The shocking attack on the headquarters of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, was a clear attack on the right to free speech, says Global Minorities Alliance.
Three gunmen shot dead 12 people, including the editor of the magazine, a number of famous cartoonists and a number of policemen. At the time of writing, they are still at large.
Global Minorities Alliance (GMA), a UK-based charity which campaigns for the rights of minority communities the world over, condemns this attack as an attack on freedom.
“There are many countries in the world where people cannot speak freely, or are persecuted because they have refused to bow to censorship,” said Shahid Khan, Vice-Chairperson of GMA. “All violent attacks are atrocities to be decried, but attacks on the right to free speech are against something we all hold dear – the right to speak in our own voices without fear of retribution.”
“France is one of the homes of human rights, as the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was signed there in 1789. Today one of those rights – that ‘no one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions’ – has been challenged.”
“But the people will refuse to bow to this attack on the right to free speech. The journalists who lost their lives today will forever be remembered, and all those around the world who feel silenced by others are standing in solidarity with the French people tonight.”
Why does the term ‘human rights’, like ‘democracy’ and ‘justice’, elicit passionate devotion from some people, but cold scepticism from others?
In truth, unless we can explain what underpins human rights in a clear and consistent manner, any attempt to invoke them in defending human wellbeing risks not just misinterpretation, but outright dismissal.
To understand the real importance of human rights, we need to recognise them as the products of moral agreement reached through intercultural dialogue under conditions of genuine reciprocity. It is when all concerned come to a shared understanding that their wellbeing would be weighed with equal consideration, and that any transgression would be readily condemned by everyone else, that they are prepared to commit to a joint endeavour of delimiting in principle what anyone can be expected to do and not to do in relation to others.
The UN Declaration of Human Rights was an historical milestone in the advancement of collective recognition of the protection to which all human beings should expect. Its declaration was significant precisely because it was made possible by the agreement of the members of the United Nations. A few individuals or countries declaring ‘universal rights’ would ring hollow if others were to regard them as biased or myopic.