I support a rights-based approach because it respects human dignity. The essence of human rights is that they are the best expression we have of recognising the inherent dignity in every human being, and that this dignity is deserving of protection and promotion.
Last year I visited the Stasi museum in Leipzig and learned about the investigatory and interrogatory techniques of the secret police. A regime which looked into every aspect of daily life, aided by modern technology and German record-keeping efficiency. As well as terror for people in daily lives and the arrest, detention and state murder of political dissidents – it has become known as the banality of evil. And yet, what contributed to the fall of the regime was the weekly Monday evening protests in support of human rights and freedom of speech – organised and supported by the Churches.
The ‘Golden Rule’ is a teaching found in many of the world’s faith traditions:
- Love your neighbour as yourself.
- Do to others what you want them to do to you.
- Zi gong (a disciple of Confucius) asked: “Is there any one word that could guide a person throughout life?” The Master replied: “How about ‘shu’ [reciprocity]: never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself?”
- Regard your neighbour’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbour’s loss as your own loss.
- Wish for your brother what you wish for yourself.
- By making dharma (right conduct) your main focus, treat others as you treat yourself.
- Comparing oneself to others in such terms as “Just as I am so are they, just as they are so am I,” he should neither kill nor cause others to kill.
- Precious like jewels are the minds of all. To hurt them is not at all good. If thou desirest thy Beloved, then hurt thou not anyone’s heart.
- Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself.
My work with Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees brings together Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Interfaith organisations in Scotland to work for, and alongside, refugees and asylum seekers.
By working across religious boundaries we seek to both aspire to be a model of the Golden Rule as well as a positive example of cross-cultural collaboration for the common good.
When people are fleeing from war and terror, it is the 1951 UN Refugee Convention which provides the framework for their legal paths to sanctuary. This was created in the aftermath of the Holocaust, as a world still coming to terms with the horrors of Nazism sought to put in place measures which would prevent such genocide and the attempted extermination of an entire people from ever happening again. Working with refugees, it is also apparent that the human rights I take for granted, protected as I am by the European Convention of Human Rights and the UK Human Rights Act, are painfully absent in the most violent regions of the world.
But human rights have to be more than just a legal framework, they have to give expression to the Golden Rule for a globalised, secular world; they have to capture the spirit and promote the remarkable concept expressed by Thomas Jefferson that all women and men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.