Tuesday, June 07, 2005

On human rights, Part IV

Okay, so today we look at articles 5 and 6 of the UDHR, and it's not bad timing, considering an ongoing debate in the comments thread of my last post over at Hey Jenny Slater. I proposed that the soldiers responsible for the abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo might have been the result of poor leadership reinforcing that kind of behavior, rather than depravity and inhumanity on the part of the troops themselves. A commenter insisted that I hate America and our troops and want to poke them all in the eye with a stick, and it went back and forth like that until I got tired and went to bed.

Article 5.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6.

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

But what does this mean for me?

These articles seem fairly basic, but they've got a lot of meat to them, especially the first one. Article 5 doesn't just prohibit torture; it also prohibits cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. So if you're in captivity in any country in the world, their responsibility doesn't stop with just not beating you. They also have to take care not to strip you naked and wet you down with a fire hose, not to force you to simulate oral sex with other prisoners, not to sodomize you with anything they happen to have lying around, not to sic their dogs on you, and not to attach electrodes to your genitalia. Obviously, taking pictures with a big ol' grin on their faces is right out, if they're smart.

Article 6 is significant because it says that everyone has the right to recognition as a person before the law. It doesn't say "everyone who doesn't look like a terrorist," it doesn't say "everyone who's probably not guilty of a crime," it doesn't specify. Everyone gets to enjoy the rights included in this Declaration, and if you go to Saudi Arabia and get arrested for proseletyzing, whether you're guilty or innocent, whether they like you or not, they have to respect you as a human being, not some little chew toy that they can bat around for their own amusement. If you get picked up in Basra for hanging out with terrorists and/or cab drivers, ditto.

Just answer the question already.

It means that no matter what you've done or who you are or where you are in the world, you can't be tortured - to any reasonable definition of the word.

Part I: The Preamble
Part II: Articles 1 and 2
Part III: Articles 3 and 4

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