What does it mean to violate human rights? Do we know when our rights are violated? If you can answer these questions you probably know that human rights are “the rights a person has simply because he or she is a human being”, which are embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Officially, there is a universal consensus about them. Nevertheless, I sincerely doubt whether this universal consensus is put into practice in the world we live in.
As rights and values are defined and limited by cultural perceptions and there is no universal culture which all human beings identify with, denial of universal rights is frequent in our modern multicultural society. Even though we might think that human rights violations do not occur in the countries we live in, the reality is that no single country is left unaffected.
Human rights violations take many forms and are rampant in developing countries, where government corruption is part of everyday life and resources to fulfill the basic rights of the population are scarce. Extreme poverty and insecurity are the common denominators, which make people even more vulnerable. Without options and government protection, they are often treated as less than human beings. For instance, endless human rights abuses in the form of mass atrocity crimes are being perpetrated in countries such as the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and in the Democratic Republic of Congo; prisons with inhuman conditions and strong repression against freedom of expression have been reported in Cuba, Argentina, Venezuela, China, Malaysia and in many African countries; child labor is particularly common in Haiti and chronic gender-based violence in India, where gang-rapes are frequent. Stoning and religious intolerance have been found in the Middle East and in African countries; cases of systematic torture and arbitrary detentions are committed in countries from South-East Asia and Latin America, where the abuse of non-democratic powers also restricts minorities’ rights; modern forms of slavery such as child marriage and bonded labor are widespread, as well as terrorism; the list goes on and on.
However, we should not make the mistake of believing that developed countries are free from all guilt. Global interdependence has engendered human trafficking and human rights abuses by powerful transnational corporations, which are characterized by forced labor and sexual exploitation. And behind these cruel practices, there are always individual perpetrators who authorize the ordeal and ignore the most basic rights of the victims.
But, do human rights violations affect all of us in the same way? Definitely they do not. Since a victim from a developing country is usually exposed to extremely cruel situations in their home regions, accepting the offer of a “better job” abroad – usually in a developed country – is seen as the only escape. But the job is a fantasy. On arrival in the destination country, isolated and with no knowledge of the language, this person can be forced to work under appalling and deplorable conditions; totally at the mercy of the traffickers. If they escape, they usually end begging on the streets, homeless, where they risk dying without anyone noticing their “absence”. On the other hand, a victim from a developed country can see her social, economic and cultural rights limited or even reduced; as a consequence, the present gap between rich and poor people becomes bigger. For instance, this situation is occurring in some Western European countries where the economic crisis has had a strong impact.
Additionally, more and more people have ended begging in the streets; torture of people who have participated in demonstrations by authority forces is also an increasing tendency concerning human rights violations in some developed countries that suffer from the economic crisis; and discrimination based on skin color, gender, religion or even for just being a “poor” person is increasing, which can even turn into violence or aggression. Human rights are alleged to be guaranteed by law, but despite the multitude of international instruments, governments are rarely willing to ensure that those who profit from vulnerable people are punished; and civil society remains passive towards such injustices.
Reflection on human rights abuses from a global approach is therefore more necessary than ever. The interdependent world we live in makes us all responsible for human rights violations (when we buy products from companies that use forced labor; when we do not take action against corruption and violence against women; or when we do not claim for equal opportunities, to mention a few). Even though it is very difficult to eradicate human rights violations, knowing our rights is the first step. The second consists of attacking discrimination, combating poverty, promoting respectful and tolerant education, and providing access to justice for all. We need to ask ourselves what kind of world we live in when we allow such outrageous practices to persist. We cannot deny the fact of the human condition, which encompasses both the unique and common features of every human being, making us all equal on the face of the Earth.
 According to the United Nations, “economic, social and cultural rights include the rights to adequate food, to adequate housing, to education, to health, to social security, to take part in cultural life, to water and sanitation, and to work”.