Wednesday, June 01, 2005

On human rights, Part I

Okay, so as promised, today we look at the history of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Much thanks is given to the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which provides plenty of information worth stealing.

On December 10, 1948, in the aftermath of the second World War, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 217 A (III), commonly known as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Considered the first of its kind in an international community, the Declaration was adopted by 58 disparate Member States that agreed on at least one thing, the fair and just treatment of every person, everywhere, regardless of nationality, religion, socioeconomic status, anything.

The UN Commission on Human Rights was established in 1946 with the goal, among others, of creating just such a Declaration to guide the work of the Commission. Committee members from Australia, Chile, China, France, Lebanon, the USSR, the UK, and the US spent two years drafting the 400-page outline. It was adopted in 1948 with 48 of the 58 Member States in favor (abstaining were Byelorussian SSR, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Ukrainian SSR, Union of South Africa, USSR, and Yugoslavia; two countries were absent). Though not legally binding, it was then and is today a recognition of the value of human life and dignity across all nations and cultures. It has been followed by such legally binding documents as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Preamble reads as follows:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

But what does this mean for me?

The Declaration was approved by 48 of the 58 Member States, among them Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and, yeah, the US. Obviously, some of those countries don't have the greatest records where human rights are concerned, and some might ask why we have to honor our commitment to human rights when they aren't. My answer to that always starts with Moron, spoken silently and only with the eyes, followed by, "Because we said we would." Because we looked at the document and the rights listed therein and said, "Yeah, those sound good. We're going with that." And because if we don't, we end up lumped in with the countries that haven't honored their commitment to the Declaration, which, if you ask me, isn't the greatest group to hang with.

Mostly, though, we have to honor our commitment because it's right. We agreed to it in the first place because it was right, and it hasn't become any less right as time goes on. And honestly, anyone who looks at the rights included in the Declaration and says, "Yeah, actually, I have a problem with those. I mean, sure, they're good for me, but why shouldn't I get to torture other people?" has some real issues.

Just answer the question already.

It means that the dignity and basic rights of every human being are the basis of freedom, justice, and peace, and that denying people those rights in the name of freedom and justice is an absolute crock.

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