Publications, opinions, and speeches


Rights leave no-one behind

Published on 19/12/2016

This past year has been full of surprises, some pleasant and some not. At the top of the list must be Brexit and Trump; other similar surprises might be looming on the horizon in France and even Germany.

A prominent explanation has been that these are populist uprisings, carried on a tide of discontent from those who have been left out: left out of the economy as their jobs have dwindled or disappeared; left out of politics as elites have gathered power and privilege to themselves; left out of society by preening celebrities and highbrow poseurs; and left out even of their language as they are told how to talk and what to say.

People have said “enough” and are taking their world back.

Or so they think.

Brexiters, many say, will be in for a surprise when withdrawal from the European Union turns out a lot worse than they think, when jobs disappear even faster, when things cost more, and when all they were promised evaporates. Those who made Donald Trump U.S. president are not likely going back to work in a high-paying production line or construction job. At the end of the day, they may well find that casting their singular vote for change really didn’t bring about much change, because the prospects for the kind of change they want are illusory.

But that doesn’t invalidate the feelings or analysis that drove them to cast that vote. They may well have been left out. Their voices and interests may well have been ignored, or at least taken for granted. Their world has unfolded without anyone asking them. The globalized economy, the rise of part-time low-wage work, atrophied schools and health care, rising prices and declining services all have conspired to exclude them from the world they see in advertisements for iPads, vacations, cars and concerts.

In fact, their basic human rights have been ignored. So it’s time to focus on rights, the rights that their governments have pledged to support and protect either in their own national rights documents or by signing international agreements like the UN Declaration.

What are these rights? They are the rights that each person has simply by being a human on this earth. A right to a job that pays adequately and offers good conditions. A place to live that is affordable, of good quality, and where you can’t get evicted without sound cause. A right to enough good food to keep you healthy. A right to medical care if you get sick. A right to safety, and to the protection of the law of the land. Political rights to vote in a fair and transparent system of government. And legal rights to be treated fairly by the courts.

If we focus on rights then we focus on people because rights inhere in all of us. Those who have been left behind have a claim to make. But they need not make their demand in the negative, by voting to leave or to punish. They can make it in the positive by demanding that their rights be recognized and supported in their community and at work, in their schools and at the grocer, when they go to vote and when they go to court.

And they can strengthen their own rights by seeing and respecting those of others.

Rights are the way we get seen as individuals in society. In this time of uncertainty, our rights are something we must all hold on to.


Human rights


In this time of uncertainty, our rights are something we must all hold on to.