increasingly roles in attacks,” a senior Pakistani intelligence official said.”

Through these actions, women are seen to be performing a “masculine” job in society. However, is such an act of “masculinity” just seen as revenge or does it actually have a direct impact on equalizing the role of women by influencing the ”virtue of men”? Do you think that Mary Wollstonecraft’s ideas from 1792 are still applicable in today’s world? If not, how would you change the role to women in societies such as Swat Valley and Waziristan region from the New York Times article?

Bentham on Liberty

In his scathing critique of the Declaration of Rights, Jeremy Bentham evaluates whether the term "natural rights" has any true grounding in reality to begin with. Liberty, property, security and freedom are they general subcategories he investigates. He astutely notes that when writing laws (particularly those dealing with concepts of such magnitude), the selection of words and their agreed upon meaning is essential. When the Bill of Rights proclaims, "One has the right to bear arms," supposing one does not misconstrue (or are we misconstruing?) the verb bear for its noun meaning, the statement's clarity is difficult to refute. Arms-weapons; right-law-given privilege; One-the citizens. But apply this interpretation to the likes of "liberty" and the derivative value becomes far more convoluted.
While it deviates slightly from dictionary to the next, any investigation into the blanket definition of the word/concept "liberty" will lead to around nine definitions, some quite distinct from others. Therefore, must we assume that "liberty," as used in the Declaration of Human Rights, subsumes all definitions in its meaning? But it is difficult to accept this when reading definition number three: freedom from control, restriction, hampering conditions, etc... But these things in their highest since are the foundation of the social contract we sign upon entering society. Without these prohibitions on liberty, the functional cohesion of cities would be near impossible (I'm not going to gather the pluck to touch on whether that is a bad thing or not at the moment). Moreover, not only is this restriction of liberties an exception to the Declaration's intent, it encourages dissension in the ranks of liberty definitions, being not only in discord, but a necessary restriction of liberty.
Clearly, one cannot include all definitions of liberty within its transposition in the Declaration of Human Rights. But perhaps one specific definition encompasses the meaning. To ensure brevity, I mentally crossed out all definitions on the list which showed clear signs of extending beyond what the Declaration could have possibly intended by "liberty" (though If fully encourage you to analyze them). What I was left with was number three, freedom from foreign or external rule. While this seems like it could be an acceptable portion of the Declaration"s intent, it hardly contains the glamorous appeal emanating from the mind upon reading about this lofty endowment. This is because the "liberty" bestowed in the Declaration is an abstract one, permitting the choosing of a preferred definition, or the synthesis of any number of others. This ambiguity bestows upon political parties the power to whole-heartedly endorse liberty (or often its similarly ephemeral sibling, freedom, while bestowing discriminatingly restrictive opinions on what a differing groups God-given rights include. Naturally we are drawn to a confusing and inconclusive word, it leaves blank space for us to impregnate with whatever mental filler we prefer. This liberty clearly does not contain all actual definitions of liberty, nor does any single one fit the meaning liberty connotes. Does this mean that the Declaration's idea of liberty is a hand-picked basket of some of these distinct definitions? No. If the Declaration's liberty is not that of one particular definition, nor is it that of all, then it is not possible for the definition to extend completely across the plain of its own meaning(s). A word that cannot be effectively defined cannot be effectively applied, and a foundation of humanity cannot rest on grounds consisting in an airy mix of insignificant realities mated with an optimistically ignorant idealism.

Means in itself


Ishay and Whig History

One of the conceptual issues Micheline Ishay touches upon in her History of Human Rights is the notion of progress; i.e., whether history reliably moves in a positive direction, with more rational or humane ways of being unfolding in a cumulative process. While somewhat circumspect about her personal viewpoint, the author clearly accepts this basic philosophical credo. For Ishay's purposes, this means a gradual extension of human rights to cover more and more spheres of human life and more and more categories of people. While there is nothing illegitimate about the progressive historical paradigm, this vision of the development of human rights heavily colors Ishay's historical overview in ways that sometimes less than conducive to a genuine understanding of the past. This skewed perpspective is particularly evident in the author's treatment of the "Ethical Contributions" of ancient cultures which were dramatically different than Enlightenment Europe, which as Ishay freely admits, is the birthplace of the human rights discourse in which her work is grounded.

There's an old saw that "the past is a foreign country. They do things differently there." Unfortunately, rather than approaching each culture or religion on its own terms and than determining to what extent their characteristics may have influenced modern concepts of human rights, Ishay tends merely to evaluate the ancients in terms of their agreeableness to a laundry list of latter-day human rights concerns. Hence, each group is alternately commended or implicitly condemned for its views on female equality, slavery, homsexuality, economic justice, and so forth. In doing so, Ishay tells us more about the consensuses of the modern human rights community than about what made these societies tick, or more to her point, how they truly may have contributed to the later development of human rights discourse. 

Ishay seems to assume that any congruence between ancient ethical precepts and post-Enlightenment views of human rights may be counted as an "early ethical contribution", regardless of any evidence of historical ideological connection to the latter, or even basis on a similar set of moral concepts. She astutely notes that ancient cultures did not have a concept of individual rights so much as of indivudal obligations, but then proceeds to fill out the scorecard for each ethical system based on whether its dictates happen to correspond to modern notions of the former. This explains the artificially even-handed representation of  Islam and Eastern religion and philosophy in her historical overview, despite the fact that the Enlightenment Europe which produced "the rights of man" as a concept was overwhelmingly indebted to the classical and Judeo-Christian heritage.

This is not to suggest that other cultures and values systems had no effect on thinkers of the period (Voltaire was a great student of the Hindu scriptures, for example), but Ishay gives us little evidence to suggest the importance for her purposes of knowing what Confucius thought about the equality of the sexes, since there is little evidence that modern feminism (a Western invention) bears much, if any, imprint of his philosophy. In the same manner, the relative acceptance of lesbianism in ancient Israel is thought worth mentioning, presumably because of its correspondence to modern gay rights concerns. Yet the development of modern human rights discourse towards favoring the acceptance of homosexuals has little or nothing to do with this fact; furthermore, the ancient Israelite view had nothing to do with anachronistic notions of tolerance for various sexual orientations (a modern concept in of itself), and everything to do with the intracacies of a code of sexual ethics whose presuppositions are in large part alien to our own time.  Without an appreciation of the radically different worldviews of the cultures she examines, Ishay's observations of similarities or differences with human rights discourse is ultimately superficial.

Ishay best reveals the weakness of this approach in several counterfactuals she posits towards the end of the chapter: wasn't Buddhism a better candidate to advance human rights than the west, "given its greater tolerance for women and homosexuals and its criticism of any form of rigid social hierarchy"? Or what about Islam; why did it not "become a leading force in the advancement of human rights against the exclusionary moral crusade of the Christian church?" These questions have no answer. They are absurd, because the constellation of truth claims constituting Ishay's concept of human rights are the result of a historical process of development which ocurred primarily in the West, not anywhere else. The author takes these propositions (female equality, gay rights, equality before the law, social justice, etc.) as manifestly correct and then retroactively attempts to locate them in any ancient ethical precept which happens to cooincide with them. This is not to argue they may not be correct, even universally correct. They are simply not helpful or accurate in explaining the systems of thought and values of societies which did not share them. 

Ultimately, Ishay's view of the progressive direction of history privileges the present as the ultimate telological outcome of all that came before. Modern human rights discourse, itself a product of historical forces, is taken as a fixed object to serve as a yardstick by which to measure the "contributions" of vastly different civilizations.  It is in some ways a comforting view of history, but it does a disservice to any deep understanding of past societies while propping up an uncritical view of whatever set of agenda happen to be the current consensus.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Human Rights: The Importance of Recognition

Having just returned from abroad, my mind has been caught up on the differences of culture. Although there are many inconsistencies and even similarities between the countries I visited, an underlying theme that seemed to be apparent throughout was the desire to be recognized. “Human rights” encompass a large range of issues with the majority of the attention focusing on the mainstream questions of genocide, sex/ slave trafficking, child brides, torture etc. These issues are of extreme importance in our world today, but I feel smaller issues may be overlooked. Recognition is of great importance in the development of character and is essential to human social interaction where a sense of respect is achieved. Charles Taylor helps to signify the importance of recognition.
First, submitting to the idea of culture is the fundamental step in receiving recognition. Outside of culture, a human being is only capable of defining himself in the simplest form. The French philosopher Rene Descartes sat at his desk and denied the world around him, until the only presumed knowable characteristic of life was himself. Descartes’s renown phrase ‘I think, therefore I am’ offers the simplistic view of living a life absent of worldly knowledge, including the knowledge that comes with physical encounters. To live a life separate from the physicality of the world is an abstract concept and stands apart from reality. Therefore, human interaction and recognition are of great importance within a culture, for men “only develop their characteristically human capacities in society.” Human interaction helps to develop a sense of rationality, acquire the characteristics of a ‘moral agent,’ and cultivate the ideals of a ‘fully responsible, autonomous being.’ Through embracing oneself within a culture, an individual receives the most basic form of recognition and through this can begin to develop humanistic traits.
The term ‘culture’ bears great importance upon the human race and it is essential to evaluate the meaning and effects of the accepted expression. ‘Culture’ helps to perpetuate recognition for individuals within the society. Culture can be defined as “the existence of a viable community of individuals with a shared heritage,” and operates through different levels of recognition. Charles Taylor helps to clarify this in his philosophical work The Politics of Recognition, where he claims there are two levels of recognition, both of which play a critical role in the formation of identity. First, there is the intimate level, which refers to the private sphere of an individual’s life. The recognition received within this sphere comes from family members, friends, loved ones, and significant others. These relationships are perceived as, “the key loci of self-discovery and self-affirmation…[and] are the crucibles of inwardly generated identity.” The public sphere refers to relationships and social encounters outside of an individual’s comfort zone. The intimate sphere of recognition does not raise the same issues as the public sphere due to the intimacy of these relationships ensuing love, compassion, and reassurance of friends and family. The public sphere presents the concern of finding one’s identity within the world. If one is unable to find this sense of recognition from society, the feelings of oppression, inferiority, and a demeaning self-worth can internalize. These personal issues can take form in the mind and integrate themselves into one’s daily thought, decisions, and self-respect. It is critical to be recognized outside of the intimate sphere to fully develop an identity, and an fully developed identity is the only way one can contribute to society.

Humans, the Government, and Eachother

Human Rights may be understood as confined solely to humans. Not only do humans rights only pertain to human beings, but conversely, only humans can violate these rights. Borrowing from the realist paradigm, we may also postulate that, as is the case with other limited resources, human rights are not unlimited, but an item of scarcity. Not everyone may do whatever he or she likes because often one’s actions involve others. For example, a person’s freedom to condemn homosexuality infringes to whatever extent on homosexuals.
The distribution of freedom or rights historically stems from various sources: the alpha male, nobility, religious authority, and finally the authority of the state. Despite such manifestations, these authorities have one thing in common—power. Rights distinguish the permissible from the impermissible. Unless power reinforces this distinction, it is nothing more then opinion. Force—whether it be imagined or instrumented—coerces action. In this vein societies have been lead to sanction various religions over one another, arbitrarily restrict personal freedoms, and even persecute and enslave other peoples.
Our founding fathers envisioned a nation that would provide the maximum freedom possible for everyone without infringing on the freedom of others. In my opinion, it is not the role of the government to enforce laws that are solely grounded on morality, for morality itself should be grounded in something more tangible and manifest. It is wrong to commit murder because murder is immoral. It is illegal to commit murder because murder infringes on the victim’s freedom to live. It is wrong (according to some) to be homosexual because homosexuality is immoral. Fine, don’t be gay. Homosexuality should not be illegal based on opinion.
In my hometown we are about to vote on whether or not to ban smoking cigarettes in restaurants. Smoking is unhealthy and, while sections are specifically designated smoking and non, it infringes (so the argument goes) on one’s right to not receive second hand smoke. But come, those for the ban clearly do not smoke cigarettes. As it is, citizens in my town have the freedom in certain dining establishments to enjoy a cig, only if they so choose, but no one is forcing them, nor is anyone forcing them to dine at such locals. Why must the people who have already freely chosen not to partake in cigarettes take it upon themselves to regulate the freedom of others? Yet this is often the case when it comes to human rights. When is the decision one of mere preference, and when is it one of rightness and wrong? Smoking may be harmful to the individual, but I say one’s health is one’s own business. Humans, in my opinion, would be much better off if they were left to determine for themselves (after a certain degree of education) how they prefer to live. Of course this is idealistic. But maybe if we allowed people to blow off their limbs or what have you, they (or at least others) might actually learn from experience. It is my hope that someday people may govern themselves righteously through their own use of reason to the extent that imposed laws are no longer necessary. I know this is a long shot, but who knows what a unified and well educated nation is capable of.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sex, Young Girls, and Slavery?

There is nothing quite like an evening curled up in a nice warm bed, cup of tea in hand, maybe some “Dove” dark chocolate, and CNN on the television. This was an experience I was lucky enough to engage in previously today and all of those things were wonderful except the one part that didn’t fit in to my ideal evening was CNN. It seems in this hustle-and-bustle world, crime and violence are nonstop. When I was watching CNN, I had a quick glimpse about the sex trafficking of little girls in the United States. This clip of a documentary caught my attention and immediately made me think “human rights,” and it was not long before I was on, investigating the story of a young girl, only 13 years old, and how she had accidently stumbled into a life not too similar to the one she had when she was 12.

The article from is titled “Underage sex trade still flourishing online,” which is part of a documentary that is supposed to be airing on CNN this Sunday at 8pm E.T. called “Selling the Girl Next Door.” The story and the investigation from CNN’s reporters was a year long investigation and targets the girls living here, in the United States, who are used in sex trade. After having read the article and having watched the small clips offered on I kept tying this modern form of slavery to the readings that were assigned for Tuesdays class (1/25). In order to best understand the connection I went to the definition of sex trafficking found here: Sexual slavery or Forced Sexual Slavery is the organized coercion of unwilling people into different sexual practices.”

The definition of sex trafficking helped me bring the reading assignment directly into place, using the views of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. It was John Locke who described his views on slavery as follows:

“The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but to have only the law of Nature for his rule.”

John Locke through this quote, showed how he felt men should not be under the will or authority of other men and this in fact is something that sex trafficking allows. Sex trafficking allows for individuals, and in this article, young girls, to be under an authority that then trades them or sells them to customers for sex. An abomination against John Locke’s own words, sex trafficking is a new slavery that seems to have sparked a new understanding of “under the will or legislative authority of man.” Locke directly addresses slavery, as for Rousseau, the readings I found tying him to the underage sex trade article is as follows:

“ Even if each person could alienate himself, he could not alienate his children; they are born free men, their liberty belongs to them, and no one has a right to dispose of it except themselves.”

This quote from Rousseau shows his feelings towards children and their role in slavery. I believe that this quote could even be taken to the next step and applied to the CNN article and documentary. As defined sex trafficking is in fact “sex slavery” and if one was to combine the two quotes on slavery and children, one would find that the act of sex trafficking is indeed an abomination in the eyes of these early philosophers.

Human rights are rights, which are held by all human beings and although the girls in the article were children, they are still human beings and by the standards of human rights, deserving of rights that are universal. Sex trafficking is a violation against those human rights, and although the girls often “accidently” stumble into the deep dark hole of sex trafficking, it seems that once they are in, they are unable to have or control their own inalienable rights.

Sex trafficking not only seems to be present in the United States, but it seems to be a worldwide phenomenon that is challenging human rights every day. These rights seem to be inalienable but if they are being challenged so often, it is hard to understand how they can be unchangeable since the rights and voices of these people, in this case these young girls, are being silenced. This issue is one that has sparked an interest in my views on human rights and although I sat tonight watching CNN and enjoying a cup of tea I can’t help but wonder about these exploitations and the very violations of sex trafficking.

I also invite all of you to watch a film trailer for a movie that is “A Fairytale about the Sexual Exploitation of Children.”

The Candy Shop Trailer from Brandon McCormick on Vimeo.

"Underage Sex Trade Still Flourishing Online" from

Monday, January 3, 2011

First Text For This Course

The History of Human Rights from Ancient Times to the Globalization Era, by Micheline Ishay

Micheline Ishay recounts the dramatic struggle for human rights across the ages in a book that brilliantly synthesizes historical and intellectual developments from the Mesopotamian Codes of Hammurabi to today's era of globalization. As she chronicles the clash of social movements, ideas, and armies that have played a part in this struggle, Ishay illustrates how the history of human rights has evolved from one era to the next through texts, cultural traditions, and creative expression. Writing with verve and extraordinary range, she develops a framework for understanding contemporary issues from the debate over globalization to the intervention in Kosovo to the climate for human rights after September 11, 2001. The only comprehensive history of human rights available, the book will be essential reading for anyone concerned with humankind's quest for justice and dignity.

Ishay structures her chapters around six core questions that have shaped human rights debate and scholarship: What are the origins of human rights? Why did the European vision of human rights triumph over those of other civilizations? Has socialism made a lasting contribution to the legacy of human rights? Are human rights universal or culturally bound? Must human rights be sacrificed to the demands of national security? Is globalization eroding or advancing human rights? As she explores these questions, Ishay also incorporates notable documents—writings, speeches, and political statements—from activists, writers, and thinkers throughout history.