Our Readers' Opinions
March 24, 2006

Hard to Sell?

R. Andrew Cummings

“Everyone has a right….”

In clear and unmistakable terms, more than 50 years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed the right of all people to housing, food, livelihood and health. Over the decades, however, human rights have come to mean civil and political rights rather than social and economic rights which are regarded as ideals at which to aim. But how can, by any stretch of the imagination, needs that are basic to human survival such as work, food, water, shelter and health be treated as ideals? The question which looms is, should these be legally binding obligations on the State to provide in accordance with its available resources? {{more}}

On the Agenda

The Constitution Reform Commission (C.R.C.) under the guidance of P. R. Campbell, Q.C. is about to fine-tune its final recommendations to the Government. It will be of interest to see how the C. R. C. feels about the inclusion of social and economic rights in its constitutional reform package? Will we be left only with the Fundamental Rights and Freedoms enshrined in our present Constitution or will there be a bold move to include social and economic rights? It hardly needs stating that traditional human rights strategies are of limited effectiveness in dealing with economic and social rights. Does Nicole Sylvester, chairperson of the local Human Rights Movement, agree that human rights and human needs merge without distinction and ought to be given equal attention?


The C.R.C. and Prime Minister Gonsalves must consider if we are in a position to guarantee these needs as part of our fundamental human rights.

A rights-based approach to social and economic security means that people’s access to basic needs will be protected by law.

Out of Sync

US President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his State of the Union Address of 1944 said: “True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. Necessitous men are not free men.” What economic security meant Roosevelt spelled out in a list of rights – to food, clothing, health, education and employment – which he said should have the same status as those incorporated in the US Constitution by the original Bill of Rights of 1791. Indeed, Roosevelt called for a second Bill of Rights as a basis of security and prosperity for all – regardless of status, race or creed.

Despite theoretical recognition the world over, by governments and peoples for the implementation of a right to basic needs, in practice the idea falls flat. Scant attention is given to the scriptural underpinning of this noble philosophy “In as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of my brethren ye have done it unto me”.

Me, Myself and I

It is common knowledge that in today’s world we are all infused, to the umpteenth degree, by concerns for “me, myself and I”. To espouse the Biblical creed stated herein is often perceived as a left wing liberal conspiracy whose aim is to destroy private initiative and enterprise and market oriented strategies.

Indeed, that creed has no place in the modern world of technology, science, quick fix and crass materialism. Further, to promote or even discuss such an idea, it is claimed, bespeaks the backwardness of a distant era. The mind-boggling question is, do we all belong exclusively to the ideas of this era? Certain values, mores, standards and strategies of the past are relevant for all times no matter what!

“Nasty, brutish and short”.

In a world where over one billion people survive from day to day without access to basic needs, where only the smartest, the slickest and the strongest seem to survive – life continued at this rate may well usher in a different dimension where it becomes “Nasty, brutish and short”.