Human rights mean being able to say what you want to say

When asked what human rights are, people often answer, “the right to live like a human being.” However, when asked what it means to live like a human being, it may be difficult to answer.

It is also said to be a right that all people are born with, but in reality, human rights are defined by law and guaranteed through legal procedures. Why should a right that all people are born with be protected by law?

It is because human rights are individual rights that are difficult to define and are easily suppressed or violated.

Therefore, I believe that the most important thing for human rights is, first and foremost, to be able to say what you want to say.

For example, in prewar Japan, if you said what you wanted to say, you could be arrested or punished.

People may say that they are not free to say whatever they want to say in modern Japan, but at least, as long as they do not violate the human rights of others, it is unlikely that they will be arrested just for saying what they want to say.

So, to us today, Japan is a country where human rights were not respected until the prewar period.

However, if we look around the world, we find that even today, there are many countries where people are arrested just for saying what they want to say, and the number of such countries has been increasing over the past decade or so.

So why do those countries try to suppress what people want to say? For example, in so-called developing countries, the first priority is to make sure that the people in poverty can eat.

In other words, in order for everyone to be able to eat, everyone must work together to develop the country, and it is a luxury for individuals to say what they want to say, which disturbs order and hinders development.

In a multiethnic country, it is important for the people to be united, and allowing individuals to say what they want to say is considered to be a disruption of that unity.

Of course, being able to eat is important for people to live like a human being. In that sense, it is one of the most important human rights. So, should we suppress what we want to say for this reason? No! Rather, we should be able to say what problems a country or society has.

There are countries in the world that have achieved economic development. Saying to such countries, “we cannot eat, please support us,” should also lead to the human right to eat.

Or, if there is a situation in which a certain class of people in a country is monopolizing food and property even though the people are poor, it is the right of the people to say out loud that this is wrong. This is indeed a fundamental human right.

Does a dictatorship have the human rights of a dictatorship?

On the other hand, in countries where the country is held together by force, it is said that this maintains order, brings peace, and leads to the development of the country.

In fact, the overthrow of a dictatorship by a liberal state can instead lead to a society in turmoil as forces of different ethnic and religious groups start fighting each other.

So, even dictatorial states have their own democracy and their own view of human rights. They insist that the Western view of human rights not be imposed on them.

On the other hand, Western liberal nations describe human rights as “universal human rights” and insist on the concept of rights that are common to all people, regardless of where they come from.

However, this assertion reminds us of the history of imperialism, which once thought that Western-style modernization was the right thing to do and expanded its colonies by imposing its values. So countries that oppose it say that they have their own values.

So the logic goes that human rights activists in those countries are to be suppressed as being affected by foreign-imposed values and disruptive to order in their own countries. In other words, the Nobel Peace Prize laureates of their own countries are also considered to be disturbers of peace in their own countries.

These international issues may seem complex and difficult, but in fact, the same structure exists in our own environment. Bullying is a case in point.

For example, in a school classroom, people are bullied for not hanging out with others or for being weird because they are considered to be disruptive to the group order. Also, a person who complains of power harassment in the workplace will be considered a disturber of the order of the workplace if there are not many people who agree with him or her.

In fact, people are very timid and even have a sense of crisis when their sense of values, which they have taken for granted, is disturbed.

However, when people hear the word “bullying,” everyone thinks it is something that should not be done. In fact, if a person who has been bullied or harassed speaks out and those complaints are made public, the harasser will be blamed by many people.

In short, things that have been kept inside will become widely known, and the situation will change. The same aspect applies to the world’s problems.

Dictatorships tell the outside world not to impose their liberal values on them, but they impose their values on their own people. To prevent the people from voicing their concerns about this, they create laws like the Maintenance of Public Order Law and try to crack down on those who raise their voices.

However, even so, when there are people who raise their voices with considerable determination, a society that had been closed within opens up and becomes known to many countries around the world, which in turn changes the situation.

In other words, it is important for people to be able to say what they want to say. This is how human rights are secured, and by saying what you want to say, I believe that everyone will think about what human rights are and begin to take action to create an environment in which human rights are protected.

On the other hand, if each person says what he or she wants to say, will society be confused? Certainly, people have different intentions and individualities. Therefore, what each person wants to say is different, and they may be in conflict with each other. Human rights are in conflict with each other.

What is needed then is discussion and tolerance. It is important to listen to opinions that differ from our own, discuss them together, and come to a compromise together. If there is no discussion and one side simply imposes what it wants to say on the other side, it is the same as a dictatorship with strong authority.

In other words, it is not a problem of saying what you want to say, but of suppressing one side by violence or force.

Spreading awareness of human rights in the business world

In recent years, human rights issues have come to the attention of the business world as well. This is not only in terms of considering and maintaining the work environment for their own workers from a human rights perspective, but also expanding to look at the supply chain as well.

The United Nations and other organizations are strengthening their Guiding Principles and regulations on business and human rights, and the process of implementation is called human rights DD (due diligence). In Japan, the Guidelines on Respecting Human Rights in Responsible Supply Chains was formulated in September 2022.

It stipulates efforts to address the relationship between business and human rights, including labor issues in international supply chains (violations of basic labor conditions, not to mention forced labor, child labor, etc.), as well as labor conditions and harassment issues within companies.

As mentioned earlier, to promote regulations in accordance with the concept of universal human rights, companies should view them not only as regulations that bind their business activities, but also as something that enhances their reputation by adhering to these guidelines.

For example, even some of the world’s most famous global companies have been known to use child labor in their overseas manufacturing plants, leading to a worldwide boycott movement. Adhering to the guidelines also means avoiding such risks.

Conversely, we, as consumers, also need to increase our interest in information about corporate activities and operations.

For example, how are the rare metals needed for components mined to make the price of this smartphone cheaper? Even if the way the workers work there is customary in that country, if it is against universal human rights, it means that it will no longer be tolerated.

This may not be welcomed by consumers and may lead to higher product prices.

However, the establishment of the guidelines has created a situation in which people can now say what they had previously kept to themselves. This also means that we, consumers, who have learned about them, have had an opportunity to think about the state of human rights.

And this, I believe, is not only about labor issues in other countries, but also about our own labor issues and human rights to consider.

* The information contained herein is current as of March 2023.
* The contents of articles on are based on the personal ideas and opinions of the author and do not indicate the official opinion of Meiji University.
* I work to achieve SDGs related to the educational and research themes that I am currently engaged in.

Information noted in the articles and videos, such as positions and affiliations, are current at the time of production.