The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a beautiful document which contains in it the ridiculously idealistic, laughably naive hope that, one day, each human being on the planet will live with dignity.  Perhaps I am idealistic and perhaps I am naive, but as an individual I believe this is worth upholding.  I am also a citizen of a nation whose government agreed to be bound by this document and to strive for the goals expressed in it.  If we can't maintain this committment - if we can't govern ourselves and our own actions - what hope is there?

Article 5:

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. (http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html)

It's right there, really.  This is a step along the path to dignity.  Religion has failed as a means of maintaining moral behaviour, and has always been inadequate in promoting peace among the different peoples of the world.  In its place, we need a system of ethics that we can all agree on - something we can call absolute, something to guide us.  This document is the closest thing that we have and for that reason I think we should adhere to it.  I don't think any harm can come from pursuing the world described by this document.

I have seen the effects of torture.  I have seen people who have survived it and I've seen people who've been broken by it.  Broken.  I've had adult students flinch away from me - a woman standing 5ft 2in.  I've had an adult student lose bowel control in my class.  I've seen grown men flinching at loud noises.  I've taught the alphabet every day for six months to the same woman, who never retained it and still hasn't.  I've seen scars - cigarette and oil burns, knife wounds, scars that I don't even recognise and can't imagine the source of.  These people have been damaged in ways that I cannot imagine.

Torture also damages the souls of those who perpetrate it.  It's not supposed to be easy to cause someone to **** themselves in pain and fear.  It's not supposed to be enjoyable.  It's not supposed to make you feel powerful.  And yet it does.  When this behaviour gets normalised the person doing it also loses his or her dignity; they too slide down that slope, they become animals.

Someone thought my students had information.  Someone thought they knew something, and that by torturing them, lives might be spared.  Someone thought it was worth it to do this to these beautiful souls.  I'm sorry, but **** that.  You don't know.  You've got no idea whether the information is in there or not, nor whether torture will reveal it or not.  It's not your call.  Nobody ever has the full picture... and nobody has the right to weigh up what's right and what's wrong, who can be tortured and who can't.

Or do we say that it's ok because it's "degrading" but not "cruel"?  Is it ok because it's "treatment" for a legitimate cause, and not "punishment"?  Who makes those decisions?

The perpetrators of torture are the ones with the keys.  Isn't it convenient that it's the ones with the keys who are right?  Aren't we lucky!  **** off.

Torture damages the souls of those ordinary human beings who condone it.  So ******* easy to sit and let the stream of fear enter your life through the television set... so easy to make the decisions.  Who's right and who's wrong.  So easy to say, yes, they deserved it.  Without even knowing what it was they deserved or even why.  When you condone that you harden yourself to the suffering of another human being.  You side with those who damage and destroy.


adjyo adjyo
31-35, F
4 Responses Feb 22, 2009

Thank you for bring this subject to this forum. I work with US-born survivors of sex trafficking. The extreme abuse and torture endured by people within the US is as horrific as torture seen abroad. Human rights are a global concept not seen by the masses. Recent statistics estimate a child is trafficked into sexual slavery or torture every 30 seconds. Actions speak louder than words; in addition to reintegration/recovery facilities, the UN must establish programs to stop torture and the new slave trade.

I teach language and literacy to refugees. The main nations represented among my students are Sudan, Afghanistan, Congo, Liberia and Burma; although there are several others in my classroom. The context of their torture is political.<br />
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You have already voiced the opinion that you take a cold hearted approach to their suffering and you have disrespected them with your "boo hoo" comment. Now that it's out of your system, it doesn't need to be said again, and if it is, I'll delete your comments (as the author of this story, I'm entitled to do so) and cease this discussion. I am not prepared to listen to you or anyone show disrespect for the people I teach.<br />
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You have also insulted me by suggesting that my position is intellectually dishonest, rather than simply stating your own opinion and giving me the chance to answer it. Again, if you can't keep from making such personal comments, I won't engage with you.<br />
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Within those bounds (which I believe are fair), I would really enjoy continued discussion on this topic with you.

Thanks for your comments, Interdimensional. I'll attempt to answer them.<br />
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First, you said that the declaration of human rights is backed by a belief in god. It actually isn't. If you read the preamble, you'll find that it's backed by "faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom"<br />
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You ask who enforces it, and you are right to do so. Anyone can see that it is a problematic issue. Again, in the preamble it is made clear that the member states have pledged themselves to achieve these standards, and therefore "enforcement" isn't the issue; obviously we know this doesn't happen. It also says that, as a last resort, that human beings should be protected by the "rule of law" where their basic rights are being withheld (including their right to be free from torture). Enforcement, then would come from the international community - those other member states who have pledged to uphold these standards.<br />
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Your next comment I find particularly interesting. You will have noticed that I only invoked the concept of "wrong" twice in the story. The first time I would perhaps have been better off using the word "false" as I was referring to the correctness of information, which is a different concept. The second time I was attempting, sarcastically, to voice an opinion that nobody has the right to determine right and wrong. I never once said that torture is wrong. I said it was damaging, I said it denied dignity, but I never said it was wrong.<br />
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Being a fan of Dostoyevsky, or a nihilist, or an existentialist, or whatever you are; you will appreciate why I steered clear of such concepts. Because, as I made clear, I AGREE WITH YOU. In the absence of religion; right and wrong, good and evil are no longer sufficient as a means of managing relations, not on an individual level and certainly not on an international level.<br />
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I'm sure you also noticed the use of the word "ethics" to replace the religious "morals" that are no longer sufficient. They are, by definition, two different things. Morals are dictated by god, ethics are dictated by community, i.e. the ability of our species to live in mutually beneficial societies.<br />
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Where I'm heading with all this is that the "atheistic humanism" which I am espousing takes this ethical standpoint: that certain actions will heighten the ability of the human race to live with itself, and other actions will reduce that ability. It is essentially the same philosophy behind the UN DHR.

Thank you. It's a subject I feel strongly about.