Thursday, 14 February 2008

Human Rights under threat

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 marked the high watermark of post-war idealistic aspirations. It is indeed a nobly phrased document, ringing with lofty ambition.

The most important provisions of the Declaration are:

“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 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,

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations…..

Article 1.

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.

Article 2.

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3.

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

* * *

Article 9.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10.

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.

* * *

Article 12.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 13.

(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.

Article 18.

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19.

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.

It is obvious from a cursory glance that in this first decade of the 21st century, most of the above provisions are being scornfully trampled over by governments and powerful groups all over the world, including those of the USA and UK who should, one would have hoped, be keen to occupy the moral high ground to which they still pay occasional lip-service. But there is little solid support for fundamental human rights, even in the UN Human Rights Council, and even more disturbingly, as a recent report from the delegate of the International Humanist and Ethical Union to the latest UN discussion of these issues at Geneva makes clear, there is a concerted and increasingly successful drive by Islamic states to undermine the whole concept. Keith Porteous Wood says:

The body overseeing Universal Human Rights is the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Taking part in their meetings is a sobering experience. While there are countries, groups and individuals who make wonderful contributions, Human Rights are undoubtedly becoming less universal and inalienable. The individual’s rights are in great danger of becoming alienated in favour of group rights – often for religions.

The proceedings of the UNHRC have become a constant battle between Western nations, on the one hand, and the numerous members of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), aided by a few countries who always support them and in turn receive support from them. These include China, Cuba and even India.

So, the 56 OIC countries are also making considerable progress on an international declaration on defamation of religion – a kind of all-religions blasphemy super law. Anyone seeking to draw attention to the capital offence of apostasy will be lucky even to be heard, and there is no chance of any action. Anything deemed the slightest bit critical of Islam is immediately jumped upon, and possibly even excised from the official record.

But the problem is much more serious even than apostasy laws or threats to freedom of expression. The whole edifice of Universal Human Rights is crumbling before our very eyes, and the “West” is letting it happen. With all the support the OIC can muster, and with painfully little active opposition from the “West”, those supporting the Universal declaration no longer have the upper hand. There are some honourable exceptions such as Canada and Belgium and the EU is a positive influence, but most Western countries are doing little better than wringing their hands, while others do not even do that. The United States is less than helpful, yet with its support and leadership this depressing picture could be so very different.

And the Secretariat are coming under increasing pressure to give the OIC an unobstructed run. The opportunities for non-Governmental organisations that are prepared to speak out — such as the International Humanist and Ethical Union — are being drastically diminished, if not eroded altogether.

The OIC Secretary-General, Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu issued a statement to mark Human Rights Day 2007. It reads, in part: “Respect of Human Rights through effective protection and promotion of equality, civil liberties and social justice is a milestone in the OIC Ten Year Plan of Action. In this regard the OIC General Secretariat is considering the establishment of [an] independent permanent body to promote Human Rights in the Member States in accordance with the provisions of the OIC Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam and to elaborate an OIC Charter on Human Rights. The OIC is also committed to encourage its member States to reinforce their national laws and regulations in order to guaranty strict respect for Human Right[s].”

The OIC Cairo Declaration is explicitly based on Shariah law.

According to Wikipedia “The CDHRI concludes that all rights and freedoms mentioned are subject to the Islamic Shariah, which is the declaration's sole source. The CDHRI declares ‘true religion’ to be the ‘guarantee for enhancing such dignity along the path to human integrity’. It also places the responsibility for defending those rights upon the entire Ummah.” This is paving the way for second-class, religious-based group “rights”, rather than individual Universal Human Rights. And unless we are careful, many of the countries with the greatest need of Universal Human Rights support (and a high proportion of them are in OIC countries) will come under a shariah system....The whole Universal Human Rights machinery is unravelling for the second, and perhaps final, time while Western states stand by, drumming their fingers in resigned acceptance.

Meanwhile, the most vulnerable in the world are being betrayed.

We must all try very much harder to support Human Rights from attack, whether that is from religious or cultural forces. Please do anything you can to raise consciousness of this impending crisis for humanity and to put politicians and diplomats everywhere under pressure to take responsibility for protecting Universal Human Rights.

Clearly, it is the inhabitants of theocratic countries who most need the protection of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – yet the supposedly ‘democratic’ Western countries are doing little if anything to ensure its survival, let alone its global enforcement. This issue needs to be seriously addressed at the forthcoming meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in South Africa in April.


zola a social thing said...

Was there anything about the Free Market?
Was that included?
A Limited post I know but ....
The UNlimited free market seems to be what you are talking about here in reality.

anticant said...

There's no such thing as a free lunch. Or a free market.

Richard W. Symonds said...

As one (US) wit put it : "If the Iraqis want a new Constitution, they can have ours -- we're not using it."

Yankee Doodle said...

It is easy to point the finger at others, Anti, but the real problem is in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Lest some of my esteemed cohorts mistake me for a leftard, let me clarify.

The US and the UK are nowhere near as bad as some of these other countries, but that's not the point. The point is that we should be leading the way, and we should be leading in the correct direction. Waterboarding detainees is not the correct direction, neither is some of the PCness now so current in the UK.

I can and do point the finger at Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and so many other places; but too many of my fellow Americans would be all too happy to "torture terrorists". This flies in the face of two very important principles upon which the US was founded, principles inherited from your side of the pond: 1) the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, violated by torture; and 2) due process and the presumption of innocence, violated by the application of these techniques to those who have only been accused of wrongdoing.

Churchill made a remark in 1940 which seems so "today" about the world being a shabby and dangerous place.

anticant said...

You are absolutely correct, YD, but one cannot cover all aspects in a single post.

Many of us in the UK -and, I know, in the US as well - are aghast at the way in which our governments have ignored basic human rights in their crassly foolish response [led by Bush & Co.] to 9/11. I have often written about this.

Civil liberties are, unfortunately, a forlorn cause when people feel threatened. It is dismaying how many people say "serve 'em right" when one points out the wrongfulness of detaining people without trial, torturing them to extract [largely worthless] information, etc. It never occurs to them that the same could happen to them. Most people lack the imagination to say "There but for the grace of God go I". The airline pilot who was given leave yesterday to seek damages for false imprisonment [at the behest of the US authorities] is a case in point.

I have just been reading two books about how enemy aliens and 18B detainees [mostly British fascists] were mistreated during WW2 because of fears of a [mythical, as it turned out] 'fifth column'. It is a depressing story of government panic, false security 'intelligence' and official blunders. Even Churchill acquiesced in it for a time, until his libertarian instincts resurfaced and he recognised how odiously many people - including refugees from Nazi tyranny - had been treated and ordered their release.

Rturning to the subject of this thread, I hope that you and others on both sides of the pond will pressurise our governments to resist the watering down of the Universal Declaration from any quarter, and seek to extend its application to inhabitants of all countries around the world [though not by military 'liberal interventionism'!]

Jose said...

I agree. Nobody must have any precedence in questions related to the human rights. Nothing must be imposed on anyone in this regard. Everybody is free to adopt any private view concerning his/her life.

Religions, political parties or any groups of any nature must not interfere with the normal free way of living of any world's citizen.