TRAVEL: RIGHT OR PRIVILEGE?
Human rights are a complex subject. They are defined, in a most basic sense, as “inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being.” Essentially, if you walk upright, and are more evolved than a chimpanzee, then your entitled to these claims.
But it’s not an easy task to outline the nitty gritty details of what exactly we are each permitted to have as humans. Our most ambitious attempt to define basic human rights arose directly after the atrocities of World War II, where as a collective body of humans we kind of dropped the ball on respecting each other. In December of 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was created as a list of ‘basic minimums’ in regards to how we ought to treat one another.
Back in 1948, there were forty-eight countries that signed the original declaration, and although it has evolved slightly over the years, the basic tenants remain the same. The UDHR includes thirty articles ranging from various topics such as the right to education, the right to form trade unions, the right participate in government and the right to protection against any discrimination in violation with the Declaration. Article One is perhaps the most famous and well known of all the statements:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
(Editorial side note: I have met people, however, who have been less ‘endowed’ with reason than others.)
If you asked me to summarize the rest of the treaty in six words, I would probably cross my arms, tilt my head forward, and say, “You’re kidding, right?” But really, how has time for thirty articles? So I might offer an abridged version to the likes of this: You gotta right to be respected.
In the west we tend to take most of the rights expressed in the treaty as obvious ‘givens’. We would never think twice about most of them. But it’s nice to have a road map in case we ever slip again as a collective body of humans. Remember that event called the holocaust? Does the Rwandan Genocide ring a bell? How about, I don’t know, the way the Israeli government treats the people of Palestine? We still need the UDHR, big time.
But enough downers already. Let’s get back to the task at hand.
Speaking of road maps, the concept of travel is actually why you’ve come to my blog. And lately I’ve been thinking about travel in relation to human rights. Is it a right? Or is travel better defined as a privilege?
It’s a big question. And as the seven billion people of the world become more and more educated via the internet and mobile technologies, the demand for movement across the globe, I predict, is only going to increase.
If we look to the UDHR for some sort of perspective, perhaps of most interesting section is Article Thirteen:
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
So according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, travel – defined in a most basic way – is indeed a right. Unless you’re female. It only says ‘his’. So ladies, sorry, you’re screwed. But I digress.
Earlier this week, in an attempt to further my thinking around this subject, I decided to posture this debate of ‘right or privilege’ in regards to travel to my Facebook friends. Here were a few of the responses that garnered the most ‘likes’:
“[It’s] both: Everyone should have the right to travel. In my opinion, we are all citizens of the world. However, because of how the system is now, travel is a privilege for those who can afford it.” - Krispahlyn Daria
“I (personally) consider very few things in this world absolute rights. Travelling is most definitely not a right. It’s a privilege. It’s a privilege both in terms of having the means to travel and having the want to travel. We are a rather entitled culture here in North America. Having said all that, while I don’t think travelling is a right, I think it is essential. It helps one question one’s ideas of norms etc. It builds perspective.” - Fareed Ramezani
“Easy. My Grade 9 students study this: Right. “Section 6, Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada.” Thanks to Trudeau and his Charter.” - Travis Robertson (as quoted from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms)
“Neither, I’d opt for it being an obligation — but a good one.” - Doug O’Neill
“I think it should be a right to have the political freedom to travel, but logistically it is a privilege…” - Sarah Hamilton
Interestingly, there wasn’t a consensus on the question. Some folks argued strongly on a specific side, some said travel was both right and privilege, some said it was neither.
To be honest, I posed the debate question without having articulated a personal stance on the matter. For me, the difficulty of this discussion revolves around the definition of travel, and the complexities that have been embedded into the concept. In the western world, the construct of ‘travel’ — if it’s not being highly romanticized — is commoditized, packaged and ready to be sold. When we think about ‘travel’ we might think of the best deal we can get on Expedia. While I will not deny that this is a form of travel, I will also beg that the definition be expanded.
Ultimately I believe that, in it’s most raw sense, travel is an absolute right. I am speaking about the geo-physical movement of people across land. I believe we should have the right to cross borders, to see other territories and to learn about other cultures. The world that I am working towards is one where people have the freedom to drift and to explore, and where mobility is valued more than materialism or nationalism.
I envision a world where travel is a basic human right, and we respect this right because we understand that the byproduct of wandering is an intellectual and spiritual richness that not only benefits the individual, but where we mutually understand that when each of us experiences the minor expansions that come with travel, we collectively profit.
So here’s to an open future, where travel is a right.
What do you think? Is travel a right or privilege?