Wednesday, December 10

Communicating Rights: Human Rights


On Dec. 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). At that time, the Assembly called upon all member countries to publicize the UDHR and "to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories."

For the sixty years since, human rights has seen its share of successes and abuses. So many, in fact, it's sometimes hard to discern which direction the world might be moving with regard to human rights. After all, it was only a little more than thirty years ago that then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger noted only 23 of 82 countries receiving aid from the United States could claim having no major human rights violations.

Today, after skimming through the 581-page Human Rights Watch World Report 2008, you'll see not much has changed. Perhaps it's worse. In fact, Jack Healey suggests less than five percent of world even knows the UDHR exists despite a growing number of organizations working to build awareness online.

All awareness without action will erode over time. It's only a question of how fast.

It might even be eroding in the United Nations. According to UN Watch, a non-governmental organization based in Geneva whose mandate is to monitor the performance of the United Nations, only 13 of 47 U.N. Human Rights Council member states had positive voting records on 32 key resolutions. And, as a result, it seems more likely that it will be up to the individuals to step up to preserve the UDHR.

A few already are. In an effort to draw early attention to human rights, Bloggers Unite and Amnesty International USA developed the first major social awareness campaign last May, guiding 1.2 million blog posts and 500 news stories, including CNN.

Even more striking than the volume of the first campaign, the majority of these participants took action — signing petitions, writing letters, and donating funds — to various human rights-related organizations. Some, for the first time in their lives, made long-term commitments by joining Amnesty International and other like-minded organizations.

In the last several months, there have been several specific efforts that have followed as well, including "Bloggers Unite for Refugees" in November, the Save Drafur Coalition petition on Facebook, and the One Day for Human Rights project, which calls for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be printed on passports. The latter is an especially good first step.

Only with awareness comes action. Only through action can people become engaged.

As Larry Cox, director of Amnesty International USA, recently said: action is what makes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a "living" document, not something just to be remembered or invoked in ceremonies, but something to be fought for, celebrated, and fulfilled every day.

It's also a message that the United Nations might remember. In addition to supporting its own celebration, the United Nations HRC needs to revisit some of its mandates that have overturned portions of the UDHR.

2 comments:

Michael Sommermeyer on 12/10/08, 2:24 PM said...

The first time I considered the Declaration was after an U2 concert. Before that I didn't know the UN had issued it. For many, the Declaration may appear to be the idea of an Irish pop band. Ideas are only relevant and worthy of emulation if they appear to others that they are practiced and enforced. The UN should concentrate on expanding this initiative.

Rich on 12/11/08, 6:55 AM said...

Michael,

Always good to read a comment from you and a great personal story of how you were introduced UDHR.

I agree with you. The UN needs to concentrate on expanding this initiative. However, the first step might be reconsidering some members of U.N. Human Rights Council.

Generally, when one has a document such as the UDHR, it requires leadership from the very best and not those who are still struggling with some of the concepts.

Best,
Rich

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