In the 21st century, rights are generally and universally recognized as inherently and equally belonging to all human beings. These rights form the foundations of our ability to live in freedom, justice and peace and are inviolable, inalienable and protected by the rule of law in the majority of states and by the international community.
Although the recognition of human rights is deemed to be universal for all peoples and all nations, not all states recognize or respect human rights. The history of their birth and the struggle behind their emergence is often one of protest, struggle, opposition and resistance, whether conducted peacefully or through conflict and bloodshed.
The role of activism has been and continues to be essential in establishing the cradle of human rights along with the courage, determination and sacrifice of activists such as Martin Luther King Jr., Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi, Desmond Tutu, Aung San Suu Kyi, Malala Yousafzai and others. These individuals would not have been able to fulfil their mission without the support and assiduous work of countless organizations and individuals who shared the same ideals of a world where all humans can enjoy the same fundamental rights and benefit from equal opportunities. Active and informed citizenship plays a vital role in their recognition and defence.
The continuing existence and in some cases proliferation of practices such as slavery, female genital mutilation, trafficking, child marriages, ethnic cleansing, severe racial or religious discrimination, criminalization and cruel punishment of non-heterosexual orientation etc. make it clear that the fight for achieving equal rights and opportunities is still a long way from being won. Some countries struggle with recurring problems in ensuring respect for all their citizens’ liberties. Recent movements and campaigns such as Black Lives Matter, He for She and many more are the contemporary face of the ongoing struggle for equality in fact as well as on paper.
Often in a precarious balance with the need for national and international security, human rights are an exceptionally high stake of ideological and political battles, their extent and interpretation can draw unseen borders between cultures and civilizations, they are at the very foundation of our lifestyles and when threatened, they can act as a powerful catalyst for all kinds of civic unrest, ranging from full-blown revolutions to peaceful protesting and heated public debates. Civil rights and liberties have become a fundamental part of citizens’ identities, paradigms and lifestyles. They stem from our core values, they closely reflect our society and they are at the top of the list of ideals people would kill or die to defend.
As world events unfold, individual freedom is under threat in many regions, nations and contexts.
When people vote and express their views freely without working out the implications of their actions, are individuals free to exercise their choices and are they free to change their minds? The case in point is the Brexit vote. A great number of British people voted to exit the EU, but following the result they want to reconsider their vote: this is an example of questioning freedom. When is one free to choose? How many times can individuals choose to be free? What are some of the fall out effects of people exercising their choices? Are people really free to choose? Or are they overly influenced by the media or by other circumstantial forces?
As bombs go off in restaurants, cafes, shopping centres, mosques, airports and, other common spaces, many are raising the question ‘what do we need to do when freedom is under threat?’.
To answer these questions and others, one needs to have informed conversations about Freedom.
The aim of the Freedom research stream is to to start a challenging debate concerning what being free really means and what its implications are for individuals and for nations, how far are we willing to go to secure and protect our liberties, what are the consequences and the costs for freedom and who are those who are going to pay the price.