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The Face of Human Rights

In what ways are human rights violated — and protected — around the world?

April 30, 2005

In what ways are human rights violated — and protected — around the world?

We've all heard it before haven't we? The bombings and massacres in religious temples, starving children staring at the camera with wide eyes, huddling on a street corner, the sunken eyed men clinging to loaves of bread at a refugee camp, a woman living out of a shopping cart with her kids trailing behind her. We've all seen and heard this before — or have we?

It is so easy these days to numb one's self against the world's human rights violations. After all, most of us will return home after work and dinner, nestle in bed with the covers pulled close and forget the troubles of the world. Suffering disappears with a click of the TV, a muting of the radio, a close of the door.

However, in "The Face of Human Rights," the compilation of photographs, stories and facts are not simply terrible images of war and pain, but a pensive mix that provokes emotion and thought on the nature and situation of human rights.

It is not so easy to forget the image of a Cuban boy crying in a closet as a man holding an automatic weapon tears him away from his family. It is not so comfortable to disregard the series of pictures depicting an Indonesian man being chased, surrounded, trapped and ultimately shot to death by militia.

And it is not so simple to ignore the image of a bombed open-air market with bodies lying still on the dirt road, the blood mixing in with the juice of oranges, spinach, peaches and cherries.

"Human rights are not a gift — they are imperative," say editors Walter Kälin, Lars Müller and Judith Wyttenbach. They are careful to provoke and inform readers of various human rights issues around the world having chapters on key concerns such as hunger, death penalty, healthcare, housing, discrimination, hunger, education and religion — to name a few.

The appearance of the book might be misleading. Three inches thick and over 700 pages, it is the size of a textbook — and at first sight seems intimidating like one.

But within the covers, the 700 pages are color coded by chapter with foldout pages and charts and graphs on topics from the demographics of poverty to personal stories of violence.

The photographs and text complement each other and the end result is a refreshing look at human rights focusing on the celebrations and violations of human rights.

The editors define human rights as " legal entitlements of individuals against the state or state-like entities guaranteed by international law for the purpose of protecting fundamental needs and dignity in times of peace and war."

The issue of human rights was not internationally addressed until after World War II, when it was officially recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 by the United Nations.

However, due to the wide-ranging diversity of countries and cultures, the rights described in the Declaration were not legally binding — or specifically defined. It was not until 1976 that 35 countries agreed to abide by the Covenants on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. And it was only as recently as 1990 that 90 states ratified these Covenants on Human Rights.

Today, human rights has become a universally and legally binding concept in which over 100 countries have accepted the Covenants drafted in the 1965 Convention of Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Although the exact definition of human rights has not yet been determined, it aims to uphold rights that protect a person's basic dignity and personal development.

The issue and enforcement of human rights are in a constant state of flux, perpetually shifting according to world events and politics. And even though one may return home at night, throw the car keys on the table, turn off the TV, change into pajamas and climb into bed, this book is a haunting reminder that although the need for human dignity does not change — people can.

Please follow these links to view our series of Globalist PhotoGalleries from “The Face of Human Rights.”

The right to adequate and protected housing.

The right to education.

The right not to be discriminated against.