An official addressed the people to warn them of a pandemic that will kill them. He asked them to prepare themselves to lose their loved ones; warned that without many deaths, the pandemic will not be deterred and stopped. In other words, he asked them to let fate decide who lives and who dies. Isn’t there something offensive in that statement? Does a person who holds power have the right to decide the fate of people and to determine whose life is a priority?
This policy in managing risks shows that the system gave the authority a unilateral decision-making power and enabled it to think, act, and decide on an extremely sensitive issue: the right to live. Therefore, the issue of human rights, a paramount and most sensitive issue, must be tackled objectively, away from politicized, ideologized approaches. The right to live precedes all rights because when someone dies, their only right is their right to be buried. The living have a much longer list of moral and material rights. Their scope may tighten and expand, but ultimately, they are legitimate rights as long as they are alive.
US President Joe Biden recently condemned the century-old Armenian genocide, attributing the delay in this recognition to the imprescriptibility of human rights and assuring that this condemnation is a guarantee that such tragedies would not reoccur. I have no doubts that the US position stems from political reasons that fall in the context of US-Turkish dynamics. However, the moral position that Biden took on this issue cannot be ignored, and certainly, human rights are indeed imprescriptible. Biden’s condemnation of the massacre of Armenians was the fruit of Armenians’ commemoration of this tragedy every year and their influence in European and American circles of power. They had a voice, and their voice reached its peak with this condemnation, which will become a recurring mark of this memory every year. The Ottomans had no right to commit atrocities and take the lives of thousands of civilians under any excuse, and modern Turkey has no right to defend this crime. Similarly, no state or government leader has the right to ask people to prepare for death when a pandemic befalls because the healthcare system cannot bear an emergency. A leader has no right to do so precisely because providing the people with adequate healthcare institutions is part of his duties, and just because he failed does not in any way mean that he is allowed to terrorize people with death.
I was reading earlier about the Assir incident. A Saudi girl in her twenties tried to take her own life but was saved by divine intervention. When the Prosecution questioned her about the reasons that pushed her to attempt suicide, she mentioned that her three brothers forced her to sign an inheritance rights document. The Prosecution summoned the brothers, and an arrest warrant was issued for one of them who managed to escape. Some time ago, a woman’s right to inheritance was subject only to her male relatives’ fear of God, to a certain extent. She was never seen as a human who holds rights. Those times are now gone, and many things are changing. Now, in this case of suicide, the state’s role has gone beyond routine investigation to rule out criminal suspicions and extended to understanding motives and providing the necessary psychological support until the end of the crisis. A few years back, a woman was imprisoned along with her children for marrying and giving birth to the children of a man from a lower lineage. Today, the Saudi Court has annulled this requirement and enforced this annulment in all courts. The stories and incidents targeting women and children are too many to count, which is why legislation has been enacted to protect them from harm, violence, and injustice, all to attain a victory for women’s humanness. As the legislation becomes stronger and more widely enforced, the society becomes more secure and cultured.
Who is responsible for developing these regulations? And more importantly, who monitors their implementation? Surely, the state’s watchful eye does. The state monitors and its agencies implement. Unfortunately, these new laws did not make headlines like the prison incident. Rumors are quicker to spread in publications and media than facts, which is why international human rights activists turn a blind eye to the new laws but invest all their efforts in women’s stories when a woman is involved in a security issue, sympathizing with her in order to politicize her rights and use them in their games.
Human beings’ first right is the right to live. This is why some countries forbid abortion: because the system designated itself the protector of human souls, both male or female, starting even before they are brought into this world and throughout their whole lives. The system assumed the responsibility of protecting them from harm and attacks, which is a more sensitive case for women, whom societies belittled and undervalued until only recently.
The right of any person to live a full life is a primary right. The right to security for themselves, their family, and their possessions is undebatable. As for movement, education, work, and protection from illness, these are basic rights and prerequisites for discussing other rights because the lack of any of these rights is dangerous, and the failure to recognize their value is in itself an outright violation of these rights.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.