Human Rights Day 2012
Here are three examples of modern-day challenges that the human rights movement has yet to fully resolve:
• The challenge of sectarian government. Article 18 of the UDHR assures us that "everyone has the right to freedom of... religion." Discrimination against those of minority faiths is clearly not permitted. But to what extent may a constitution be grounded in sectarian values? The issue is met most dramatically today around Islamic states but applies as well to governing documents grounded in many other faiths, not least Christianity and Judaism.
• The challenge of cyberspace. The UDHR was conceived in an era of postal stamps and telegrams. Where privacy ends and legitimate government interests begin fall well outside its contemplation. Governments certainly may not use new technologies to stifle legitimate dissent but in an age of Wikileaks and cyber warfare, clarity around personal privacy and public security is still a work in progress.
• The challenge of climate change. Nothing will have more profound implications for the future of human rights in the 21st century than rising sea levels, expanding drought and the scarcity of resources they and other environmental changes will inevitably bring. The result could be paucity and violence on a scale rarely before seen. But for the most part human rights practitioners regard climate change as a practical problem that falls outside their bailiwick rather than a harbinger of human rights violations with which sooner or later they will have to deal.