Universal Declaration of Human Rights

by Mark Lovett on November 10, 2008

Looking ahead to the inauguration of a new president of the United States, I began thinking about what sort of world we might want to create, and the initiatives we must undertake in order to see that vision become reality.

From a Global Patriot perspective it seemed logical that ensuring basic human rights for everyone on the planet needs to happen first.  But the topic of human rights is quite broad in its nature, and I wondered if everyone’s definition of human rights was the same.  While the discussion has gone on for thousands of years, my research brought me to a fairly recent definition – one that was agreed to by world leaders after World War II and shortly after the birth of the United Nations.

United Nations Sixty-Three Years Hence

Founded in 1945 with just 51 original members, the United Nations has grown to include 192 members and has involved itself in a long list of international situations during that time.  Peacekeeping forces have operated in many countries, witnessing countless acts of violence and dealing with extremes of poverty, social injustice and hunger.  Though providing a positive influence in these arenas of conflict, the UN has met with mixed success in their charter to maintain peace.

The United Nations

  • Angola
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Cambodia
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Croatia
  • El Salvador
  • Guatemala
  • Haiti
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Kuwait
  • Lebanon
  • Rwanda
  • Somalia

Much has changed since 1945.  Millions have died in countless conflicts, 80 nations once under colonial rule have gained their independence and joined the UN, while other countries have been birthed and borders redrawn.  The demise of the USSR greatly altered that region’s landscape.

The United Nations Building

United Nations Building, New York City

  • Armenia
  • Azerbaijan
  • Belarus
  • Estonia
  • Georgia
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Moldova
  • Russia
  • Tajikistan
  • Turkmenistan
  • Ukraine
  • Uzbekistan

The Foundation of Human Rights

It’s difficult to fathom the wars, conflicts, invasions, genocides, torture, abuse and neglect which have ravaged our global society after reading The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Adopted by the United Nations when the organization was just 3 years old, this important document set the stage for how governments and their citizens were ‘supposed’ to treat each other.  Unfortunately the objectives contained within have repeatedly been ignored by world leaders of developed and developing nations alike.  It would seem that those who are tasked with upholding the 30 articles simply pick and choose what they wish to follow and under what circumstances.

While commentary can easily be written on each of the articles, I’ve chosen a select few to reflect upon in light of events that are ongoing or have occurred in the recent past.  Those living in the Western world are, for the most part, shielded from the pain and suffering that exists for the millions whose rights have been denied.  The closest we get to experiencing their plight  is watching a few minutes of television coverage.  But the real picture is not a pretty one, and despite the efforts of both government and non-government agencies, there doesn’t appear to be any relief in sight.

Article #1 States: “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.”

Any review of the violence which continues to be wagged in various parts of the world would note the fact that our ability to act ‘in a spirit of brotherhood’ has been seriously compromised.  And all too often governments only give lip service to the crisis, offering public condemnations and a dose of back-room diplomacy.  Current events in the Democratic Republic of Congo attest to that, with the death toll now approaching 6 million.

Article #3 States: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”

The most troubling aspect of war, even when the action is generally deemed to be justified, relates to the innocent people who are the unwilling victims such conflict.  We are often told ‘that’s the price of freedom’, or the deaths are categorized as ‘unintended consequences’ or the more common ‘collateral damage’, as though creating a more sanitized label makes it any less tragic.  Over 100,000 civilians have died in Iraq since the invasion began, and though it is difficult to accurately assess the additional related deaths from disease, starvation and other causes, it is likely that an equal number have died in this manner.

Article #5 States: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Simple in concept, yet we witnessed the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and acts of torture and abuse within the walls of the Abu Ghraib prison in 2003 shocked the world.  But most incidents of torture go unreported, as they are committed under a veil of secrecy.  Extraordinary Rendition is one such practice engaged in by the United States government during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and it represents a flagrant violation of internationally agreed upon human rights.

United Nations General Assembly

United Nations General Assembly

Article #9 States: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”

Yet this is such a common problem in many countries, from Russia to China to Pakistan.  The most notable example at present involves the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and the imprisonment of detainees without charges being filed.  The location was chosen due to the fact that it is outside of US legal jurisdiction, and the prisoners were classified as ‘enemy combatants’ to deny them the rights provided to POWs under the Geneva convention.  This legal no man’s land has become a human rights black hole.

Article #10 States: “Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.”

Once again, the list of countries that violate this basic right is very long, and by its very nature, illegal imprisonment usually involves a denial of the right to a fair hearing.  Saddam Hussein used the very same Abu Ghraib prison to house thousands of political prisoners.  Denied access to an impartial tribunal, many were executed without so much as a proper trail.

Article #19 States: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Suppression of free speech occurs in most of the developing world to one extent or another, but is also widely practiced in developed countries.  China, Russia and Pakistan once again make that list, while Robert Mugabe‘s blatant campaign of violence and intimidation was used to commit election fraud in Zimbabwe.  Blog censorship has also become a major problem, as many countries struggle with their citizen’s new found ability to communicate outside the traditional channels of television, radio and newspaper – channels that could be easily controlled in the past.

Article #28 States: “Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be full realized.”

The United Nations was intended to be the body which ensures the existence of this social and international order, yet that goal has remained elusive for these 63 years.  When major violations of basic human rights are committed by the members of the United Nations Security Council, it is unwise to assume that the UN will be the organization to pursue violations of this article.

United Nations Secutiry Council

United Nations Security Council

The Role of the United States

It is not realistic to assume the United States will solve this dilemma alone, nor should it assume sole responsibility, as this issue of human rights includes everyone and will require all governments and organizations to participate.  But America has an opportunity to play a special role, not only because it has the world’s largest economic and organizational skill set, but because of its ability to rally support for causes and play a leadership role that will maximize the efforts undertaken.

Come January 20, 2009, this must be a priority of the new administration – to once again claim the moral high ground with respect to upholding and promoting the articles as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and to be the leader that the world needs at such a precarious time in its history.  There is much work to be done in order to remedy our past missteps, but that needs to happen before meaningful progress can be made, and the world can’t wait much longer.

How do we achieve this difficult goal of providing Universal Human Rights?

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