A backbone in human rights

NORTH VANCOUVER (CUP)—The news we hear or read is often negative and quite depressing. Many of us choose to ignore all of the injustice, war, famine and natural disasters happening around the world and focus on our own positive and happy daily lives. Surely such an approach is much better for our mental health and quality of life—or is it? Why should we care about human rights violations happening around the world, in places we have never been and may never have any personal relations with?

The answer is manyfold, but also quite simple. We are all human, and we are all in this together. Everyone is interconnected. To help another person is in turn helping ourselves.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Maybe altruistic acts exist, but more real than anything is a fear that injustice can spread if we do not stand up for that which is right. If we are not taking human rights issues in the right direction, someone else is leading them in the wrong direction. Nothing is ever standing still. This is why a continual conscious support for our rights as human beings is paramount to our survival.

It is important to remember that human rights violations do not happen in far-away countries where dictators rule by religious law or rebel fighting causes massive exodus and displacement. Human rights issues are all around us in our daily lives, right here in Canada. Our government may use a language that focuses on progress and change, but it is an economic progress in exchange for environmental destruction leading into the dark unknown. It’s a positive spin that will have devastating consequences on our beautiful country, and on us as Canadians.

Not only are crimes against humanity happening right here on our home soil in a direct way; we in the West are also players in the indirect violation of human rights throughout the world. Online child pornography and video sex, a tragedy on the rise affecting many children in Asia—notably Filipino—can only exist because predators from the world’s wealthiest countries can easily get away with it. Resource exploitation is largely thanks to Canadian and other Western companies who operate in nations where there is little government concern over environmental or human consequences. We come from a society of capitalism, the “American Dream” and bottom lines. But due to world wars and genocide, a belief in social responsibility and humanitarianism has been born. Human rights are a relatively new concept for people and nations to swallow, but their vital importance has never been clearer.

So how can people help? What are some easy and effective ways to speak out on behalf of the persecuted and the weak? Online communities focusing on human rights have never been stronger and more effective. There are several that are constantly organizing campaigns to fight human rights violations, environmental issues, corruption and conflict throughout the world. It is free and easy to join these communities and by doing so people can have a large impact through the signing of petitions. Such an action may seem distant and ineffective at first glance, but the collection of tens and even hundreds of thousands of signatures has repeatedly had a very serious and very real impact.

Roxana Saberi’s 2009 case is a great example of how online petitions can help. This American journalist with dual U.S.-Iranian citizenship was sentenced to eight years imprisonment in Iran for “collecting classified information” and spying for the U.S. after being arrested for buying a bottle of wine. After much domestic and international pressure, and the collection of tens of thousands of signatures through many online petitions, she was released. Her eight-year term was reduced to a two-year suspended sentence and she is free. Saberi’s case is one of many examples of how an active international community of online petition signers and human rights activists can make governments and key decision makers take notice and in turn rescue victims from injustice.

The actions you take to help another person may not be so visible in the present, but like the ripples in a pond, our actions, starting small, create large waves. And if karma doesn’t motivate you, never forget the mood enhancing effects that kindness towards others has. The immediate bubbling joy of giving to others or preforming a selfless act, however large or small, is better than anything you can ever receive.

To wait for governments and corporate leaders to take notice and create the change we wish to see is a delusional fantasy. It is individuals that make up the masses, and it is the small daily exchange between two people that changes our world. It is up to us as individuals to improve the situation for human rights throughout our communities and our planet at large. Become a member of an online community that stands up for human rights. Sign petitions and treat those around you, both at home and abroad, to the values of equality and freedom. No one person is any greater or more valuable than another. We are all in this thing together.

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