Do you view slavery, racism and torture as things of the past?
Well, no matter how much we hide our heads in our westernised sand, these things will not go away. Most researchers on h2g2 will not come across slavery and torture on a daily basis but that does not mean that they do not exist.
We all like to think that humanity is above such things. And even more, we like to think that we have nothing to do with it. But whether you like it or not, you are almost certainly contributing in some way to the pain and suffering of those less fortunate than ourselves.
For example, look at your clothes. Look at the labels. Do they say where they are made? Do you think that the workers who made them get a fair wage and reasonable working hours? If they are made in Wrexham then they probably are, but my clothes are labelled as 'Made in Sri Lanka', or China, or Pakistan. In Britain we are always complaining about the legal minimum hourly wage, but what we never think about is that our hourly wage is more than some people work in a month - and I bet they work an awful lot harder and longer hours than us, as well.
The International Labour Organisation estimate that there are about 250 million children between five and fourteen years old working in developing countries alone. 120 million of these work full time - meaning that they are denied any form of decent education.
And that's just what happens officially and legally. Racism and torture are certainly not admitted by any government, but anybody with eyes can see what is really happening in many countries.
The Four Freedoms
The rights of people everywhere were summarised by Franklin D Roosevelt into four core Freedoms. The United Nations attempts to uphold these concepts. The first two (Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion) are cultural; they are protected by continually changing laws, and concern attitudes of the mind rather than the body. The latter two (Freedom from Fear and Freedom from Want) depend more on the environment in which people live in, and whether they are being provided with their basic human needs.
Freedom of Speech
Freedom of speech allows a man to speak without fear of punishment. Many countries and political systems, past and present, have been highly organised and prosperous but disallow freedom of speech, resulting in the warping of minds of its people and the eventual collapse of all order.
When the United States was first formed, one of the first things that the people were concerned with was freedom of speech; in particular freedom of the press to publish without restraint from Congress. In contrast, Nazi Germany denied almost all forms of freedom of speech. This was in order to crush individualism, and press all people into a mould reflecting the thoughts and ideas of Hitler. Efficiency and unity of people was created by deposing of all talkers - at universities, on the radio, at church; books were burnt; and people were put to death for nothing more than listening.
Although Nazi Germany is long gone, it is foolish to think that the same ideas and lack of moral standards have vanished as well. More recently we have seen brief insights into the iron regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq; poverty-stricken men and women celebrating over the capture of an enemy NATO soldier; and 'official' reports from Iraq claiming that every single bomb targeted for military installations had destroyed a hospital, or a school full of children.
For freedom of speech to reign, the individual must have something to say. People should not be denied education and access to information. And they should have the means to express their opinions; newspapers, radio, television and the internet should be free of penalties or close control from the government or any other power.
Freedom of Religion
Freedom of religion implies that the individual can follow interests and moral values of his own choosing, as long as they transcend the requirements of the community. This, again, has much to do with individualism. The state should not impose an 'approved' religion on the masses; neither should the government or leaders themselves offer themselves as an object of worship.
Freedom from Want
Humans are perfectly capable of producing basic needs in abundance to their own requirements. This should mean that there is more than enough for everybody. Sadly, this is not true worldwide; despite the improvement in universal communications and transport, and the existence of organisations like the United Nations, the majority of humanity is lacking in some basic need. However, this need not be so; we have the resources and ability to conquer this last great barrier between nations and peoples.
With the relatively new concepts of globalisation and united hopes, we have - intentionally or not - bestowed on ourselves a responsibility greater than providing for our own selves and families. Each human is now partially responsible for a great many more. When we vote, we are not only voting for our own requirements, but that of every single other person in our country. And, if we want to, we can extend that responsibility to a much more important matter - that of people lacking in basic requirements more than ourselves.
Ideally we should all have the right to work; the right to get paid fairly for that work; the right to adequate nourishment; the right to shelter; the right to medical care; and other less basic needs, such as the right to security, and the right to be educated sufficiently. These are things that man used to have to procure for himself; but with the advanced systems of modern man we can help each other to these requirements; even those distant, geographically or socially, to ourselves.
Freedom from Fear
Fear, like want, is another concept which man has from an early stage attempted to conquer and become free from. But equally, we have always known fear to a certain extent.
We should have the right to be free from fear, whether it be from our political regime or from other individuals. Many political systems rely on fear to organise their people; this denies a basic human right. We should be free to live under a government that is tuned to our needs, not its own. We should not live afraid of anybody with greater capabilities than ourselves - the conquerors, the leaders, the rich, our employers, those who are stronger, those with weapons. And there should not be any social reason for fear or prejudice - whether against skin colour, sex, ability, or any other differences.
Weapons, machinery and human forces for enforcing peace may be indispensable; but they must be controlled in a moral and humanitarian way. To establish freedom from fear, we must learn to control ourselves as well as others. This is one of the founding concepts of the United Nations. In 1942, representatives of many countries came together to sign a declaration supporting peace in the post-war period. This organisation has proved invaluable in many situations, but has also proved to be not entirely successful - many countries have agreed to disarm their nuclear arsenals, but many have not - including the United States of America.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
This declaration is a summary of specific rights that each person is morally entitled to, and explanations of exactly what they mean. Many countries include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in their charters or laws. It can be read in many different languages - including, fortunately, English - at www.unhchr.ch/udhr.
Helping to uphold human rights
The question is, not what humanity is doing about this, but what can I do about this?
Every person should uphold the aforementioned principles themselves. We should treat our families, friends and colleagues fairly; and we should not turn a blind eye when they are in need.
On a wider scale, we can actively support organisations and groups which uphold human rights principles. Below is a list of such organisations; most of them offer some way in which you can get involved and help.
Amnesty International is a campaign movement which promotes human rights such as listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other standards, worldwide. They currently are running a petition against torture, which you can sign on h2g2.
They also run a campaign entitled Act Now, which is the easiest way to get involved. Among other methods, they have an email/SMS system which lets you know immediately when a crisis arises, and who you can write to or email to protest, or help remedy the situation.
On h2g2, John the Gardener has created a Tibet Links page. Here you will find links to many very interesting and informative web sites devoted to creating awareness of Tibetan culture, Tibet in exile, and the plight of the Tibetan people under the Chinese military occupation.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission works to strengthen the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations, and to protect and promote their collective rights.
Through this commission, the indigenous people of Australia have finally been given authority over decisions affecting the governing of their lives.
Anti-Slavery International promotes the eradication of slavery and the freedom of people subjected to it.
Their definition of slavery includes slavery and the buying and selling of people as objects; trafficking of women and the predicament of migrant workers who are trapped into servitude; debt bondage and other traditions which force people into low status work; forced labour; forced prostitution; abusive forms of child labour; and early or forced marriage and other forms of servile marriage.
ASI particularly focuses on the rights of vulnerable people such as women, children, migrant workers, refugees and indigenous people.
Clean Clothes Campaign
The Clean Clothes Campaign is a network of organisations, such as trade unions, consumer organisations and youth groups, who aim to improve the working conditions in the garment industry worldwide.
Food and Agriculture Organization
The Food and Agriculture Organization aims to raise nutrition and standards of living, and improve agricultural productivity.
Human Rights Watch
The Human Rights Watch protects human rights globally. They help victims take action against discrimination, political oppression, and inhumane conduct in wartime.
International Commission of Jurists
The International Commission of Jurists is a non-governmental organisation which upholds the standards of law and order, and the legal protection of human rights throughout the world.
International Committee of the Red Cross
The International Committee of the Red Cross aims to help all victims of war and internal conflict, and attempts to restrict armed conflict by upholding humanitarian rules. It does not only work in the midst of conflict to help the injured and weak, but also helps resolve conflict politically.
Jubilee 2000 aims to bring debt relief to the world's poorest countries. It campaigns to major governments and the United Nations to have pity on the third world and allow people living in poverty to have relief from the financial burdens of their governments.
Save the Children
The International Save the Children Alliance is a group of independent non-profit organisations working to secure the rights of children, and ensure all children a future of hope and opportunity.Universal Rights Network