Archive for the ‘UDHR’ Category

China Admits: Still Long Way to Go on Human Rights, But…

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

CHINA Flag -2011China’s defense of its human rights record has long centered on its success at lifting millions of people out of poverty, by providing food, clothing, housing and economic growth for Chinese citizens. They’ve always claimed these as the most relevant measurements for developing countries like itself.

This month, Wang Chen, head of the State Council Information Office, said in a speech published in the English-language China Daily on July 13, that China still has “a long way to go” before its citizens can enjoy full human rights. While admitting problems and challenges, the overall report adopts a positive tone. China plans to draft a new Human Rights Action Plan for 2012 – 2015.

While human rights criticism continues from the USA and other countries, only a retrospective look, at some future date, will be able to ascertain if some significant human rights improvements have yet occurred, or are on the horizon.

However, for now we can only try to provide perspective on what is involved in creating a society that honors ‘human rights’. While, admittedly, comparisons are always ‘risky’, five things should be noted:
1) Nobody has yet explained or provided an example of ‘development’ that does not involve some form of oppression and slavery for any society – since ancient times up until the present.
2) The Chinese have enough people to not have to enslave others outside their borders, while getting dirty and terrible work to be performed.
3) The USA was not a bastion of ‘human rights’ or ‘civil rights’ until the 1970’s, or 195 years after it began – else there would have been no need for a ‘civil/human rights movement’ to give rights to more than 50 million-plus people (African-Americans who led most of the fight for human-rights, plus all the other groups that have benefited – women, Hispanics, Asians, Jews, etc). Human rights efforts that had begun near the founding dates of the country, never gained momentum until the 1945-1965 period, but had little effect until the 1970’s.
4) Each step along the way to ‘human rights’ in the USA, even for the white majority, has been on a road that involved fights, murders, and other pitched battles. In other words, not a peaceful path with everyone holding hands and singing in harmony.
5) Even today, some human rights battles still continue in the USA.

UN Secretary General Discusses Role of UN in the New Year

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

On New Year’s Eve, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon wrote an editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald outlining what he sees as the role of the UN in the upcoming year, contending that “more is being asked of the United Nations by more people in more places.” He also highlights the need to refocus on the Millennium Development Goals, which is a blueprint of strategies for nations and civil society organizations in an effort to eliminate extreme poverty around the world.

In reflecting on the state of the world in 2011, it is important to critically think about how human rights strategies intersect with issues of poverty and development. Consider Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.” What similarities and differences do you see between the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Millennium Development Goals? Why are issues of health and poverty not discussed as human rights issues in the United States? Should they be?


Happy Human Rights Day 2010!

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Today, December 10, 2010, marks the 62nd anniversary of the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)! The UDHR is the most widely translated document in the world (375 languages and dialects) and consists of a preamble and 30 articles outlining the rights that apply to all people, regardless of any distinction (race, gender, nationality, religion, class, ability, sexual orientation, etc.) simply by virtue of their membership in the human family. Article One eloquently states the spirit of human rights by proclaiming that “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.” While the UDHR is a declaration and is not legally binding, the UDHR served as the foundation of the modern human rights movement by inspiring the birth of international human rights law through the passage of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights. Together, all three constitute the International Bill of Rights.

Yet, most importantly, in addition to the development of legal mechanisms, the UDHR inspired local human rights movements for equality, freedom from discrimination, and self-determination around the world. What will you do today to honor the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? The 3 million members of Amnesty International are participating in a Global Write-a-Thon, writing letters on behalf of political prisoners. The human rights community in Atlanta is celebrating with an artistic program called “RISE” at the Rialto Center tonight. Others are educating themselves on how their home country ranks in its respect for human rights by reading the Human Rights Risk Atlas (the U.S. ranking may surprise you)…

Getty Images

Getty Images

The Right to Food: A Debate in India

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

Despite recent years of tremendous economic growth, India is facing incredible challenges of how to address the desperate needs of its hungry and poor, as more than 421 million people live in poverty and nearly half of all children under five are underweight. Recent New York Times articles provide excellent coverage on this issue and a closer look at the life and challenges of India’s poor. While elected officials and experts agree on the need to reevaluate India’s failing social safety nets, they disagree on the roles of government and the market in hunger relief programs. The President of the ruling Indian National Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, is advocating for the creation of a constitutional right to food. But with widespread corruption in the existing food delivery systems, critics are skeptical that a constitutional right and expansion of the current system would solve the practical problems of distribution. Of course, Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly addresses the issue of hunger, stating “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food.” It will be fascinating to see how the world’s largest democracy will address perhaps the most complex issue facing our world today- the implementation of human rights ideals in a global reality of mass economic inequality.

Credit: Lynsey Addario for the NYTimes

Credit: Lynsey Addario for the NYTimes

Egypt Accused of Using Lethal Force Against Migrants

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Migrants who seek to use the Egyptian border with Israel as a staging area for illegal entry into Israel have become victims of a shoot-to-kill policy, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The victims are primarily Sub-Saharan Africans – mainly from Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, through her spokesman in Egypt, Rupert Coville, has expressed ‘acceptance’ of the idea that migrants often accidentally lose their lives during their efforts to cross remote land borders, but notes that these deaths are too numerous to be accidental and are caused by lethal weapons. The government of Egypt is being asked by the Commissioner to conduct an independent investigation into the activities and policies of the border State security forces. The use of lethal force on unarmed migrants is deemed inexcusable.

UNHCHUR - Ms Navi Pillay

Human Rights Day 2009!

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

“International Human Rights Day reminds us of persisting human rights problems in our communities and in the world, and of the enormous efforts still required to make human rights a reality for all.”
- Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan

Today, millions of people around the globe are celebrating the 61st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Amidst the celebrations, however, Human Rights Day also requires us to critically reflect upon our past successes and failures, and to refocus our efforts in addressing the human rights challenges that lie ahead. Kofi Annan’s quote subtly highlights an important component of what our collective efforts must address- the “human rights problems in our communities.” In other words, if human rights are to become a reality on a global scale, people must first work to secure human rights in their local communities where accountability and cultural competency are the greatest. In Atlanta, for instance, thousands of people live without a home or basic healthcare. Instead of regarding these as misfortunes, Atlantans must understand them as violations of a human being’s right to adequate housing and health in order to construct policy solutions that meet the basic tenets and ideals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What human rights are not realized in your small corner of the world- in your home, in your school, in your workplace, or around your neighborhood? How will you recognize Human Rights Day, both locally and globally?

For some ideas, check out Amnesty International’s Global Write-A-Thon for prisoners of conscience, and read this blog posting by Britt Bravo, which includes a more comprehensive list of Human Rights Day celebrations.

‘All human beings are born free and equal…’

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Human Rights Day is coming in just a couple days. The day commemorates the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948. The Declaration was written partially as a response to the atrocities of genocide and war that took place during the Second World War. I think it stands as an amazing testament to the best of human intentions. We are all born free and equal. But this is not yet realized in the current state of world affairs.

Take a moment and read the Universal Declaration. Find a way to mark Human Rights Day in action, not just in thought. Because ‘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.’

The Berlin Wall: 20 Years Later

Friday, November 6th, 2009

Twenty years ago one of the world’s most recognized symbols of government repression, The Berlin Wall, came down. November 9th, 1989, is remembered as the day that East Berliners took back their right to freedom of movement by storming the barricade (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 13). What has changed in the last two decades- do other similar walls exist today? Do you have a story about the Berlin Wall or a memory of defending your right to free movement?

Universal Human Rights: What are the Justifications?

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

The ethic of human rights is that all people, by virtue of being human and nothing more, are entitled to basic rights and liberties. As outlined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), there are at least thirty moral obligations each person owes to the rest of humanity and vice versa. Yet, the UDHR was adopted less than a century ago, and was promoted for the most part by Western nations, especially the United States. With such a short and localized history, how are we to accept that this ethic ought to be adopted universally, for all people and all time? Contemporary critics of the doctrine of human rights have argued that it is vague, that it undermines more traditional value systems, and that it is logically incoherent. Slavoj Žižek has written several articles on the subject, including ”Human Rights and Its Discontents.” Charles Blattberg wrote an article entitled “The Ironic Tragedy of Human Rights.” What justifies our acceptance of human rights? If we agree that we all ought to act in accordance with the UDHR, what reason can we give? In contrast to most moral traditions, human rights is not justified in terms of religion, a political body, or an economic system. Some would argue it is not justified at all. So what is the reason for accepting it? What is your reason?

What is the Most Important Human Rights Document?

Friday, October 16th, 2009

What human rights document do you consider most important?

My own beliefs about human rights are shaped about equally by a bunch of gut reactions and some very abstract ideas. When something seems particularly just or unjust, I’m usually reacting at the level of “That’s right!” or “That’s wrong!”

Like I said before, I read to find out what I think. So I’m asking today about documents, because that’s where I begin to bridge the gap between my own reactions and abstractions. I think first of the Bill of Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the philosophical debates that are context for these documents. I imagine some think first of the golden rule or religious scripture like the Koran, the Bible, the Torah. Maybe some think of the writings of Rousseau or Locke and philosophy concerning divine, legal, and natural rights.

Go back and look at that interview with Galbraith and Mulet. Notice that neither of them refers directly to any document, but a great deal is implied. Their disagreement is largely procedural and political, but the subtext is a very complex ground of different religious, ethnic, and legal distinctions. Building and supporting a workable human rights framework requires both agreement and disagreement. It’s often messy.

When you find yourself facing a difference between what you think is right and what a neighbor thinks, how do you bridge that gap? How about when that neighbor isn’t so near but is halfway round the world?

Do you react? Do you start to think about the abstractions behind their rights and yours? Does a particular document shape your thoughts and feelings in these sorts of moments? Which ones?