The Damned and the Dam of Human Rights


By: Gerald F. Witherspoon, Sr.

     Many have said laws are made to be broken. Additionally, Dr. King agreed with Saint Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’ Human rights have spotlighted the reality that laws are broken regardless if they are made to be or not and what one considers lawful another abhors. Human rights, however, are for the most parts a quasi-universal ideology. They have the power to reconcile differences by promoting quasi-universal values. Quasi that is in the sense that the values contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) have not been embraced or accepted universally or by all states within the international community. Nevertheless, the idea of human rights offer a platform for religious dialogue which theologian Hans Kung believes is necessary for global freedom, justice, and peace (Kung 2013). He states, “There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions. There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions, and there will be no serious dialogue among the religions without common ethical standards” (Kung 2013).

The drafters of the UDHR, came from varying religious backgrounds, but were able to concede consensually to the value of a human being and the right to live free from want and oppression (United Nations, 2013). The concept of human rights has connected the world in much the same way as technology, trade, terrorism, and others. Not only have international leaders cooperated for the sake of limiting crimes against humanity, civilians worldwide have internalized and identified with abuses inflicted on others sometimes leading them to abandon former prejudices and advocate for equality. This idea of human rights has led others to cry out against violations they had become desensitized to resulting in a blissful emancipation. Still others view events where human rights are protected as a gross reminder of the cotton-picking (literally) and inveterately shameful condition they are subjected to live in. These are the damned.  These are the humans who despite the UDHR, despite the International Criminal Court (ICC), international humanitarian law, international tribunals, human rights IGOs and NGOs, and other human rights regimes, continue to suffer the unmitigated abuses that the drafters of the UDHR declared to protect. Their cries for human rights protection are not heard. Their hope in the United Nations as a savior is lifeless. To them, all declarations and promotions of human rights are like raising individuals from the dead only to execute them again.

The same way religious adherents lose faith in their leaders after witnessing countless occurrences of inconsistency, hypocrisy, partiality, impunity, and other political malfunctions, state and non-state actors may lose faith or necessary confidence to realize the blockbuster of human rights. Many religions put forth ideas that, when embraced, inspire people to cultivate empathy for others and work toward a reconciliation of differences. However, once people lose faith in a religion that once bound them to the chords of a virtuous life, some dart forth violently and aimlessly respecting no conceptualization of restraint. No man or woman, at anytime, anywhere, has said away with freedom or worshipped a god, governor, or government for denying him or her things which he or she so earnestly desired. Nevertheless, the perduring state of international anarchy leaves some to be inevitably damned by their inability to access protection of their human rights. Without a vision the people perish.

The mere existence of religion does not eradicate the presence of evil, the existence of laws does not eradicate crime, and human rights regimes do not eradicate human rights violations. The quasi-universal idea of human rights is not an omnipotent savior. It is more like a dam; it stems the tide of gross inhumanity. The height of that dam and its ability to stem the tide is contingent on the ability to expand or reconcile the current definitions to include the values of those currently in opposition. If this proves to be impossible, human rights will have provided a legitimization and justification for the majority to rule the weak, if the majority agrees on the rights afforded to all humans.


Kung, H. (2005, March 31). Ethics. Retrieved November 31, 2103, from Santa Clara University:

United Nations. (2013). Documents. Retrieved November 20, 2013, from United Nations:


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