Human rights and the liberal agenda

Human rights prevents crime

Most civilized societies have moved beyond these original formulations to ensure greater freedoms and increase happiness. Hardly anyone loses his or her life to crime and state power such as police brutality or the death penalty. Indeed, in societies such as the Scandinavian countries and Japan where there has been decades of human rights observance by the state, the crime rate has been decreasing, and in some instances, is close to zero. 

Perhaps another thought piece on the development of human rights concepts in the past two centuries might be helpful too. But these days we seem to have been set back to the earliest of formulations. Unfortunately it is time to reiterate the basics.

When people say of these killings in the drug war that human rights activists care only for the addicts and not their victims, they are wrong on so many counts. Because human rights advocates care that no one is deprived of his or her right to life, and have always called on the state to protect that right. When human rights advocates call on the state to observe due process before convicting anyone SUSPECTED of addiction, it is to ensure that no one is unfairly condemned by a state that is meant to protect and promote our right to life rather than curtail it.

This, too, is why we oppose the death penalty. When we put emphasis on the government’s wrongs it is because all of us gave that government power to hold guns, run prisons, and hold courts to ensure our well-being. I did not give the criminals power to curtail my freedoms. I did not vote criminals into power, nor did I pay taxes so that they would carry guns and be allowed by the courts to enter my homes if needed, arrest me if needed, and imprison me if needed.

I gave that power to our national leaders and those under their command. And so, indeed, we must all be more concerned when the people who have vowed to protect us – to whom we have given up some of our freedom so that we can all achieve our goals – betray us.

The ordinary criminal has harmed another person indeed and that is why we gave the government power so that it can deal with these criminals effectively. But it is the government that has both harmed and betrayed the individual and society when it uses its powers to kill. This is why it is also standard in most democracies to have a special government agency looking at abuses by the police and military. In the Philippines, we have the Comission on Human Rights.

The duty of the state

In social media recently, someone said that human rights defenders easily blamed PNP Chief Ronald dela Rosa and President Rodrigo Duterte for the drug war killings but wanted to know whom we would blame for the acts of criminals. My answer would be: we still blame the President and the police chief. They are mandated by the Constitution to prevent these crimes and when these are committed, to bring the criminals to justice so that they do not threaten us again.

Our basic laws and decades of experiences in the Philippines and in other countries have shown that criminals can be brought to justice without violating their rights. When a government begins to quibble about human rights, it is essentially saying it has failed in its most fundamental of duties to its citizens.

Who is responsible for any instance of the loss of life or safety in our society? Whoever it is that did the act is of course responsible. But who is implicated when crime or human rights violations occur? The government. The government is the ultimate duty bearer for all the rights violated by our fellow citizens, as well as by the police and the military.

Those of us who have worked for decades on human rights know that rights cannot be divided. The rights of one group (victims of drug crimes or the Rohingya) cannot be traded off for the rights of another group (addicts). There is no such thing as a democracy that applies the rule of law in some instances and not in others. We must fight for human rights for everyone regardless, and in all instances, regardless. To do otherwise will only lead to more harm for everyone. –