10 Interesting Reads about Human Rights

Human rights are the fundamental rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world, from birth until death. These values are defined and protected by law. They apply regardless of where you are from, what you believe or how you live your life.

As South Africa celebrates Human Rights Day next week, the country reflects on a day defined by the horrific Sharpeville massacre. Historically 21 March 1960 began with demonstrations in the township of Sharpeville against the apartheid government’s pass laws, which restricted the rights of the Black people in the country. It ended with the deaths of 69 unarmed civilians at the hands of 300 police who fired into the protesting crowd. Legally, no Black person could leave a rural area for an urban one without a permit from the local authorities. On arrival in a metropolitan area, the person had to obtain a license within 72 hours to seek work. The PassBook included a photograph, details of place of origin, employment record, tax payments, and encounters with the Police. Black men gathered at Sharpeville without passes and presented themselves for arrest. The Police ordered them to disperse, after which they opened fire on the crowd of men, women, and children. Following the Sharpeville massacre, the Nationalist government banned some black political movements, but the resistance movement continued to operate underground.

As newly elected democratic president, Nelson Mandela officially proclaimed 21 March a public holiday. He emphasised that everyone has a right to life, equality, and human dignity. All persons have a right to citizenship and security and are entitled to freedom of assembly, association, belief, opinion, and expression. On Human Rights Day, all South Africans reflect on their rights and protect all people’s rights from violation, irrespective of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation. Human rights apply to everyone equally. We should remain vigilant and report abuse and cruelty, such as human trafficking, child labour, forced labour, and violence against women, children, and the aged and other vulnerable groupings.

On Human Rights Day, we not only honour the lives lost in the protest for fundamental human rights, but we salute activists and coalitions dedicated to righting the wrongs of the past and ensuring that the country’s most vulnerable and marginalised people are not left behind. Past protests and social movements stood for the human rights of every person, across education, racial and gender equality.

Finding relevant, challenging, and interesting books on human rights is not always as easy. The following books are not only interesting but should be read by everybody as it presents unique perspectives and information while challenging readers to bring together knowledge and actions in practical ways. These books are valuable additions to any human rights repertoire.

  1. South Africa’s struggle for human rights by Saul Dubow

Global human rights organisations triumphed over South Africa’s transition to a post-apartheid democracy. It was a vital aspect of the political change, often referred to as a miracle, which brought majority rule and democracy to South Africa. The country’s new constitution, its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the moral authority of Nelson Mandela stand as definitive proof of this achievement. Yet, less than a generation after achieving freedom, the status of human rights and constitutionalism in South Africa is uncertain. The ANC has displayed an inconsistent attitude toward protecting and advancing hard-won freedoms and rights in government. It is not clear that a broader civic and political consciousness of the importance of rights is rooted in popular culture.

  1. No future without forgiveness by Desmond Tutu

No Future Without Forgiveness is a quintessentially humane account of an extraordinary life. Desmond Tutu describes his childhood and coming of age in the apartheid era in South Africa. He examines his reactions on being able to vote for the first time at the age of 62 - and on Nelson Mandela’s election, his feelings on being Archbishop of Cape Town and his award of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. No Future Without Forgiveness is also his fascinating experience as head of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The latter was a pioneering international experiment to expose many of the worst atrocities committed under apartheid and rehabilitate its victims’ dignity. Tutu draws significant parallels between the Commissioners’ approach to the situation in South Africa with other areas of conflict such as Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Rwanda, and the Balkans.

  1. Disposable People by Kevin Bales

This book contains valuable and compelling information about modern-day slavery based on extensive research and experience. It describes stories from five countries that highlight modern slavery, including forced labour with environmental hazards and children working out of desperation for themselves and their families. The language in the book is emotional but supported by facts and research. The final chapter offers readers a relief to the heavy reading by providing ways to get involved and engage in the issue. The book also identifies various non-profits and international organisations working to help victims of multiple forms of trafficking. Disposable People is not an extensive study on these individual types of slavery. Still, it is an emotionally compelling and evidence-backed introductory text to any human rights student or professional interested in the topic of human trafficking.

  1. Heroes of Human Rights by Sam G McFarland

This book describes the historical development of human rights, modern human rights declarations and conventions, historical and contemporary human rights abuses, and current mechanisms for protecting and advancing human rights. Through engaging, emotional, and inspiring stories of heroes from the sixteenth century to the present, the book underscores the importance of human rights for all people around the globe. Designed to help readers achieve greater understanding and empathy, Heroes of Human Rights is an ideal resource for courses on human rights, world history, and international affairs.

  1. Human Trafficking: Interdisciplinary Studies by Mary C. Burke

Human Trafficking: Interdisciplinary Studies is a foundational text for human rights students who are specifically looking to focus on the topic of modern-day slavery. Burke brings in established professionals to add personal experience and knowledge for the readers to gain, rather than relying on her research alone. From FBI agents to lawyers to psychologists, this book covers various topics. It focuses on the problem of human trafficking and how they impact the lives of these victims.

  1. The new Human Rights Movement - Reinventing the Economy to end oppression by Peter Joseph

Society is broken. We can design our way to a better one. In this engaging, meaningful work, Peter Joseph, founder of the world’s most significant grassroots social movement—The Zeitgeist Movement—draws from economics, history, philosophy, and modern public-health research to present a bold case for rethinking activism in the 21st century. Arguing against the long-standing narrative of universal scarcity and other pervasive myths that defend the current state of affairs, The New Human Rights Movement illuminates the structural causes of poverty, social oppression, and the ongoing degradation of public health. It ultimately presents the case for an updated economic approach. Joseph explores the potential of this great shift and how we can design our way to a world where the human family has become truly sustainable. It reveals the critical importance of unified activism working to overcome the inherent injustice of our system. This book warns against what is in store if we continue to ignore the flaws of our socioeconomic approach while also revealing the bright and expansive future possible if we succeed.

  1. Tyranny of Experts by William Easterly

Over the last century, global poverty has largely been viewed as a technical problem that merely requires the right “expert” solutions. Yet all too often, experts recommend solutions that fix immediate problems without addressing the systemic political factors that created them in the first place. Further, they produce an accidental collusion with “benevolent autocrats,” leaving dictators with yet more power to violate the rights of the poor. In The Tyranny of Experts, economist William Easterly traces the history of the fight against global poverty, showing how these tactics have trampled the individual freedom of the world’s poor but how in doing so, have suppressed a vital debate about an alternative approach to solving poverty: freedom. Presenting a wealth of cutting-edge economic research, Easterly argues that only a new model of development—one predicated on respect for the individual rights of people in developing countries, that understands that unchecked state power is the problem and not the solution—will be capable of ending global poverty once and for all.

  1. Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was one of the great moral and political leaders of his time: an international hero. His lifelong dedication to the fight against racial oppression in South Africa won him the Nobel Peace Prize and the presidency of his country. After his triumphant release in 1990 from more than a quarter-century of imprisonment, Mandela was at the centre of the world’s most compelling and inspiring political drama. As president of the ANC and head of South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, he was instrumental in moving the nation toward multiracial government and majority rule. He is still revered everywhere as a vital force in fighting human rights and racial equality.

  1. The protection of Human Rights in SA by John C  Mubangizi

Protection of Human Rights in South Africa provides helpful information about international human rights norms and their relevance to South Africa. The book explains how the South African Constitution protects human rights, considering the interplay between international and domestic human rights standards. The material is presented in a coherent and accessible style to facilitate understanding the past, present, and future of human rights protection in South Africa and beyond.

  1. Healing South Africa - Upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in the Republic of SA by Dr Mark O’Doherty

The death of Archbishop Desmond Tutu provided a moment of paradoxical hope, reminding South Africans of what they have in common after many months where circumstances have conspired to drive them apart. Most South Africans were suffering even before Covid struck, and discontent with the ruling ANC grew for years. Economic growth was already slowing even before the nine-year rule of Jacob Zuma, the populist president ousted in 2018 amid widespread corruption allegations. Despite the good intentions of Cyril Ramaphosa, there has been little to celebrate since. The pandemic has delivered a series of crushing blows to the economy. Rolling power cuts shut down businesses and factories for weeks, while mismanagement and corruption have lethally undermined the public healthcare system.

What all share is an almost total lack of faith in South Africa’s government to provide any solution for their problems. Many see a need for political options that offer an authentic alternative to the ANC but also escape the toxic legacy of South Africa’s traumatic past. President Cyril Ramaphosa and his government should restore the rule of law, basic infrastructure and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in South Africa; especially Article 3 of the UDHR: “Right to Life, Liberty, Personal Security” and Artice 7: “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law”.