“Anyone with a brain can understand what this country is trying to do by treating us like this. When they leave us in this misery, and let us live in situations like this, when they force us into a corner they want us to come out and say to ourselves that we want to go back. This is what I hear, and it is what I see, that I am in this situation and God is my witness. And I ask myself where the freedom and the human rights are. We are human like you and our children are children like your children, what is the difference?”

– Excerpt from the story “Whether in Iraq or Germany, I will not allow anyone to compromise my dignity” from our book IN OUR OWN WORDS.


Today, December 10th, is the International Human Rights Day. Human rights and human dignity are presumed to be universal and apply to everyone, which is clearly not the case. The Western canon argues that including human rights into international law is one of the ‘great moral achievements of human history’. However, we see how human rights law has failed to reach many people.

Refugees arriving in Germany are placed into isolated accommodation facilities, which restricts their access to information about their rights, important resources and segregates them from the rest of society.  Refugees face abuse, trauma, exploitation, racism and oppression by border regimes. Europe’s border controls dehumanise and illegalise refugees. The very existence of asylum seekers is depicted as a threat and a burden that must be contained. Testimonies of refugees show the multiple dimensions of exploitation that come with displacement: from being held in detention, to experiencing physical and sexual violence and racism while fleeing. We are witnessing war crimes every day. We witness the violation of human rights and global injustices every day, specifically in the Global South. From the modern-day slavery in the Congo to the war in Sudan. Women who are raped and sexually exploited as a form of violence during war. We see the mass killing of Palestinian civilians – including children, illegal occupation, systemic displacement, and numerous war crimes. In Gaza, International Human Rights Law is violated by the targeting of hospitals and civilians, especially women and children. To name but a few…

The substance of human rights loses its purpose when our rights are repeatedly violated without intervention. Human rights become a privilege when the rights of some are placed above the rights of others. Racist biases and ethnocentric thinking obscure and define who is deserving of human rights. How can some of us be more human than others?

Resisting this indifference, exploitation, and disenfranchisement is necessary to make human rights a reality for everyone. Securing, protecting, and recognizing human rights is a constant struggle. Human rights law needs to live up to its promise; lest they remain an illusion, merely an empty signifier.

Photo: Markus Spiske (Unsplash)