Saturday, December 9, 2023


We celebrated in a recent event held to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the adoption by the United Nations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), sponsored by International Solidarity for Human Rights (ISHR) and hosted by Miami Dade College, the extraordinary impact of ISHR’s leaders, Devorah Sasha and Elizabeth Sánchez Vegas, creating educational programs throughout the world and seeking to integrate the very fabric of our paths through life and the arts with the idea of human rights. Countries, communities, organizations, and individuals were bestowed awards as friends and advocates of human rights. As I sat there, listening, I could not help but ask myself the question that leads this essay: why should we care?

Carlos Cruz Diez - The Route to Human Rights:
Article 27, the Right to Culture.
This is not a pointless question. The idea that human rights are important and that we should care about them is relatively new, not a given. Pragmatic politics and strategic geopolitical interests have been cited as reasons to overlook the abuse of human rights in certain regions of the world by powerful nations with capacity to make a difference in the protection of these, fairly novel, rights. Multiple political movements, leaders, even religions, have pursued and created systems in which human rights as we know them are systematically abused and violated in name of “the greater good” of the country and their own version of what society should be like. Are such greater goods and interests valid? Should we turn a blind eye to such abuses in the name of such greater goods and interests, even "sovereignty"? Why not?

The idea of the existence of rights that protect and guarantee the existence of individuals gained traction in the 18th century and seeded the American Declaration of Independence. The likes of Locke and Burke laid the modern foundation upon which liberalism is built, culminating in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The adoption by the U.N. of the UDHR in 1948 was part of the apex of liberal thought and action that came in the aftermath of the allied victory in 1945 over the forces of illiberalism channeled through fascist ideology in World War II (more in my essay: Do Human Rights Matter?). The tide of liberalism that enveloped the world after WWII culminated with the collapse of the Soviet Union and what Fukuyama marked as “the end of history,” predicted by Marx, but with a different outcome than the one which that leading theorist of social communism thought would occur (more in my essay, in Spanish: "El final de la guerra fría").

What is liberalism if not the enshrining of the individual as the motor of society, the economy, and progress? If we believe that progress is beneficial for society (as the development of societies that have embraced liberal doctrine would seem to prove), then the potential of each individual must be protected and enhanced, their human capacity supported, their rights protected. To do so is to foster advancement, productivity, and progress. It is in “the greater good” of society and interests of humankind to do so: protect human rights.

For privileged elites, leaders and rulers it is natural to believe that the system they created, know, and have thrived in is the best possible system. After all, they have achieved success in such a system; no need for change, no need for progress, no need for renewal. In fact, if progress has been made to the detriment of their privilege, it must be stopped and reversed. This is a fundamental paradigm of authoritarian rule and tyrants. Human rights within such a paradigm are an unnecessary luxury. The churn of renewal and progress is anathema to tyranny and even hegemony, so human rights are deemed inconvenient.  Individuals are expendable, power and sway over the masses is what counts. This was true during medieval Europe and is just as true in today’s Russia, China, North Korea, and Venezuela.

That peak of liberalism towards the end of last century generated a backlash from those who believed their privileges were threatened by progress.  We now are living in a world in which authoritarian rule is condoned and even celebrated as much as it was towards the beginning of last century, a dangerous precedent. But the idea that human rights are expendable or inconvenient in order to achieve the greater good is a contradiction and unsustainable for any significant length of time. Leaders, tyrants, even countries are transitory, humanity is not. The improvement of health conditions, the reduction of poverty, the dignity of life, and the fairness of justice can only be achieved when human rights are protected equally. Yes, it is a liberal idea and, yes, it is an idea that leads to progress; but such liberalism and progress have created the greatest standards of living that humanity has known in all of its history and is the only proven system that has the potential to create even greater living conditions for more people around the world.

Why should we care about human rights? Why should we care about breathing? Because of life.

Carlos J. Rangel
December 2023

The author with Elizabeth Sanchez Vegas, President of ISHR


We celebrated in a recent event held to commemorate the 75 th anniversary of the adoption by the United Nations of the Universal Declaratio...