The struggle to defend and extend human rights is, as ever, a class issue.
They first came on to the capitalists' agenda as the bourgeoisie were gaining ascendancy over the previous ruling class, the feudal aristocracy.
The ability to succeed would no longer depend on birth, land and title. In the emerging order there would be freedom to amass property by whatever means one could.
Although human rights statements purported to be about everyone the bourgeoisie never for a moment thought they applied to the majority of people, the working class. This attitude was evidenced in legislation and in practice. Human rights for workers were, and remain, the antithesis of capitalism.
As capitalism entered its imperialist stage, human rights for the mass of ordinary people worldwide were of no concern to the international financiers and industrialists in their ruthless quest for profit.
Exploitation in the workplace, competitive wars for resources, labour and markets, mass oppression of populations, degradation of environments and the crushing of opposition were the hallmarks of those with power and wealth.
But throughout capitalism's history working people have fought bravely and consistently for acknowledgement of their humanity and reflection of that acknowledgement in the rights and freedoms accorded to them in their workplaces, homes and communities.
Following WWII, the 1948 UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights marked a major victory, achieved with the support and championship of the socialist countries at the United Nations.
In Europe, the 1950 Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, based on the UN Declaration, set out the right to life, liberty, security, fair trial, privacy and freedom of thought, expression and assembly.
It prohibited arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention, torture, extrajudicial punishment, slavery and forced labour. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, ruling on violations and with decisions binding on all states, gave the Convention teeth.
But the continuing history of capitalism is one of exploitation and impoverishment globally of those of that fell within its jurisdiction. The struggle for rights continued and the rich kept on resisting, epitomised by the continuing refusal of the US to sign even the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Following the collapse of the USSR and other socialist states and the end of the cold war hopes for peace and progress in achieving rights and justice were quickly dashed, destroyed by the scramble of profiteers for "freed up" resources, goods and markets and the wars and devastation that ensued.
Currently the super-rich and governments who back them see no benefit or gain in promoting human rights. From their perspective, doing the things that respect for human rights forbids - silencing opposition, ruling by fear and taking by force what popular assent will never yield - is necessary for survival. There is no benign face to capitalism, whatever it may tell us.
And it has certainly tried hard to tell us something very different.
A major component of the daily ideological barrage via the mass media has been the deception that capitalism is the defender of human rights, democracy and justice.
Starvation, misery, destitution, displacement and war are inherent in the capitalist system but it needs to hide this from the public. Confusion and deception have been the order of the day.
Coverage of Libya - an all-out war bent on regime change, cast as a measure to "protect" civilians from a cruel dictatorship - is case in point. "Protected" armed militias pose the greatest threat to human rights in Libya now while a former al-Qaida boss heads up what's described as security in Tripoli.
For the US and its allies keeping up the charade of human rights protection is a means to mask their true designs on oil, gas, chemicals, strategic territory, power and influence and to win popular support for further threats and wars.
But as the economic crisis deepens, imperialism finds it ever more difficult to keep up the pretence and even in the imperialist heartlands of the US and EU human rights are being systematically undermined.
This is an imperative for the ruling classes in these countries if they are to succeed in privatisation, destruction of the public sector and making working people pay for the crisis they had no hand in creating.
Human rights are thus central in the emerging political battleground. Cuts in public services represent a wholesale removal of the very rights guaranteed by the UN Convention as well as the right of democratic control of education, health and caring services on which all but the super-rich depend.
And the Convention empowers people to stand against the onslaught of those in power in the courts, in their workplaces and on the streets. The ECHR has ruled that Article 11 requires states to allow both peaceful protests and strikes against government policy.
Everything possible is therefore being done by those in power to limit rights. It is being made increasingly difficult for ordinary people, with little access to the time, professional help and the money required, to mount a challenge.
This has been exacerbated by the draconian cuts to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), weakening legislation in this area and cutting access to legal aid. If anyone wants to know what our government thinks of human rights, they need look no further.
Even as the Leveson inquiry investigates the endemic corruption of the press and its abuse of privacy, the mass media daily devalues human rights. Where possible, issues are trivialised and grossly misrepresented to bring both claimant and legislation into disrepute.
Often the struggle for justice is portrayed as hopeless, showing serious and systematic "state-sponsored" breaches for which neither the victims nor their families have any possible redress. The media takes every opportunity to demonstrate that abuses by the state are beyond successful collective challenge and portrays those who do engage as spied upon, blacklisted, tricked, foiled, arrested and abused.
At the same time there are continual attempts to narrow the definition of human rights and the divisive view is peddled that there are whole categories of people who have no rights to rights - prisoners, people who might at some future point be dangerous, refugees and displaced persons. Humans who are not fully humans!
David Cameron's recent attack on the "shortcomings" of the European Court of Human Rights misrepresented the court as part of an EU apparatus of which it is in fact absolutely independent.
He argues that it needs reforming because it has a backlog of cases and cannot cope. Only the most serious cases should go to Strasbourg while the courts of individual states decide the rest.
This is deeply worrying. It is a thinly veiled attack aimed at removing the bulk of cases from the court's jurisdiction at precisely the time when the people of Europe are bringing thousands upon thousands of cases forward in the wake of the unjust and anti-democratic agendas of governments of the rich.
Everything possible is being done to whittle away the rights of ordinary people to individually or collectively challenge the removal or abuse of rights. We must be informed, vigilant and determined and defend our rights together, wherever and whenever they are threatened.
The issue of human rights is now centre stage in the struggle against capitalism and for a just and democratic future.
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