Let’s make prioritizing human rights our New Year’s resolution

This piece was originally published on Ipolitics.ca 

As 2019 begins, how can we describe the state of our world in one word? Sadly, hopeful and confident aren’t the first that come to mind. Turbulent. Volatile. Unpredictable. Uncertain. The adjectives we think of come from a deeply unsettled feeling.  

Indeed, if 2018 is our guide, this year will likely roil with an ugly combination of too much conflict in global affairs, too much divisiveness in national politics, and too much bickering about the enormity of the climate crisis.

What better time, then, to look to a different guidepost? One that’s about resistance and transformation? One that puts, at long last, the vision that states embraced when they adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 70 years ago at the heart of world affairs? Not as a secondary thought, taken up only when the necessary measures don’t cost too much, and not as something to be addressed only after we deal with the economy, the environment, armed conflict or national security.

Imagine if our politics and public discourse began instead with human rights; how different those one-word descriptions of our world might be. Equal. Empowered. Dignified. Respectful.

And imagine if we were able to bring that vision to the federal election less than 10 months from now.

We would enshrine gender equality as the very core of universal human rights — and we would understand that doing so is not only essential to the dignity and safety of women, girls, the LGBTI community and all gender-nonconforming people, it’s in the best interest of all humanity.

We would roll back the politics of fear, polarization and bigotry espoused by leaders in the United States, Brazil, Venezuela, Hungary, Russia, the Philippines, a growing number of other countries and, yes, in Canada. Not through angry debates and finger-pointing, but by rejecting hate and demonization, always and absolutely: in our personal conversations, in the media we choose to follow, and at the ballot box.

We would lift up the courageous human rights defenders among us, particularly women’s rights activists, who’ve been vilified rather than celebrated for their passionate commitment to a world in which the rights of all are respected and upheld.

We would starve the armies, rebel groups, militias and terrorists who have waged such agonizing wars — in Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, Myanmar and elsewhere — of the weapons they use to kill and maim civilians, and the royalties from mines and other lucrative businesses that pay for those weapons.

We would finally acknowledge that spewing toxic rhetoric about refugees and migrants — and spending staggering sums of money on cruel and insidious efforts to keep them away — achieves absolutely nothing except greater suffering, and undercuts one of the earliest universal human rights principles: There but for the grace of God go I.

We would at long last understand that reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada is a shared responsibility that rests most heavy on the shoulders of those of us who enjoy the privileges and lifestyles that come from decades of human rights violations against First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people across the country — and that moving forward with reconciliation grounded in human rights is a tremendous opportunity, and, ultimately, a magnificent benefit for us all.

We would also see that the escalating climate crisis is likely the greatest threat to human rights. For that reason, it’s not just for environmentalists, the oil patch and governments to work out the solutions. Universally, the rights of all of us are threatened. Universally, all of us bear the responsibility to prevent climate catastrophe.

These are not mere New Year’s wishes. They must become our collective New Year’s resolution.

Transformation through human rights is long overdue.