THE concept of human rights isn’t new, nor does it just originate from western civilizations. Principles of ethics, justice, and human dignity can be traced back to ancient times in all societies.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights sets out a broad range of fundamental rights and freedoms to which all of us are entitled. Human rights are the basic rights inherent to all human beings which include the right to life and liberty, personal security, freedom from torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the rights to health, education, and an adequate standard of living, freedom from discrimination and freedom from arbitrary arrest, among others.
To commemorate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, Human Rights Day is observed every year on December 10.
In preparation for the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which will be celebrated on 10 December 2023, the United Nations and other human rights agencies are launching a year-long campaign to showcase the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by focusing on its legacy, significance and relevance and most of all, the essential role of activism.
Human Rights Day is celebrated to raise awareness about people’s social, cultural, and physical rights and to ensure the welfare of everyone.
It is also the time to recognize and appreciate the achievements of all advocates and activists. To reflect on their selfless dedication to promote and advance causes for the benefit of everyone.
Sadly, many people see political and social advocacy and activism from the perspective of left or right, democracy and communism. And they are usually perceived as trouble makers and leftists or communists without realizing that all the progress and developments regarding changes in unjust systems like slavery, issues on labor, economy, government structures, environment, gender discrimination, oppressive laws and corrupt practices, violence, advancing the rights of people with disabilities, gender related violence, etc., were all attained through activism.
Activism is necessary for a healthy democracy. We need to stand up for our rights as well as the rights of others. We need to take action in our own daily lives, to uphold the rights that protect us all and thereby promote the brotherhood of all human beings.
Basically, it answers to God’s commandment of loving others as you love yourself.
However, we need to acknowledge the reality that progress and change are hard won. It isn’t enough to talk about freedom and respect for human rights; we must all work for it. And if we keep silent or do nothing in the face of injustice, we are part of the problem.
Activism is quite simply taking action to effect social change; this can occur in many ways and a variety of forms. Often it is concerned with social, political, economic or environmental change.
Activism is action on behalf of a cause, action that goes beyond what is conventional or routine. The action might be door-to-door canvassing, condemning injustices through alternative radio, public meetings, protest rallies, fasting, petition signing, making statements, letter writing to politicians.
The welfare of the general public is not a spectator sport. We must participate in the process of creating a culture of acceptance, respect, equality, justice, and peace. Putting human rights ideas into practice can help us create the kind of society we want to live in. Human rights are an important part of how people interact with others at all levels in society.
Unfortunately, human rights violations continue all over the world despite all the positive developments.
An example of this is in the area of Indigenous Peoples Rights. Issues of violence and brutality, continuing assimilation policies, marginalization, dispossession of land, forced removal or relocation, denial of land rights, impacts of large-scale development, abuses by military forces and armed conflict, and a host of other abuses, are a reality for indigenous communities around the world.
It is as much true here in the Philippines, despite the signing into law on October 29, 1997 of Republic Act 8371, otherwise known as the Indigenous People’s Rights Act or the IPRA Law. This is considered though as one of the world’s most advanced laws when referring to Indigenous People’s Rights which made the Philippines the first country in Asia to give recognition to the plight of Indigenous Peoples.
Nevertheless, Indigenous human rights defenders are increasingly targeted as terrorists for promoting and protecting guaranteed rights.
Peaceful efforts by Indigenous Peoples to maintain their cultural identity or exercise control over their traditional lands, which are often rich in resources and biodiversity, have led to accusations of treason or terrorism.
The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) is the agency of the national government of the Philippines that is responsible for protecting the rights of the indigenous peoples of the Philippines. It is the primary government agency that formulates and implements policies, plans and programs for the recognition, promotion and protection of the rights and well-being of IPs with due regard to their ancestral domains and lands, self-governance and empowerment, social justice and human rights, and cultural integrity.
Their involvement with the National Task Force to End Local Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), the multi-agency body created by virtue of Executive Order No. 70 which mandated a ‘Whole-of-Nation’ approach in dealing with “rebel groups”, is alarmingly an impediment to their mandate.
Supposedly, the mandate of NTF-ELCAC is to prioritize and harmonize the delivery of basic services and social development packages in conflict-affected areas and vulnerable communities, facilitate societal inclusivity and ensure active participation of all sectors of society in the pursuit of the country’s peace agenda.
Yet, all it became famous for is branding as communist or leftist any organization or individual who criticizes or protests against shady government policies and other controversial issues. This practice is otherwise known as red-tagging.
Wikipedia defines red-tagging in the Philippines as the malicious blacklisting of individuals or organizations critical or not fully supportive of the actions of a sitting government administration in the country.
This trend towards the use of legislation and the justice system to penalize and criminalize social protest activities and legitimate demands made by indigenous organizations and movements in defense of their rights is one of the most serious shortcomings in human rights protection.
Indigenous peoples face red-tagging and detention or even death due to the criminalization of social protest activities.
We didn’t choose to become activists. We were activated. We cannot sit on the sidelines while our people are exploited, taken advantage of or defrauded, and persecuted.
The NCIP’s role in the NTF-ELCAC is counter-productive. In the first place, aren’t they supposed to be biased toward the plight of Indigenous Peoples as provided in the IPRA Law?