THERE IS CONSENSUS IN THE HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL THAT HUMAN RIGHTS ARE UNIVERSAL, INTERDEPENDENT AND INTERRELATED, AS PROCLAIMED IN THE 1993 VIENNA DECLARATION.
As UNESCO knows, homologation is not human rights. What we all need is space to express our own vision, our convictions, our yearnings. We need dialogue, pluralism and always a sense for proportions in balancing competing rights and interests in a manner to serve human dignity.
The phenomenon of “political correctness” poses a grave danger to human rights, because it restricts freedom of expression and leads to intimidation, career-Angst, and self-censorship. It can even entail a subconscious suppression of thinking processes, when we sense that independent thinking becomes dangerous. This means a kind of mental terror – what Germans call “Denkverbote” (thought-blockers).
George Orwell already warned us about “newspeak” and the tendency of both the public and the private sector to manipulate words, to disseminate false or incomplete information, what today we know as “fake news” and “disinformation”. Indeed, it is not only governments that manipulate public opinion, but also private media conglomerates. If articles 19 and 25 of the International Covenant on Civiland Political Rights (ICCPR) mean anything, they mean that in a democratic society everyone must have access to reliable information so that a personal opinion can be formulated. It is this personal opinion that is protected by freedom of expression. It would be very sad if the only freedom of expression recognized by human rights law were the freedom to echo whatever nonsense we heard last night in the telejournal or read in newspapers, Facebook or Twitter.
The danger of neologisms, euphemisms and word-manipulations was recognized by Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland: “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”
Language indeed means something. The word can be more powerful than the sword. But language can be emptied of content and used arbitrarily, today to mean something, tomorrow something else.
International human rights treaty law mandates inter alia the protection of human life, the promotion of the family and respect for religious convictions. Notwithstanding these clear norms of hard law, some governments are busy curtailing pro-life, pro-family and pro-religion activities under the pretext of advancing (imposing) secularism and enforcing the catch-all goal of “non-discrimination”. This is done through arbitrary interpretations of the norms, sometimes in an unreasonably restrictive, other times in an unimaginably expansive manner, essentially corrupting the language of the norms so that the words lose their intended meaning. The result undermines the object and purpose of treaty provisions and erodes the State’s duty to respect the sanctity of life. The proposed “newspeak” promotes abortion under the contradictory rubric “reproductive rights”, same-sex unions as a form of “marriage” (which is specifically defined in article 23 ICCPR as the union of a man and a woman), and even penalizes the teaching the Bible (a grave violation of religious freedom, guaranteed in article 18 ICCPR). In a scenario of cognitive dissonance, pro-life, pro-family and pro-religion are even defamed in a bizarre way as contrary to human rights.
But what human rights are here at issue? There is no human right to abortion (which in some instances is a euphemism for infanticide), nor any human right to adopt children (article 24 ICCPR and the convention on the rights of the child place the interests of the child – not of the “parents” – as paramount, including the right of the child to have a safe childhood and adolescence with affective links to a mother and father, free of potentially traumatic stress).These are not only matters of morals, but of the sanctity of life and of the dignity of the human person. Hence each State must legislate in accordance with established human rights obligations laid down in the ICCPR and ICESCR. Although persecuting religious persons for their beliefs and traditional values undoubtedly contravenes human rights law, in some countries so-called “hate speech” laws are actually being instrumentalized to restrict the fundamental rights and freedoms of a significant part of the population. Such restrictions are incompatible with articles 17, 18, 19, 23 and 24 ICCPR. Moreover, accusing practicing Christians of preaching “hate speech” constitutes in itself a form of “hate speech” against Christians, who are being discriminated in a manner that also violates their rights under article 26 ICCPR.
We should all beware of a “human rights industry” that sometimes responds more to lobbies than to peoples and uses some human rights as weapons to undermine other human rights. For many reasons, we must beware of this new religion of “selective human rights”, which is not based on a holistic view of the human being but on ideological secularization, which necessarily entails a loss of spirituality and identity. It is the human dignity of each individual with his/her own convictions, the right to be oneself, free of intimidation and government surveillance, that deserves protection in law and practice.