The United Nations defines human rights as:
“… rights we have simply because we exist as human beings… These universal rights are inherent to us all, regardless of nationality, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status.”
It adds that we are all equally entitled to our human rights, which are universal, inalienable, indivisible and interconnected.
In 1948 the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which for the first time set out the fundamental human rights to be universally protected.
The importance of human rights lies in the fact that they reflect minimum standards necessary for people to live with dignity. They give us many rights like freedom of expression, freedom of the press and the freedom to choose how we live, among many other things. They also guarantee people the means necessary to satisfy their basic needs, such as food, housing, and education.
The UDHR was born after atrocities during the Second World War made clear that previous efforts to protect individual rights and liberties from government violations were inadequate. The modern human rights era can thus be traced to struggles to end slavery, genocide, discrimination and government oppression.
The UDHR says that not only governments but also businesses, civil society and individuals are responsible for promoting and respecting human rights.
However, when a government ratifies an international human rights treaty, it assumes a legal obligation to respect, protect, and fulfil the rights contained in the treaty.
Therefore one of the best ways to promote, maintain and guarantee human rights is to protect them by enshrining them in international and domestic laws and legislation giving individuals the necessary protection to express their views.
Although international human rights treaties and conventions are seen as an effective means of forcing states to apply human rights laws, states have the right to enter reservations to certain parts of these treaties.
Governments, especially those in the Arab world, normally use reservations as a means of avoiding sections or provisions in them that would stop them violating the rights of individuals or groups, on the grounds of incompatibility with Islamic Sharia or domestic laws.
If, however, a country establishes a human rights law, how can this protect public rights and freedoms?
On the basis of international treaties and covenants like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), applying and observing their provisions translates into broad protection for rights such as
- gender equality
- the freedom to form parties and associations
- freedom of peaceful assembly, and free expression of opinions
- the right to practise, or not practise, a religion
- the principle that no one should be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
- the right to liberty and security of person, and freedom from arbitrary arrest
- the right of access to justice, and the principle that people are equal before the law
Similarly, looking at countries that have adopted laws on human rights, such a law might be a binding document, giving activists in various fields, or journalists or writers, the protection of provisions in law should they be summoned for questioning or taken to court, or might even put the government or official institutions on trial if they violate any rights.
Joining international treaties provides the opportunity to monitor states and demand that they amend their domestic or local laws to bring them into line with these treaties.
Media activity and journalism will also be able to flourish as never before in repressive states, since they will enjoy immunity against interference by government bodies, and the rights of free speech and a free press will no longer be left to the interpretation of the security forces.
Likewise, a human rights law will be binding on the security authorities, making it easier for them to be held to account and questioned by local parliaments, and obliging them to justify any action that might constitute a violation against civilians.
Furthermore, the judiciary will not be exempt from being held to account or at least monitored and questioned about any decisions or rulings it issues that do not conform with the established laws.
Based on all of this, do you think the existence of a national human rights law, tied to the provisions of related international covenants and treaties, could improve the human rights situation in Oman and protect individuals?
And what is stopping that from happening?