Victims of progress


Human Rights

Human rights, as explained by the great English philosopher and thinker John Locke, are natural and unalienable rights (life, liberty, and property) inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, sex, color, religion or language. "All men are created equal", everyone is entitled to the human rights without any discrimination. Most human rights are guaranteed by the Constitution, state laws, and international treaties. International human rights law promotes and protects human rights by laying certain pressure upon governments. But even though there are many laws created to protect everyone's human rights, certain people are being excluded from their rights by different levels of government, such as the poor homeless whose liberty is limited by the state government, Zapatistas whose life and property is taken by the Mexican National Government, and French Muslims whose freedom of religion is violated by the French National Government.

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Los Angeles is once a beautiful and luxurious heaven. But now Los Angeles state government is fighting war, a war with its own citizens living inside the state. "Fortress Los Angeles: The Militarization of Urban Space (Davis, 1)", this is the title Davis gave to his research paper, but it is also his feeling toward the state of Los Angeles. Everywhere in the city is the frontline of war. Stop building toilets, special designed bus benches, fancy garbage to protect fishheads and stale French fires, and outdoor sprinklers, those are all "policy decision" made by the government to fight the city's war on the poor homeless. They tried their best to eliminate or remove homeless from the city by violating the human rights that homeless should be entitled to. But while the government is violating the human rights, they claim that they are promoting human rights by protecting "people" from danger, but they exclude homeless from the definition of word "people". Collective human rights, those are what government is claiming about. They always try to protect majority's "rights" by excluding certain people's "human rights". Rights and Human Rights, huge differences, but government never recognizes it, they just called them human rights regardless of the differences. They make the policy that will discriminate and deny the liberty of homeless to protect majority from possible danger. The government should not define homeless as dangerous just because some homeless people are dangerous and harmful. "For public-housing tenants and inhabitants of narcotic-enforcement zones, the loss of freedom is the price of "security" (Davis, 6)" As stated by the author Mike Davis, one of the three primary human rights, liberty is taken by the government from the homeless to "ensure" other people's safety from possible danger, this should not be called collective human rights, but the power of government to protect people who make profit for the government. Similarly, people, especially children, in Central and South America are excluded from the protection of human rights imposed by the law. Their organs will be taken without their permission and sold to other rich countries, leave them with a horrible body for the rest of their life. "The organ-stealing stories were told, remembered, and circulated because they were true at that indeterminate level between the real, the surreal and the uncanny (Scheper-Hughes, 36) Even though organ stealing is so wide spread and known by everyone, Government never tried to stop it, or maybe it is even promoting it to make profit. So it is clear that poor homeless is excluded totally from the protection of government for their human rights, even if the constitution, and international laws expressly guarantee everyone will be treated equally by the government. Only liberty is taken by the state government from homeless, but in some area even life and property is taken by the national government.

"On New Year's Day, 1994, Zapatista rebels in Chiapas, Mexico, confronted the Mexican government with demands for basic human rights (Messer, 319)." That is the start of the revolution inside the border of Mexico and the reason why Zapatistas fight against the Mexican government. People in Chiapas were discriminated against, their only property, land is also taken by the government. With nothing to lose, they started revolution, and created a border within the Mexican border. In the video, a place called Chiapas, the life of Chiapas people was presented. They were poor before revolution, but with the land they own, they can still live. But the Mexican government took the land from them to develop modern cities which cause Chiapas people to be abused by riches. Again, it is the problem of collective human rights conflicting with individual human rights. This time national government claims that they are protecting the benefit and rights of people inside Chiapas while taking away everything they own and force people there to become terrorists. Maybe war is not a right choice, but it is Chiapas people's only choice. Without revolution, they are all going to die due to the poor condition there. Collective Human Rights, as claimed by the national government, is just a joke. Without individual human rights, no collective human rights can be achieved. Without those lands, all Chiapas people are going to hunger to die, then what would be the use of collective human rights toward the dead people? Life, liberty and property, only those three primary human rights being protected well, then other things can be done by the government. Similar conditions occur in the process of progress. People and place which are being "progressed" have lost many. People would lose the right to their every day practice because the land is taken by the government. They are forced to change their diet which causes new diseases to appear in the local places, and reduce the health condition of the local people. "Overall, the available data seem to indicate that the dietary changes that are linked to involvement in the world-market economy have tended to lower rather than raise the nutritional levels of the affected tribal peoples (Bodley, 3)" Progress is great thing, but with great prices. Freedom of choosing food and life of local people are taken during the process of progress. So individual rights should be considered first, and then collective rights can be done. So again, even though the international treaties lay down the obligation of protecting everyone's human rights upon governments, some people are excluded from them because of "collective human rights". Similar problem, but different salutation has occurred in France, this time it involves freedom of religion.

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Muslims in the France is always treated different, not only because of their religion, but also because of their dressing. So French government created laws that banned any Muslims to wear headscarves that have religious meanings. The reasons French government gave for this law is that "For many non-Muslim French, they (headscarves) represent multiple dangers to the Republic: the oppression of women, urban violence, international terrorism, and the general refusal of Muslim immigrants to integrate into the broader society (Bowen, 31)". So this seems to be a problem about collective human rights and individual human rights, but is it? It is not. A republic can exist with symbols of different religion. Freedom of religion, this should be guaranteed by any kind of republic. So this time there is no collective human rights involving at all. It is purely that French government taking away rights from Muslims without any legitimate reason. Liberty, one of the three primary human rights is violated by the French government. Not only that, the law they make actually may create diversity inside the nation since only Muslims are treated differently by the government. So with all those violations, Muslims in French are forced to change their way of life. They stop going to Mosques and practicing their religious activities. While all those rights are being violated, French government is still claiming they are promoting rights of the citizen living inside the republic. France is now outlawing Muslims and treats Muslims not as citizens of France, but a group of people who may cause diversity and terrorism inside France. French Republic is the official name of France, but is it a true republic? Before French government stop outlawing certain group of people inside the nation, France is never a true republic. So again individual human rights should always be the primary thing any government should think about before imposing laws or making decision. But there are always some places where law cannot reach, thus create exclusion or discrimination.

Bill of rights are the first ten amendments of constitution created as the supreme law of the land to protect human rights in U.S. and other countries have similar laws. Above all, international human rights law is created to ensure everyone's rights in the whole world. But it only lays down the obligation upon the government, if government will not enforce it, then human rights of people will not be protected. French Muslims, Zapatistas, and urban homeless are the examples of government exclusion. So even though every government claim that everyone will be treated equally and everyone's human rights will be protected by the government, some people are not under the protection of government and suffering.

Work Cited

  • Bodley, John. "The Price of Progress." Victims of Progress 1998, 137-151
  • Bowen, John. "Muslims and Citizens." Boston Review Feb/Mar. 2004: 31-35.
  • Davis, Mike. "Fortress Los Angeles: The Militarization of Urban Space." City of Quartz, Fortress LA
  • Messer, Ellen. "Anthropologists in a World with and without Human Rights." Exotic No More: Anthropology on the Front Lines. Ed. Jeremy MacClancy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2002. 319-337
  • Scheper-Hughes. Nancy. "Min(d)ing the Body: On the Trail of Organ-Stealing Rumors." Exotic No More: Anthropology on the Front Lines. Ed. Jeremy MacClancy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2002. 33-63
  • "A Place Called Chiapas." 2006. online video clip. Google Video. Accessed on 05 December, 2009. < >