Wednesday, February 10, 2010


In my International Politics and Law class, we've been studying international treaties/declarations a lot, including why they get created and why they are (or aren't) complied with, and this one really caught my attention. It's the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Signed by all members of the UN in the General Assembly, it calls for basic human rights that most of us (especially Americans and Western Europeans) enjoy daily and rarely have to question. Rights like the right to marriage (though, Americans do have to question how far that extends), or to vote, or to not be tortured or held in slavery, the right to be equal before the law and be treated as a human being no matter what. Again, things that we typically don't have to question, because at the top of society, we enjoy these rights every day.

And yet, there are billions of people that don't enjoy those rights -- they live in constant fear of being forced into slavery, of being "silenced" for their political/religious/sexual/whatever beliefs. The UN says that those actions are illegal and cannot be carried out by anyone, implying that especially their member countries should be abiding by this. And yet member countries like China and Iran, many African countries like Guinea, Burundi, Yemen, Sudan, and Rwanda, still make the news with mass genocides and rapes, and general human rights violations, even though they've agreed to this contract 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" (Article 1, UDHR), and that "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person." (Article 3, UDHR), among 28 other explicitly listed rights.

So what the hell was the point of the declaration? If you go read it, it has absolutely no enforcement policy. The UN has basically said that yeah, everyone's equal, but we're just going to twiddle our thumbs about it and blah blah blah, "condemn" people who participate in violations, but basically not punish them at all. So things like this happen:

Bloody Monday: The September 28 Massacre and Rapes by Security Forces in Guinea. Yeah, you read that right -- Security Forces. As in Guinea's Elite Presidential Guard carried out the abuse of hundreds of people in a stadium.

Burundi refusing asylum to Rwandan refugees as they attempt to escape violence and oppression in their own country.

Skin on the Cable: Cambodia sending drug users to "rehabilitation camps" that seem a lot more like detention camps. The Human Rights Watch report talks about detainees being "beaten, raped, forced to donate blood, and subjected to painful physical punishments such as 'rolling like a barrel' and being chained while standing in the sun."

I know I've mentioned China before, but let's talk about them: Like Cambodia, they're also jailing drug users, censoring Google (which I'm sure we've all heard about), and keeping mum on the disappearances of 43 Uighur men after they were detained by Chinese security forces.

So, seriously, why did the UN bother to create this declaration? The countries that already lived by it still do and the countries that didn't live by it then still don't. If it wasn't going to get enforced, why bother? It just makes the UN look bad. Don't you agree? It doesn't look good for the UN that organizations like Human Rights Watch and International Justice Missions (not to mention the media in general) have to call them out to live by their own standards.

Thank God the UN is finally taking a step in the right direction and attempting to end rape in war, but a lot more needs to be done before they can say that they have truly universally declared and agreed to human rights.

Here's a good article defining exactly what human rights and their violations consist of.

(Thanks go to Human Rights Watch for all the articles I mentioned/linked up to. That organization rocks. Definitely check them out -- there are thousands more articles that I didn't get to mention.)

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