If, like me, you listen to the Beeb (that’s slang for the BBC if you didn’t know) every night, these are some of the headlines you expect to hear as soon as you switch on the radio: “Three Marines dead in Iraq”…. “Israel is building more settlements in the West Bank… “The US Health Care Bill is being filibustered”…“Somali pirates highjack an Italian registered freight ship”.
However, once in a while the BBC airs a story that arrests you. While these stories often aren’t the kind that will change the way you look at the world, they will certainly give you pause for thought. One Monday night, I listened to such a story. The BBC reported that, and I quote; “Internet access is ‘a fundamental right’.
The BBC reported that, according to a poll it made, almost four in five people around the world believed that access to the internet was a fundamental right. This survey was conducted through interviewing more than 27,000 adults across 26 countries.
International bodies such as the UN did not remain silent on the issue. Dr Hamadoun Toure, the Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) said that “the right to communicate cannot be ignored,”.
“The internet is the most powerful potential source of enlightenment ever created. We have entered the knowledge society and everyone must have access to participate. Governments must “regard the Internet as basic infrastructure - just like roads, waste and water”.
I love the Internet as much as the next computer nerd; however, I take exception to it becoming a fundamental right. I mean, does access to Facebook really constitute a fundamental right? I wonder, what in the world are people thinking?
While I understand that the Internet is so important that if, God forbid, it somehow stopped working, a lot of people, including myself, would find themselves up a creek without a paddle. But if you understood the genesis of the international human rights movement, you’d quickly realize that we are in danger of dancing on the graves of those who fought so hard for documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
I wonder what people like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rosseau, Immanuel Kant, Thomas Paine (author of The Rights of Man), John Stuart Mill, G. W. F. Hegel, William Wilberforce (who worked towards the abolition of slavery in Britain), Henry Dunant (founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross), Emmeline Pankhurst and Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett ( who were English political activist’s, feminists and leaders of the British suffragette movement, which helped women win the right to vote) and US civil rights campaigners like Malcolm X and Dr King Jr. would have thought about this ‘new’ human right. Most especially when even the ones that are already written aren’t adhered to.
The modern international concept of human rights can be traced to the aftermath of World War II, and the foundation of the United Nations. Article 1(3) of the United Nations charter set out one of the purposes of the UN is to: “to achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, gender, language, or religion”.
These fundamental freedoms, which were specified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) are, among others, the right to freedom from discrimination, the right to life, liberty and security of person, freedom from slavery, freedom from torture and cruel and unusual punishment, the right to personhood, equality before the law, freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention and exile, the right to a fair trial, the presumption of innocence, the right to privacy, the right of asylum, the right to a nationality, the right to property, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the right to participation in government and the right to universal suffrage.
This is a question that I would like to ask you, “Where do we, as a human family, stand on these ‘fundamental human rights”? Not where we need to be is my humble opinion. So why in the world do we need even more frivolous rights? To satisfy those poor bloggers that get censured in China and Iran? I’m certainly not saying that Internet censorship isn’t a tragic fact for many oppressed people, but I cannot understand how giving them the ‘right’ to the information highway will render them any less oppressed.
If however, they were guaranteed the rights that the UDHR states they have, they wouldn’t need the ‘right’ to Internet, it would be a given.
Instead of getting all worked up about all this, why don’t we do all we can to actually guarantee the rights that are already in existence. We are putting the cart before the horse.