I asked my friends what the Kinyarwanda word for “freedom” is and the closest translation I could find was “Umwisanzuro” then my friend argued that it means “not restricted.”
There is no direct translation of freedom because there is not an abstract concept of freedom, so there are various types of freedoms in different nations. We have international human rights organizations pressing for human rights when even they cannot agree what they are. If we ever tried to define an international code of human rights then it would be so vague and lax that it would mean nothing.
Look at China for example, the western model of rights does not prevail there but the Chinese have human rights that guarantee shelter, food, security, a job and healthcare as standard.
Then in the USA where they have all the rights you also have the right to starve, to be homeless, to be a victim of crime, to be unemployed and you can die without basic healthcare in the richest nation on earth. I remember in UK seeing my friends being kicked out by their parents at 18, but in Africa it is my human right to stay at home until I wish to leave.
So what fundamental rights can we agree on? The Millennium Development Goals are a good example that nations can sit down and agree on collective goals and how to achieve them. To do so for human rights would be impossible due to conflicting histories, cultures and interests. As much as USA believes in freedom and democracy, it often finds itself having to compromise this for a wider strategic goal. Like in Tunisia they were aware of the corruption and repression but needed a secular Muslim ally in the war against terror.
To talk of rights without addressing the poverty that oppresses people is pointless, richer countries have better human rights records, or do they? The rich countries get to define who is just, or who is oppressive, mostly on arbitrary criteria based mostly on headlines and hearsay. Eventually these human rights NGO’s will have to learn from development NGO’s. For years, the development NGO’s stood outside shouting at African governments. Some of these development NGO’s have now joined hands with government to effect change and implement policy and Africans have benefited.
To truly effect change, these campaigners are going to have to work with African governments to address security concerns that are often cited as a reason for tougher measures. The question of rights is the oldest in politics, since Socrates and Plato and even before. The question is always about where rights end and begin, which rights supersede others. I have the right to play loud music but not if it bothers my neighbour. It is important that nations define their own rights, USA wrote a constitution that was best-suited to their needs and it has made them stronger.
There are basic fundamental rights we agree on, but nations must achieve those rights in their own context.