Rights of the Dead
Rights of the Dead
  • reporter Kim Min-gyu
  • 승인 2020.07.06 20:26
  • 댓글 0
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▲CCTV in autopsy hall which raised issues regarding violation of the rights of the dead


“All citizens shall be assured of human worth and dignity and have the right to the pursuit of happiness.” Human rights are the most fundamental, yet highest of all values. It is a universal value of humanity and in no case shall it be compromised, deprived nor relinquished. But in history, especially in times of war, there have been countless incidents in which human dignity was infringed upon. During these times, a violation of one’s human dignity was not only confined to the living but also to the dead. The perception of the rights of the dead was callous in ancient and medieval times. The dead were stripped of their belongings and looted not only by their enemies but also their comrades. Throughout history, the remains of soldiers were collected for various reasons, one of them being a souvenir of a major battle. During World War I and II, the world was more conscious of human rights. There were specific provisions for those who died in wars regarding their burial places. However, they were largely ignored for the reasons of practicality. The issues concerning the rights of the dead were disregarded simply because societies were not able to afford  considering the rights for the dead. An agenda regarding the rights of the dead re-sparked when Al Jazeera, an Arabic media network, broadcasted images of injured and dead American captives from the Iraq war. The Geneva convention prohibits exposure of captives as an object of public curiosity. Nevertheless, the clause is vaguely defined which can be misleadingly distorted. The violation of the human dignity of the dead through the exposure of media is not restricted to captives. Often tragic images of dead refugees are displayed through the media. Ironically, the human rights organization aims to select as provocative an image as possible with the intention of raising social awareness. What these human rights organizations are neglecting is the rights of the dead; the rights of their bodies to not be reduced into a mere exhibition and the rights of their death to not be used for political reasons. 
The rights of the deceased have been put on the back burner for various reasons. Still, in some places, people are dispossessed of their rights and, for many, supporting their rights is more urgent than arguing for the rights of the dead. Also, whether the dead should be guaranteed human rights involves much more fundamental and philosophical questions regarding the essence of humans, human rights, and death. Many of the cases concerning rights of the dead have been judged that technically, the dead do not possess human rights. In 2006, a court battle over the portrait rights of a dead man concluded that “portrait rights as personality rights is an entirely personal right, which, in principle, the deceased cannot be the subject of”. Also, a German public-service television, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF), deduced that revealing provocative photos of captives cannot be considered as a violation of human rights on similar grounds. But ZDF took the standpoint that the case, regardless of rights, is a problem of human dignity and strictly screened its broadcasted images. 
Though the issues concerning rights of the dead might not be front and center, there are possibilities where the deceased’s dignity and “rights” could be infringed upon. The question must be asked, whether our society will implicitly protect the dignity of the deceased with moral means or expand the concept of human rights to protect it as a “right”.