The term ‘human rights’ is commonly understood to mean the fundamental rights that inherently belong to every person. In that case, why do people keep harping on it? The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights dates back to 1948. Long before that, the Parliament of England had passed ‘The Bill of Rights’ (1689) and the National Assembly of France, the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen’ (1789). Still, the obsession with human rights continues. It’s the theme, not surprisingly, of Blog Action Day 2013 (16th October).

The simple explanation is that it’s an evil world and human rights are still being trampled upon. But that begs the question: why the continued violations when human rights have been enshrined in national and international bills of rights and groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch keep pushing the idea?

A straightforward answer comes from the great Egyptian diplomat and father of the Arab League, Abdul Rahman Hassan Azzam (known also as Azzam Pasha). Wrote he: ‘As long as men of power are not motivated by ethical conduct, laws, and conscience – by the very perception of their duties – the rights of man will remain in their present state: impossible of realization.’ Mr Azzam called for ‘a new system of ethical conduct’ based on the concept of duty before right: ‘Instead of attempting to equate people on the basis of rights, we should make duty the basis of equality.’

It makes perfect sense. Everyone in the shipping industry was agog when ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 – the so-called seafarers ‘bill of rights’ – came into force in August this year. And yet, there would be no need to talk of seafarers’ rights if only shipowners performed their duties. By the same token, talk of children’s rights, women’s rights and the rights of minorities, ethnic or religious, would be unnecessary if all those concerned were guided by a sacred sense of duty.

Sadly, and tragically, this isn’t the case. ~Barista Uno

POSTSCRIPT: The quotations from Azzam Pasha are taken from his book, The Eternal Message of Muhammad (published in 1938 in Arabic under the title The Hero of Heroes or the most Prominent Attribute of the Prophet Muhammad).

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