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When does the clock of human rights begin?

Mar 23,2019 - Last updated at Mar 23,2019

The new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet addressed the last session of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and stressed the central place of these rights in the quest for better human rights among nations.

Bachelet said that, inter alia, economic, social and cultural rights are basic for the realisation of other dimensions of human rights. When I took the floor to thank her for taking the time to appear before our committee, I asked her whether the placard placed in the entrance hall of Palais Wilson that houses the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) that says “you have human rights since birth” is appropriate. I told her that while I am a Muslim and not a Catholic, I still believe that human rights can, and should, be accorded to the pre-birth of human beings so that they may be protected from all sorts of abuse and violations, including infanticide and unnecessary abortion. I pointed out that the minute that separates birth from the stage prior to it is also entitled to protection accorded to newly-born children. Bachelet did not comment on this issue, and I still wonder why she stayed away from it, presumably to avoid the religious overtimes of the subject.

Thinking aloud about this issue, I still maintain that a foetus, minutes or even days before birth, is also a human being entitled to all the protection accorded to human beings after birth. Limiting the enjoyment of human rights to the period after birth appears flawed and contrary to medical science and common sense.

I have suggested that instead of saying that the enjoyment of human rights begins at birth, the placard should read “you have human rights even before birth” and not “since birth”. Maybe the placard will be changed in due course, but I have a feeling it will be neglected.

I also asked her if it was high time that her office takes stock of where it made a real difference for the human rights campaign. The UN and its human rights offices have been trying desperately to promote human rights across the globe since the birth of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. I insinuated that the pursuit of human rights by her office has not been cost effective, except in a few areas, but not across the board. I suggested that it is high time to make an assessment of the dimensions of human rights where the UN interventions have yet to make a difference.

There are so many UN human rights mechanisms and procedures, including the Human Rights Council, 10 treaty bodies and scores of special rapporteurs, and they all cost a lot of money to maintain. What they succeeded in doing and where they have failed require an evaluation. That is what the OHCHR in Geneva should embark on sooner than later.

Bachelet is a new face that promises to bring new perceptions into the human rights campaign. Much hope is being pinned on her to reinvigorate the entire process from head to bottom. Now the international community expects her to upgrade the human rights process and make it deeper and more effective.

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