Individuality, Human Rights and Law




To introduce this theme with reference to the events of global salience that have come to be referred to as the Arab Spring. These events are good starting point to underline one of the most central values implicated in the culture of human rights, namely, that the individual is a subject of human rights policy and practice. Additionally, some may see human rights as only words on paper which implicate symbols. There is a deeper meaning. The real meaning of human rights ultimately comes from the stakeholders, those who stand to benefit from human rights in practice and theory. And those stakeholders are the individual human beings of the planet. I would suggest that human rights would not have the dynamism that it has had, as a radically infectious global scheme of fundamental expectation, without the individual human rights agents generating human rights activism from theories generated by human rights scholars and professionals and implemented by ordinary person individuals. It would be appropriate for us to understand what it is that generates the activism from the individual human beings and how that activism may creatively appropriate symbols of communication to generate a sustained activist presence demanding that states and pressure groups conform their behaviors to human rights expectations.

One of the global events we experienced in the aftermath of the Second World War was a rising tide of elevated expectations about the fundamental values behind the idea of universal human dignity. The modern crisis that this rising level of expectation generated was an increased level of resistance to these expectations, generating what might be called, the global crisis of human rights. I suspect that the founders of the World Academy had an institutive sense of this problem and considered the matter to be of global salience which required, in part, the commitment of scholars unconstrained by parochial and chauvinistic practices of identity.

On December 17th 2010, a vegetable vendor from the village of Sadibouzid was confronted by a police official who confiscated his cart and his produce. Mohamed Bouazizi, was the vegetable vendor. He was 26 years old. Bouazizi was the sole income provider for a family of 8. Bouazizi tried to retrieve his car and his vegetables by willing to pay a small fine to the police officer. The response was official arrogance with insults directed at his deceased father. When Bouazizi went to the municipal office to complain and to retrieve his goods they refused to see him. Bouazizi was so angered by injustice, governmental repression and complete indifference that he returned to the governmental headquarters, doused himself with inflammable fluid and ignited himself.[1] Bouazizi’s action had struck a nerve. It highlighted the abuses of a political dictatorship and its denial of individual self-respect and integrity. Bouazizi’s action in destroying himself symbolized the frustration of a whole nation with its lost of dignity and self- respect and the regime’s complete indifference to human rights. Bouazizi’s act triggered widespread protests against the Tunisian dictatorship and the intensification of popular protests finally resulted in the fall of the dictatorship. Bouazizi, the individual, acting as an activist, generated a mass mobilization of ordinary people to demand the exit of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The President ruled Tunisia with a ruthless iron fist since 1987. Although he was a dictator from the point of view of important Western powers, he was their dictator. Click here to read further

[1] Rania Abouzeid, Bouazizi: The Man Who Set Himself and Tunisia on Fire, TIME (January 21, 2011); See also Brian Whitaker, How a man setting fire to himself sparked an uprising in Tunisia, The Guardian (December 28, 2010)