Review by Theresa Wolfwood
“What are human rights? They are rights belonging to all by virtue of being human. One can say possessing human rights makes it possible to be fully human.”
Human rights have become so commonly and often carelessly discussed these days that we seldom think about the concept embedded in these words, Avanti makes it very clear.
“The concept of human rights is based on several fundamentals. One is that rights are universally held by everyone. Secondly, rights exist regardless of the legal jurisdiction in which people live and regardless of other localizing factors, such as ethnicity and nationality. ..Thirdly rights are not earned by” good behaviour” or any other kind of meritorious action….they cannot be taken away for perceived “bad behaviour”… rights are inalienable… they cannot be sold, signed away or given away.”
Avanti goes on to explain the recent enshrining of rights in law,, particularly in the last seventy years; but this is not enough rights must be protected in actual practice, but many governments have and continue to violate human rights. And here the author goes back in history to the institutionalization of religious, economic and political power, often espousing rights rhetoric, but in practice violating the rights of many lacking power.
He goes on through history up to the present, globally and in Canada. This is a long journey and defies the briefness of a review, but it it is well worth reading. In recent times he noted the loss of human rights during the Cold War and post-9/11 but also successes of the overthrow of Pinochet, the movement of or rights by Afro-Americans in the USA. In Canada we had a Charter of Rights founded by P.E. Trudeau, but his son voted in favour of Bill C-51, a law that whittles away many rights in the name of ‘security’. We have much work to do here in Canada while supporting the crying need of rights for our sisters and brothers from Palestine to the Congo to those made stateless by being forced by war, oppression, famine and forced exile to become refugees. Universality defines human rights.
With his excellently clear writing, copious end notes and references Avanti has given us an excellent foundation on which to base our knowledge and activism.
“To survive in this bleak new world environment, human rights will need to be pursued and advanced by dedicated activists willing to take on what appear to be immense obstacles. A tall order – but as William Wilberforce and Angelina Grimke and Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King can attest – not insurmountable. “