A Bahá’í Perspective
As we observe Human Rights Day on December 10, it is opportune to reflect on the relationship between peace, justice and human rights.
Maintaining peace, and avoiding wars and other major conflicts on our planet, are humanity’s main concerns of today. Peace is closely related to justice and observance of human rights: it is a requirement of justice that everyone is treated equally and with dignity. Justice must be applied to all – from whatever nationality, race, gender, religion or ethnic background one may be – if observing human rights is to become a reality.
Observance of human rights and justice towards all will only be possible through conscious belief in the principle of the oneness of humankind, and considering all as citizens of one world and members of one human family. Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, over one hundred years ago stated that: “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens”. Bahá’u’lláh describes the main challenge facing humanity today in the following words: “The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established”.
In order to have world peace, human rights must be observed and protected universally. Such recognition requires the abandonment of prejudices of every kind – race, class, colour, creed, nation, gender, degrees of material wealth – everything that deludes people into considering themselves superior to others.
The recognition of our oneness – the oneness of human family – in the Bahá’í view, gives rise to an elevated concept of human rights, one that includes the assurance of dignity for each person and the realization of each individual’s potential.
Developing our full potential is a human right
Every one of us is essentially a spiritual being, endowed by God with talents and capacities, and that the purpose of our lives is to realize this potential for the benefit of society as well as ourselves individually. Our potential can only be developed through a balanced education. As Bahá’u’lláh says: “Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom”.
Therefore, as one of our basic human rights, every child – whether a boy or a girl – should have equal access to education. However, this is not the case at present.
Furthermore, our children need to be taught from young ages to cooperate with one another and understand and respect each other’s rights. “… education in fundamental human rights sensitizes individuals to the rights of others. It encourages each person to develop a personal commitment to building a broader sense of community. Such education is necessary not only to ensure that knowledge of human rights will be disseminated generally, but also to help build a durable, supportive social order in which human rights are a day-to-day reality for every individual”.
Inequality between women and men and gender-based violence – the theme we actively reflected on for the past 16 Days – is another serious area of concern. It is an injustice against half of the world’s population, and an abuse of human rights.
The Universal House of Justice, the governing council of the Bahá’í international community, in its statement entitled: ‘The Promise of World Peace’ asserts: “The emancipation of women, the achievement of full equality between the sexes, is one of the most important, though less acknowledged prerequisites of peace. The denial of such equality perpetrates an injustice against one half of the world’s population. … There are no grounds, moral, practical, or biological, upon which such denial can be justified. Only as women are welcomed into full partnership in all fields of human endeavour will the moral and psychological climate be created in which international peace can emerge”.
Each right is attached to a responsibility
Each right is attached to a corresponding responsibility. For example, the right to be recognized equally before the law, implies the responsibility to obey the law. Likewise, the right to marry carries with it the responsibility to support the family unit, to educate one’s children and to treat all family members with respect. The right to work cannot be divorced from the responsibility to perform one’s duties to the best of one’s ability. The right to dignity implies that one has to respect others. In the broadest sense, the notion of “universal” human rights implies a responsibility to humanity as a whole.
The Bahá’í International Community states: “the source of human rights is the endowment of qualities, virtues and powers which God has bestowed upon mankind without discrimination of sex, race, creed or nation”, and “to fulfil the possibilities of this divine endowment is the purpose of human existence” andthat “Everyone, individually as well as in association with others, has the right and responsibility to promote the well-being, and respect for the rights, freedoms, identity and human dignity, of all other members of his or her local and national communities, as well as the international community, and to promote the well-being and respect for the identity of these communities as a whole”.
When we all assume responsibility for ensuring each other’s human rights, this can empower all members of our society and give them a new sense of purpose and dignity in life.
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OPINION: Flora Teckie