I have been thinking about a debate between two Human Rights activists last week. One is a Mexican man from an area racked by very high levels of violence, who told me about the femicides and disappearances that plague his city, even taking the innocent. The other is a Cuban woman who talked about the threats and attacks to which she (and her family) has been subjected for her pro-democracy activism.
In the former case physical death is a constant occurrence; in the latter, it is civic annihilation that is recurrent. In both cases the road to these outcomes is paved by workplace harassment, isolation by the community, trampling of the law, and physical violence. In Mexico, the perpetrators are both private criminals and public servants, shielded by impunity and corruption. In Cuba, a State controls every institution, territory and population. In the former Aztec nation, the violation of Human Rights ranges from mild to lethal, depending on social group, gender, agenda and the corner of the struggle. In the Caribbean country repression is constant and multidimensional, though fatal outcomes are few.
In Mexico I can organize a group of victims, file a complaint, challenge the authorities... if I accept that it may result in my death. In Cuba it is very difficult to assemble the human, legal and technological resources to sustain activism, although I know that my life is not in grave danger. In Mexico this all happens under a purported "democracy"; in Cuba it is wrapped under the guise of socialism. In both cases it is possible to say, in different ways, that the State is behind it. Because if a State is not able to protect its people, or if some of its representatives ally with criminals, it is, from the perspective of the victims, as guilty as a State that directly criminalizes its citizens for political reasons.
We can establish analytical distinctions (What can be done in each context?) but it is hard to offer ethical or political rationalizations of human rights violations. From a comprehensive Human Rights perspective, the victim must matter, regardless of his ideological tendency, religious beliefs, gender, sexual preference, race or social class. We must care because his rights are being violated, including those to life and freedom. No mitigating justifications are possible. There can be no “victimeter” ranking important vs. less important victims, or criminals excused by our worldviews, experiences or ideologies.
What makes us human? Existing, like an animal struggling to eat, survive and breed? Or being able to transform our environment and decide on our goals, values and futures? It is clear that both impulses coexist in us: animal instincts, and the aspiration to higher human capacities. And against everything that obstructs the latter, violations of people and their rights, we must raise our voices. Here and there, now and always.
This article originally appeared in the Mexican newspaper La Razón. It is tanslated and published here with the author's permission.