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Episode
70

Human Rights

First published on
July 10, 2020
Politics
-
22
minutes
Philosophy
Environment
Politics
Human rights

In 1948 the United Nations signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which set out the 30 'inalienable' rights that all humans on Earth should get at birth.

But where did this come from? How effectively does it actually work?

And what comes next for human rights?

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Transcript

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can learn fascinating things about the world, and listen to weird and wonderful stories, at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:23] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about human rights.

[00:00:30] Now, human rights is, to state the obvious, a large and immensely complicated topic. 

[00:00:37] So in today's episode we aren't going to attempt to cover everything, but we will ask ourselves a few important questions.

[00:00:47] What actually are human rights?

[00:00:51] Where do they come from?

[00:00:53] What happened before human rights?

[00:00:57] What is happening to human rights now, and what might the human rights of the future look like, if indeed there is a difference?

[00:01:07] But before we get right into that, let me just remind those of you listening to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iVoox, or wherever you get your podcasts, that you can listen to all of the episodes, so that's a whole lot more than you get on the podcast apps, over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:30] The website is also where you can find the subtitles, key vocabulary, and transcripts for every episode, and if you would like to improve your English in a more interesting way, and become part of a community of curious minds from all over the world, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:51] OK then, let's get started.

[00:01:55] When you hear the term 'human rights', you probably hear it in the context of a 'violation of human rights', or of 'human rights abuses'. That some people, somewhere, are having their human rights violated by oppressive governments or regimes, and that this is inherently wrong.

[00:02:21] There is, as you may know, a United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which lays out what are classified as inalienable human rights, rights that should exist for everyone in the world. 

[00:02:37] Rights that you receive at birth, rights that we all have, as humans.

[00:02:44] And there are 30 different articles that make up this United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, too many to list out here, but they cover a wide range of 'rights', from the right of all humans to be born free and equal in dignity and the right to not be held as a slave, then there is the right to free movement within your country, the right to own private property, and another 26 different human rights.

[00:03:16] It was a hallmark treaty that was only signed in 1948, less than 100 years ago, just after the end of the Second World War.

[00:03:28] What we're going to do first though is to trace this back, to go back a little bit in the history books, because this concept of Human Rights, that all men and women have the same, basic rights, is, at least when we compare it to how long humans have been around, it's pretty new.

[00:03:51] There is a bit of debate about when the first idea of 'human rights' came into existence.

[00:03:58] Some historians say that the concept goes back to Persia in the 6th century BC, under the rule of Cyrus the Great, who proclaimed that people were free to practice whatever faith they wanted without fear of persecution, or of being forcefully converted.

[00:04:20] Others point to Ancient Greece, where all citizens had the right to vote.

[00:04:26] But of course, while these civilisations may have proposed some of the things we now know as human rights, they would definitely be classified as 'human rights abusers' in the modern era. 

[00:04:42] The Greeks kept slaves, and although Ancient Athens was a democracy, it was a democracy for men - women couldn't vote. 

[00:04:54] And Cyrus the Great was at war for the majority of his reign, he wouldn't be winning any prizes now for his human rights record.

[00:05:04] And over the course of history, our concept of human rights in general, has evolved, it has gradually changed into what we have today.

[00:05:15] After Cyrus the Great and the Ancient Greeks, the idea of 'human rights' was almost non-existent for over a thousand years.

[00:05:27] Of course, this is a huge generalisation, but we can probably trace back the modern idea of 'human rights' to 'natural rights', which was an idea that came to prominence during the Medieval Era, and then was further developed through the enlightenment..

[00:05:47] Philosophers thought that there were two types of rights. 

[00:05:52] Natural rights, which are the rights that everyone has, regardless of the law. And legal rights, which are the rights that people have in the eyes of the law.

[00:06:06] What these 'natural rights' actually were though, was up for debate. 

[00:06:13] John Locke, the famous English philosopher, focussed on the rights of every man to life, liberty, and property, but the discussion of natural rights was mainly a philosophical one, and there wasn't the same kind of consensus around them that we have today with these thirty 'inalienable' human rights in the UN's Declaration of Human Rights.

[00:06:40] In the 18th century, there were two events that had a profound impact on the development of human rights, and sowed the seeds for what we have today.

[00:06:53] Firstly, in 1776, the Declaration of the Independence of the United States of America, which codified the rights of citizens of this new country.

[00:07:06] And then, thirteen years later, in 1789, the French Revolution, and the publication of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which listed seventeen different articles that set out the rights of man, a lot of which we would recognise today.

[00:07:27] But there were some notable things missing. 

[00:07:32] Specifically, these rights were the rights of mankind, of people, but they mainly applied to men, not to women.

[00:07:44] And secondly, there was nothing against slavery. 

[00:07:49] To us, in 2020, this might seem strange, hard to believe, and when you look at what was in the declaration, it does seem quite contradictory.

[00:08:03] The first Article of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen reads:

[00:08:09] "Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can be founded only on the common good."

[00:08:18] Yet slavery was still accepted, and it wasn't abolished in all of the French colonies until 1848, almost sixty years later. So while they declared that all men are born and remain free and equal in rights, slavery was allowed - it was literally the opposite of remaining free and equal in rights.

[00:08:45] So yes, of course, these declarations were a step forward, and were small improvements on the journey towards our current understanding of Human Rights, but they definitely were not without contradiction.

[00:09:01] Then the real developments that led us to where we are today came after the end of the Second World War.

[00:09:10] The world had just experienced two horrific conflicts, where humans had done terrible things to other humans. 

[00:09:19] The United Nations was founded in 1945, and there was a feeling, at least among the members of this new global organisation, that there needed to be a global declaration of human rights that applied to every human on the planet, no matter what country they came from, their gender, their religion, the colour of their skin, or anything else that might differentiate one person from another.

[00:09:49] These were to be inalienable rights, rights that cannot be taken away.

[00:09:55] And the result of this was this declaration, in 1948, with the 30 articles setting out what these rights actually are.

[00:10:06] Now, it's important to note that these rights aren't binding, the UN doesn't make the law, and the Declaration of Human Rights isn't a global law.

[00:10:19] And this means, on one level, that it is easier for countries to break them, or at least not respect them.

[00:10:30] And whether this is the more obvious example of people being imprisoned or executed for speaking out against the ruling party, or examples that not everyone might think of as violations, such as the right to have protection against unemployment, governments and countries violate this treaty almost every single day.

[00:10:56] And other than some international condemnation, there often isn't a huge amount that gets done - individual interests, normally economic or security-related, come first. 

[00:11:12] And this is why we have situations like the United States failing to condemn the murder of the Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, or the majority of the developed world failing to criticise the treatment of protestors in Hong Kong, or of the handling of the Black Lives Matter protests in the US. 

[00:11:34] All of these incidents would classify, technically speaking, as violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

[00:11:43] So it's probably more accurate to say that countries often consider human rights as guidelines - things that they should aspire to, but despite the fact that they are defined as inalienable, impossible to take away, their importance seems to be cherry-picked - they are considered hugely important and non-negotiable when they suit your goals, but when they don't, they are ignored. 

[00:12:17] They become an inconvenience that gets in the way of your agenda.

[00:12:23] From waterboarding prisoners in Guantanamo Bay to herding up minorities in prison camps in Xinjiang province in China, both in the name of 'national security', it's clear that especially large and powerful countries often just ignore human rights when they don't suit their agenda.

[00:12:46] This isn't the only criticism of human rights though, that they are easily and frequently ignored.

[00:12:55] Another that was a criticism when the declaration was first signed, and is still a criticism now, is that it takes a Western approach, a Western view to human rights.

[00:13:09] The whole idea of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is that it is meant to be 'universal', it is meant to apply to you whether you live in California or Cameroon, Paris or Paraguay. 

[00:13:24] But it was pushed forward at the UN by a majority Western group, and was actually only signed by 48 countries, so only 48 of the total of 193 countries that there are now.

[00:13:40] The reason for this was back in 1948 there were only 58 members of the UN, the countries that have joined since then only got independence afterwards.

[00:13:54] But if you're thinking, hang on, it was signed by 48 countries, but there were 58 countries there, who voted against it?

[00:14:05] In fact, no country actually voted against it, but 10 either abstained, they said that they wouldn't participate for or against, or just didn't participate.

[00:14:19] But this was almost the same as voting no - they just didn't want to go down in history as being 'anti' human rights. 

[00:14:29] These countries were ones that formed part of the former USSR, then South Africa and Saudi Arabia.

[00:14:39] They didn't vote for it because it proposed things that were fundamentally opposed to how they had run their countries - for the countries in the USSR, freedom of movement within the country wasn't allowed, in Saudi Arabia the idea of equal marriage rights and that everyone has the right to change their religion wasn't appreciated, and South Africa was still an apartheid country, so a lot of the declaration was completely the opposite to how that country was run.

[00:15:15] So, depending on what country you are from, you may or may not agree with everything in the Declaration of Human Rights.

[00:15:25] Certainly, the 30 individual rights in the declaration have evolved from lots of ideas and principles that existed in various shapes and forms in Western countries. 

[00:15:40] Yes, it is intended to be universal, but some of the ideas in it have formed part of various Western norms for longer than they have in other countries, and so the criticism is that it has forced a western view onto non-western countries.

[00:16:01] It's also worth noting that, while we put this declaration up on a pedestal and talk about how marvelous it is, there are certain things that aren't on it that you might expect would be on it.

[00:16:18] Perhaps the most obvious one, and one that is frequently brought up by Amnesty International is the death penalty. 

[00:16:27] reads 'No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading

[00:16:47] You could interpret that as suggesting that nobody has the right to take away the life of another human, but it is not clarified. 

[00:16:58] And of course, as of 2020, 58 countries around the world still have the death penalty. And of the ten most populous countries in the world, the 10 countries with the most people, all but one still have the death penalty.

[00:17:17] And lest we forget, the self-proclaimed leader of the free world, the United States of America, still has it.

[00:17:25] So, it is interesting to ask ourselves where human rights are going. 

[00:17:32] If we look at what people just over 200 years ago thought as the most amazing developments, with the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen in France, and consider that some of the things that they did back then are now considered horrendous and barbaric, I wonder what people 200 years from now will think about some of the things that we, as humans, are doing now.

[00:18:01] Will people 200 years from now feel the same way about humans in 2020 as about how we feel about things like slavery, that it is almost unfathomable how it was tolerated?

[00:18:17] Something that is already getting more attention from a human rights point of view, and is becoming more and more important as the Earth's population grows, is how climate change is forcing us to think about shared usage of the planet. 

[00:18:34] There is a growing view that environmental rights are human rights - that everyone deserves the right to land, shelter, water, food, and air. 

[00:18:47] And in a world where sea levels are rising and land is being lost, rainforests are being chopped down, water supplies are being disrupted, droughts are causing food shortages, and even the air is being polluted, it is clear that these rights are not rights that exist for everyone, equally.

[00:19:12] But the difference here is that, instead of the oppressor being the police battering down your door, or another human forcing you into a truck and taking you to a different country, the oppressor is firstly less easy to see, and secondly, it isn't just one person. 

[00:19:35] It's millions of people, billions of people, all of whom are contributing a little bit, but with some more than others. 

[00:19:45] And this, of course, makes it incredibly difficult to point the finger, to assign blame. 

[00:19:52] So although 70 years ago in Paris, at the signing of the Declaration of Human Rights, people may have thought, great we've cracked it, it certainly looks like our own understanding of what constitutes human rights is not fixed, and will need to be adapted as the world changes.

[00:20:14] And even though we may agree on what these human rights are, we aren't any closer to agreeing what can be done to stop them being violated.

[00:20:27] OK then, that is it for today's little jaunt into the world of Human Rights.

[00:20:35] I know it wasn't a particularly happy ending, but it is fascinating to think how this man-made concept was created, has evolved, and will continue to evolve. 

[00:20:47] Philosophy is forever changing and adapting, and it will be amazing to see how our customs and norms adapt as the world does.

[00:20:59] As always, I would love to know what you thought of the show. You can email hi - \hi@leonardoenglish.com.

[00:21:07] As a final reminder if you are looking for all of the bonus episodes, subtitles, key vocabulary, and transcript, then you can get all of that over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:21:21] And if you want a final, super easy way to make me very happy, and help other people find the podcast, then please do leave a review in your favourite podcast app. I read every one, and they all put a smile on my face.

[00:21:36] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:21:42] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF PODCAST]


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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can learn fascinating things about the world, and listen to weird and wonderful stories, at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:23] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about human rights.

[00:00:30] Now, human rights is, to state the obvious, a large and immensely complicated topic. 

[00:00:37] So in today's episode we aren't going to attempt to cover everything, but we will ask ourselves a few important questions.

[00:00:47] What actually are human rights?

[00:00:51] Where do they come from?

[00:00:53] What happened before human rights?

[00:00:57] What is happening to human rights now, and what might the human rights of the future look like, if indeed there is a difference?

[00:01:07] But before we get right into that, let me just remind those of you listening to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iVoox, or wherever you get your podcasts, that you can listen to all of the episodes, so that's a whole lot more than you get on the podcast apps, over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:30] The website is also where you can find the subtitles, key vocabulary, and transcripts for every episode, and if you would like to improve your English in a more interesting way, and become part of a community of curious minds from all over the world, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:51] OK then, let's get started.

[00:01:55] When you hear the term 'human rights', you probably hear it in the context of a 'violation of human rights', or of 'human rights abuses'. That some people, somewhere, are having their human rights violated by oppressive governments or regimes, and that this is inherently wrong.

[00:02:21] There is, as you may know, a United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which lays out what are classified as inalienable human rights, rights that should exist for everyone in the world. 

[00:02:37] Rights that you receive at birth, rights that we all have, as humans.

[00:02:44] And there are 30 different articles that make up this United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, too many to list out here, but they cover a wide range of 'rights', from the right of all humans to be born free and equal in dignity and the right to not be held as a slave, then there is the right to free movement within your country, the right to own private property, and another 26 different human rights.

[00:03:16] It was a hallmark treaty that was only signed in 1948, less than 100 years ago, just after the end of the Second World War.

[00:03:28] What we're going to do first though is to trace this back, to go back a little bit in the history books, because this concept of Human Rights, that all men and women have the same, basic rights, is, at least when we compare it to how long humans have been around, it's pretty new.

[00:03:51] There is a bit of debate about when the first idea of 'human rights' came into existence.

[00:03:58] Some historians say that the concept goes back to Persia in the 6th century BC, under the rule of Cyrus the Great, who proclaimed that people were free to practice whatever faith they wanted without fear of persecution, or of being forcefully converted.

[00:04:20] Others point to Ancient Greece, where all citizens had the right to vote.

[00:04:26] But of course, while these civilisations may have proposed some of the things we now know as human rights, they would definitely be classified as 'human rights abusers' in the modern era. 

[00:04:42] The Greeks kept slaves, and although Ancient Athens was a democracy, it was a democracy for men - women couldn't vote. 

[00:04:54] And Cyrus the Great was at war for the majority of his reign, he wouldn't be winning any prizes now for his human rights record.

[00:05:04] And over the course of history, our concept of human rights in general, has evolved, it has gradually changed into what we have today.

[00:05:15] After Cyrus the Great and the Ancient Greeks, the idea of 'human rights' was almost non-existent for over a thousand years.

[00:05:27] Of course, this is a huge generalisation, but we can probably trace back the modern idea of 'human rights' to 'natural rights', which was an idea that came to prominence during the Medieval Era, and then was further developed through the enlightenment..

[00:05:47] Philosophers thought that there were two types of rights. 

[00:05:52] Natural rights, which are the rights that everyone has, regardless of the law. And legal rights, which are the rights that people have in the eyes of the law.

[00:06:06] What these 'natural rights' actually were though, was up for debate. 

[00:06:13] John Locke, the famous English philosopher, focussed on the rights of every man to life, liberty, and property, but the discussion of natural rights was mainly a philosophical one, and there wasn't the same kind of consensus around them that we have today with these thirty 'inalienable' human rights in the UN's Declaration of Human Rights.

[00:06:40] In the 18th century, there were two events that had a profound impact on the development of human rights, and sowed the seeds for what we have today.

[00:06:53] Firstly, in 1776, the Declaration of the Independence of the United States of America, which codified the rights of citizens of this new country.

[00:07:06] And then, thirteen years later, in 1789, the French Revolution, and the publication of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which listed seventeen different articles that set out the rights of man, a lot of which we would recognise today.

[00:07:27] But there were some notable things missing. 

[00:07:32] Specifically, these rights were the rights of mankind, of people, but they mainly applied to men, not to women.

[00:07:44] And secondly, there was nothing against slavery. 

[00:07:49] To us, in 2020, this might seem strange, hard to believe, and when you look at what was in the declaration, it does seem quite contradictory.

[00:08:03] The first Article of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen reads:

[00:08:09] "Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can be founded only on the common good."

[00:08:18] Yet slavery was still accepted, and it wasn't abolished in all of the French colonies until 1848, almost sixty years later. So while they declared that all men are born and remain free and equal in rights, slavery was allowed - it was literally the opposite of remaining free and equal in rights.

[00:08:45] So yes, of course, these declarations were a step forward, and were small improvements on the journey towards our current understanding of Human Rights, but they definitely were not without contradiction.

[00:09:01] Then the real developments that led us to where we are today came after the end of the Second World War.

[00:09:10] The world had just experienced two horrific conflicts, where humans had done terrible things to other humans. 

[00:09:19] The United Nations was founded in 1945, and there was a feeling, at least among the members of this new global organisation, that there needed to be a global declaration of human rights that applied to every human on the planet, no matter what country they came from, their gender, their religion, the colour of their skin, or anything else that might differentiate one person from another.

[00:09:49] These were to be inalienable rights, rights that cannot be taken away.

[00:09:55] And the result of this was this declaration, in 1948, with the 30 articles setting out what these rights actually are.

[00:10:06] Now, it's important to note that these rights aren't binding, the UN doesn't make the law, and the Declaration of Human Rights isn't a global law.

[00:10:19] And this means, on one level, that it is easier for countries to break them, or at least not respect them.

[00:10:30] And whether this is the more obvious example of people being imprisoned or executed for speaking out against the ruling party, or examples that not everyone might think of as violations, such as the right to have protection against unemployment, governments and countries violate this treaty almost every single day.

[00:10:56] And other than some international condemnation, there often isn't a huge amount that gets done - individual interests, normally economic or security-related, come first. 

[00:11:12] And this is why we have situations like the United States failing to condemn the murder of the Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, or the majority of the developed world failing to criticise the treatment of protestors in Hong Kong, or of the handling of the Black Lives Matter protests in the US. 

[00:11:34] All of these incidents would classify, technically speaking, as violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

[00:11:43] So it's probably more accurate to say that countries often consider human rights as guidelines - things that they should aspire to, but despite the fact that they are defined as inalienable, impossible to take away, their importance seems to be cherry-picked - they are considered hugely important and non-negotiable when they suit your goals, but when they don't, they are ignored. 

[00:12:17] They become an inconvenience that gets in the way of your agenda.

[00:12:23] From waterboarding prisoners in Guantanamo Bay to herding up minorities in prison camps in Xinjiang province in China, both in the name of 'national security', it's clear that especially large and powerful countries often just ignore human rights when they don't suit their agenda.

[00:12:46] This isn't the only criticism of human rights though, that they are easily and frequently ignored.

[00:12:55] Another that was a criticism when the declaration was first signed, and is still a criticism now, is that it takes a Western approach, a Western view to human rights.

[00:13:09] The whole idea of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is that it is meant to be 'universal', it is meant to apply to you whether you live in California or Cameroon, Paris or Paraguay. 

[00:13:24] But it was pushed forward at the UN by a majority Western group, and was actually only signed by 48 countries, so only 48 of the total of 193 countries that there are now.

[00:13:40] The reason for this was back in 1948 there were only 58 members of the UN, the countries that have joined since then only got independence afterwards.

[00:13:54] But if you're thinking, hang on, it was signed by 48 countries, but there were 58 countries there, who voted against it?

[00:14:05] In fact, no country actually voted against it, but 10 either abstained, they said that they wouldn't participate for or against, or just didn't participate.

[00:14:19] But this was almost the same as voting no - they just didn't want to go down in history as being 'anti' human rights. 

[00:14:29] These countries were ones that formed part of the former USSR, then South Africa and Saudi Arabia.

[00:14:39] They didn't vote for it because it proposed things that were fundamentally opposed to how they had run their countries - for the countries in the USSR, freedom of movement within the country wasn't allowed, in Saudi Arabia the idea of equal marriage rights and that everyone has the right to change their religion wasn't appreciated, and South Africa was still an apartheid country, so a lot of the declaration was completely the opposite to how that country was run.

[00:15:15] So, depending on what country you are from, you may or may not agree with everything in the Declaration of Human Rights.

[00:15:25] Certainly, the 30 individual rights in the declaration have evolved from lots of ideas and principles that existed in various shapes and forms in Western countries. 

[00:15:40] Yes, it is intended to be universal, but some of the ideas in it have formed part of various Western norms for longer than they have in other countries, and so the criticism is that it has forced a western view onto non-western countries.

[00:16:01] It's also worth noting that, while we put this declaration up on a pedestal and talk about how marvelous it is, there are certain things that aren't on it that you might expect would be on it.

[00:16:18] Perhaps the most obvious one, and one that is frequently brought up by Amnesty International is the death penalty. 

[00:16:27] reads 'No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading

[00:16:47] You could interpret that as suggesting that nobody has the right to take away the life of another human, but it is not clarified. 

[00:16:58] And of course, as of 2020, 58 countries around the world still have the death penalty. And of the ten most populous countries in the world, the 10 countries with the most people, all but one still have the death penalty.

[00:17:17] And lest we forget, the self-proclaimed leader of the free world, the United States of America, still has it.

[00:17:25] So, it is interesting to ask ourselves where human rights are going. 

[00:17:32] If we look at what people just over 200 years ago thought as the most amazing developments, with the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen in France, and consider that some of the things that they did back then are now considered horrendous and barbaric, I wonder what people 200 years from now will think about some of the things that we, as humans, are doing now.

[00:18:01] Will people 200 years from now feel the same way about humans in 2020 as about how we feel about things like slavery, that it is almost unfathomable how it was tolerated?

[00:18:17] Something that is already getting more attention from a human rights point of view, and is becoming more and more important as the Earth's population grows, is how climate change is forcing us to think about shared usage of the planet. 

[00:18:34] There is a growing view that environmental rights are human rights - that everyone deserves the right to land, shelter, water, food, and air. 

[00:18:47] And in a world where sea levels are rising and land is being lost, rainforests are being chopped down, water supplies are being disrupted, droughts are causing food shortages, and even the air is being polluted, it is clear that these rights are not rights that exist for everyone, equally.

[00:19:12] But the difference here is that, instead of the oppressor being the police battering down your door, or another human forcing you into a truck and taking you to a different country, the oppressor is firstly less easy to see, and secondly, it isn't just one person. 

[00:19:35] It's millions of people, billions of people, all of whom are contributing a little bit, but with some more than others. 

[00:19:45] And this, of course, makes it incredibly difficult to point the finger, to assign blame. 

[00:19:52] So although 70 years ago in Paris, at the signing of the Declaration of Human Rights, people may have thought, great we've cracked it, it certainly looks like our own understanding of what constitutes human rights is not fixed, and will need to be adapted as the world changes.

[00:20:14] And even though we may agree on what these human rights are, we aren't any closer to agreeing what can be done to stop them being violated.

[00:20:27] OK then, that is it for today's little jaunt into the world of Human Rights.

[00:20:35] I know it wasn't a particularly happy ending, but it is fascinating to think how this man-made concept was created, has evolved, and will continue to evolve. 

[00:20:47] Philosophy is forever changing and adapting, and it will be amazing to see how our customs and norms adapt as the world does.

[00:20:59] As always, I would love to know what you thought of the show. You can email hi - \hi@leonardoenglish.com.

[00:21:07] As a final reminder if you are looking for all of the bonus episodes, subtitles, key vocabulary, and transcript, then you can get all of that over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:21:21] And if you want a final, super easy way to make me very happy, and help other people find the podcast, then please do leave a review in your favourite podcast app. I read every one, and they all put a smile on my face.

[00:21:36] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:21:42] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF PODCAST]


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can learn fascinating things about the world, and listen to weird and wonderful stories, at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:23] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about human rights.

[00:00:30] Now, human rights is, to state the obvious, a large and immensely complicated topic. 

[00:00:37] So in today's episode we aren't going to attempt to cover everything, but we will ask ourselves a few important questions.

[00:00:47] What actually are human rights?

[00:00:51] Where do they come from?

[00:00:53] What happened before human rights?

[00:00:57] What is happening to human rights now, and what might the human rights of the future look like, if indeed there is a difference?

[00:01:07] But before we get right into that, let me just remind those of you listening to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iVoox, or wherever you get your podcasts, that you can listen to all of the episodes, so that's a whole lot more than you get on the podcast apps, over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:30] The website is also where you can find the subtitles, key vocabulary, and transcripts for every episode, and if you would like to improve your English in a more interesting way, and become part of a community of curious minds from all over the world, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:51] OK then, let's get started.

[00:01:55] When you hear the term 'human rights', you probably hear it in the context of a 'violation of human rights', or of 'human rights abuses'. That some people, somewhere, are having their human rights violated by oppressive governments or regimes, and that this is inherently wrong.

[00:02:21] There is, as you may know, a United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which lays out what are classified as inalienable human rights, rights that should exist for everyone in the world. 

[00:02:37] Rights that you receive at birth, rights that we all have, as humans.

[00:02:44] And there are 30 different articles that make up this United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, too many to list out here, but they cover a wide range of 'rights', from the right of all humans to be born free and equal in dignity and the right to not be held as a slave, then there is the right to free movement within your country, the right to own private property, and another 26 different human rights.

[00:03:16] It was a hallmark treaty that was only signed in 1948, less than 100 years ago, just after the end of the Second World War.

[00:03:28] What we're going to do first though is to trace this back, to go back a little bit in the history books, because this concept of Human Rights, that all men and women have the same, basic rights, is, at least when we compare it to how long humans have been around, it's pretty new.

[00:03:51] There is a bit of debate about when the first idea of 'human rights' came into existence.

[00:03:58] Some historians say that the concept goes back to Persia in the 6th century BC, under the rule of Cyrus the Great, who proclaimed that people were free to practice whatever faith they wanted without fear of persecution, or of being forcefully converted.

[00:04:20] Others point to Ancient Greece, where all citizens had the right to vote.

[00:04:26] But of course, while these civilisations may have proposed some of the things we now know as human rights, they would definitely be classified as 'human rights abusers' in the modern era. 

[00:04:42] The Greeks kept slaves, and although Ancient Athens was a democracy, it was a democracy for men - women couldn't vote. 

[00:04:54] And Cyrus the Great was at war for the majority of his reign, he wouldn't be winning any prizes now for his human rights record.

[00:05:04] And over the course of history, our concept of human rights in general, has evolved, it has gradually changed into what we have today.

[00:05:15] After Cyrus the Great and the Ancient Greeks, the idea of 'human rights' was almost non-existent for over a thousand years.

[00:05:27] Of course, this is a huge generalisation, but we can probably trace back the modern idea of 'human rights' to 'natural rights', which was an idea that came to prominence during the Medieval Era, and then was further developed through the enlightenment..

[00:05:47] Philosophers thought that there were two types of rights. 

[00:05:52] Natural rights, which are the rights that everyone has, regardless of the law. And legal rights, which are the rights that people have in the eyes of the law.

[00:06:06] What these 'natural rights' actually were though, was up for debate. 

[00:06:13] John Locke, the famous English philosopher, focussed on the rights of every man to life, liberty, and property, but the discussion of natural rights was mainly a philosophical one, and there wasn't the same kind of consensus around them that we have today with these thirty 'inalienable' human rights in the UN's Declaration of Human Rights.

[00:06:40] In the 18th century, there were two events that had a profound impact on the development of human rights, and sowed the seeds for what we have today.

[00:06:53] Firstly, in 1776, the Declaration of the Independence of the United States of America, which codified the rights of citizens of this new country.

[00:07:06] And then, thirteen years later, in 1789, the French Revolution, and the publication of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which listed seventeen different articles that set out the rights of man, a lot of which we would recognise today.

[00:07:27] But there were some notable things missing. 

[00:07:32] Specifically, these rights were the rights of mankind, of people, but they mainly applied to men, not to women.

[00:07:44] And secondly, there was nothing against slavery. 

[00:07:49] To us, in 2020, this might seem strange, hard to believe, and when you look at what was in the declaration, it does seem quite contradictory.

[00:08:03] The first Article of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen reads:

[00:08:09] "Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can be founded only on the common good."

[00:08:18] Yet slavery was still accepted, and it wasn't abolished in all of the French colonies until 1848, almost sixty years later. So while they declared that all men are born and remain free and equal in rights, slavery was allowed - it was literally the opposite of remaining free and equal in rights.

[00:08:45] So yes, of course, these declarations were a step forward, and were small improvements on the journey towards our current understanding of Human Rights, but they definitely were not without contradiction.

[00:09:01] Then the real developments that led us to where we are today came after the end of the Second World War.

[00:09:10] The world had just experienced two horrific conflicts, where humans had done terrible things to other humans. 

[00:09:19] The United Nations was founded in 1945, and there was a feeling, at least among the members of this new global organisation, that there needed to be a global declaration of human rights that applied to every human on the planet, no matter what country they came from, their gender, their religion, the colour of their skin, or anything else that might differentiate one person from another.

[00:09:49] These were to be inalienable rights, rights that cannot be taken away.

[00:09:55] And the result of this was this declaration, in 1948, with the 30 articles setting out what these rights actually are.

[00:10:06] Now, it's important to note that these rights aren't binding, the UN doesn't make the law, and the Declaration of Human Rights isn't a global law.

[00:10:19] And this means, on one level, that it is easier for countries to break them, or at least not respect them.

[00:10:30] And whether this is the more obvious example of people being imprisoned or executed for speaking out against the ruling party, or examples that not everyone might think of as violations, such as the right to have protection against unemployment, governments and countries violate this treaty almost every single day.

[00:10:56] And other than some international condemnation, there often isn't a huge amount that gets done - individual interests, normally economic or security-related, come first. 

[00:11:12] And this is why we have situations like the United States failing to condemn the murder of the Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, or the majority of the developed world failing to criticise the treatment of protestors in Hong Kong, or of the handling of the Black Lives Matter protests in the US. 

[00:11:34] All of these incidents would classify, technically speaking, as violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

[00:11:43] So it's probably more accurate to say that countries often consider human rights as guidelines - things that they should aspire to, but despite the fact that they are defined as inalienable, impossible to take away, their importance seems to be cherry-picked - they are considered hugely important and non-negotiable when they suit your goals, but when they don't, they are ignored. 

[00:12:17] They become an inconvenience that gets in the way of your agenda.

[00:12:23] From waterboarding prisoners in Guantanamo Bay to herding up minorities in prison camps in Xinjiang province in China, both in the name of 'national security', it's clear that especially large and powerful countries often just ignore human rights when they don't suit their agenda.

[00:12:46] This isn't the only criticism of human rights though, that they are easily and frequently ignored.

[00:12:55] Another that was a criticism when the declaration was first signed, and is still a criticism now, is that it takes a Western approach, a Western view to human rights.

[00:13:09] The whole idea of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is that it is meant to be 'universal', it is meant to apply to you whether you live in California or Cameroon, Paris or Paraguay. 

[00:13:24] But it was pushed forward at the UN by a majority Western group, and was actually only signed by 48 countries, so only 48 of the total of 193 countries that there are now.

[00:13:40] The reason for this was back in 1948 there were only 58 members of the UN, the countries that have joined since then only got independence afterwards.

[00:13:54] But if you're thinking, hang on, it was signed by 48 countries, but there were 58 countries there, who voted against it?

[00:14:05] In fact, no country actually voted against it, but 10 either abstained, they said that they wouldn't participate for or against, or just didn't participate.

[00:14:19] But this was almost the same as voting no - they just didn't want to go down in history as being 'anti' human rights. 

[00:14:29] These countries were ones that formed part of the former USSR, then South Africa and Saudi Arabia.

[00:14:39] They didn't vote for it because it proposed things that were fundamentally opposed to how they had run their countries - for the countries in the USSR, freedom of movement within the country wasn't allowed, in Saudi Arabia the idea of equal marriage rights and that everyone has the right to change their religion wasn't appreciated, and South Africa was still an apartheid country, so a lot of the declaration was completely the opposite to how that country was run.

[00:15:15] So, depending on what country you are from, you may or may not agree with everything in the Declaration of Human Rights.

[00:15:25] Certainly, the 30 individual rights in the declaration have evolved from lots of ideas and principles that existed in various shapes and forms in Western countries. 

[00:15:40] Yes, it is intended to be universal, but some of the ideas in it have formed part of various Western norms for longer than they have in other countries, and so the criticism is that it has forced a western view onto non-western countries.

[00:16:01] It's also worth noting that, while we put this declaration up on a pedestal and talk about how marvelous it is, there are certain things that aren't on it that you might expect would be on it.

[00:16:18] Perhaps the most obvious one, and one that is frequently brought up by Amnesty International is the death penalty. 

[00:16:27] reads 'No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading

[00:16:47] You could interpret that as suggesting that nobody has the right to take away the life of another human, but it is not clarified. 

[00:16:58] And of course, as of 2020, 58 countries around the world still have the death penalty. And of the ten most populous countries in the world, the 10 countries with the most people, all but one still have the death penalty.

[00:17:17] And lest we forget, the self-proclaimed leader of the free world, the United States of America, still has it.

[00:17:25] So, it is interesting to ask ourselves where human rights are going. 

[00:17:32] If we look at what people just over 200 years ago thought as the most amazing developments, with the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen in France, and consider that some of the things that they did back then are now considered horrendous and barbaric, I wonder what people 200 years from now will think about some of the things that we, as humans, are doing now.

[00:18:01] Will people 200 years from now feel the same way about humans in 2020 as about how we feel about things like slavery, that it is almost unfathomable how it was tolerated?

[00:18:17] Something that is already getting more attention from a human rights point of view, and is becoming more and more important as the Earth's population grows, is how climate change is forcing us to think about shared usage of the planet. 

[00:18:34] There is a growing view that environmental rights are human rights - that everyone deserves the right to land, shelter, water, food, and air. 

[00:18:47] And in a world where sea levels are rising and land is being lost, rainforests are being chopped down, water supplies are being disrupted, droughts are causing food shortages, and even the air is being polluted, it is clear that these rights are not rights that exist for everyone, equally.

[00:19:12] But the difference here is that, instead of the oppressor being the police battering down your door, or another human forcing you into a truck and taking you to a different country, the oppressor is firstly less easy to see, and secondly, it isn't just one person. 

[00:19:35] It's millions of people, billions of people, all of whom are contributing a little bit, but with some more than others. 

[00:19:45] And this, of course, makes it incredibly difficult to point the finger, to assign blame. 

[00:19:52] So although 70 years ago in Paris, at the signing of the Declaration of Human Rights, people may have thought, great we've cracked it, it certainly looks like our own understanding of what constitutes human rights is not fixed, and will need to be adapted as the world changes.

[00:20:14] And even though we may agree on what these human rights are, we aren't any closer to agreeing what can be done to stop them being violated.

[00:20:27] OK then, that is it for today's little jaunt into the world of Human Rights.

[00:20:35] I know it wasn't a particularly happy ending, but it is fascinating to think how this man-made concept was created, has evolved, and will continue to evolve. 

[00:20:47] Philosophy is forever changing and adapting, and it will be amazing to see how our customs and norms adapt as the world does.

[00:20:59] As always, I would love to know what you thought of the show. You can email hi - \hi@leonardoenglish.com.

[00:21:07] As a final reminder if you are looking for all of the bonus episodes, subtitles, key vocabulary, and transcript, then you can get all of that over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:21:21] And if you want a final, super easy way to make me very happy, and help other people find the podcast, then please do leave a review in your favourite podcast app. I read every one, and they all put a smile on my face.

[00:21:36] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:21:42] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF PODCAST]