Friday, February 27, 2009

Flashback Commentary: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

(Commentary by Humanitarian Media Foundation (HMF) Co-Founder & Board Chairman K.J. Wetherholt. Posted by Humanitarian Media Foundation (HMF))

This was originally published on August 27, 2007 on the previous blog site of the HMF. In light of Darfur, the DRC, and numerous other humanitarian crises, including those of present instances of genocide and human rights abuses, this is being reprinted.

Many have never read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, (adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) December 10, 1948) nor know of its history. (See, courtesy of the UNHCHR) I think, perhaps, it is time to remind everyone the tenets which are involved, which ostensibly guarantee basic humanist principals in terms of international relations and policy–not to mention how it should–even if it hasn’t in many cases–filtered down from the UN through to national, regional and local populations among all countries of the United Nations.

The United Nations indeed has its problems–one of them has always been the difficulty found in trying to form even the most basic consensus among its member nations–the others being what means it has and should use to implement its policies, necessary oversight of its commissions, and the ultimate authority it has to act–particularly in terms of the sovereignty of other nations.

I believe we should always embrace the best of ideals–but my warm hope is that most would embrace enough pragmatism to see that idealism in the vacuum of debate is not enough. If one believes in something enough, he or she should be willing to act on those beliefs, and moreso in the midst of crisis. The same should be true of countries which have embraced the ideals of this Declaration and yet when the time came to act, were too concerned with politics–and distracted by the inherent squabbling among nations as to the means of action–to the point where the crisis reached the point of no return. As the old adage goes, even those who refuse to make a decision have decided something. One cannot be congratulated for idealism when such idealism leads to nothing.

Know that even in action, not everyone will agree. Know that you may anger another faction or nation in the process–nothing worth doing is ever done with true, unequivocal consensus. Know that mistakes may be made in the process of righting what can justifiably be seen as an obvious wrong. Hindsight is indeed 20/20. But know this, too–had action taken place on many distinct occasions, the horrors of many human holocausts–and/or the fallout from certain crises–would never have happened. As long as humanity is made up of men and women whose personal preferences–or ego for that matter–outweigh the common good, or agree to disagree on some more minor matters but still cannot see the proverbial forest for the trees when it comes to a situation in which action is paramount, such an impasse will continue to mar the best of intentions.

The United Nations–in terms of both the Security Council and the overall General Assembly, and in terms of this Declaration which it indeed itself adopted by resolution in 1948, right after WWII when such nations by virtue of such adoption, professed that they would never forget–is inherently responsible to all of its member nations–and to those populations which are most vulnerable. As we have seen, debate can go on indefinitely. Resolutions can be passed. But again, at which point will the United Nations choose to live up to its convictions and with one smooth, uncompromising motion act on them when the time comes. Right now, any humanitarian organization worth its salt could name ten different current or impending disasters. (Even the Humanitarian Media Foundation (HMF) even prior to launch has a Humanitarian Crisis Index.) When will the UN choose to make the human beings under its auspices–and the inspiration of its Declaration–more important than maintaining a growing organizational behemoth which in certain critical moments talks more than it acts?

Know, too, this is not meant for those on the front lines–including many of the tireless people who work for the various offices and sections of the United Nations–who are there every day filing reports which state–categorically–that action should be taken. These are the ones who, like others on the ground–the countless NGO’s and aid agencies–are all screaming at the top of their lungs for action.

This is for those who are appointed to rarefied positions in the General Assembly and the UN Security Council who may at the moment forget what it is they’re supposed to be fighting for.

And indeed, understand that I am talking again about particular crises that had every hallmark of a foreseeable humanitarian disaster. Every great power has been responsible at one time or another for such inaction. None can be seen as exempt. We here in the United States have been beaten to a pulp by nations around the world over these past years for various reasons–but we are not the only ones to whom the finger should be pointed. But at this point, too, we should be damned tired of pointing fingers when the only thing that results is further conflict.

In the age of deconstruction–and I am not so thankful for this among Derrida’s notable contributions to human philosophy–it seems we have perhaps deconstructed our own basic morality down to nothing. We no longer are willing to take responsibility for ourselves or to one another. “Passing the buck” has gone from a laughable line to a mode of philosophical belief. And I think those on the humanitarian front lines have had enough.

There is more to be said on this topic and in more detail, and no doubt, this as subject matter will find its way into further posts. But in the interim, again, take a look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is a wonderful document. It is perhaps time, after almost sixty years, that it be implemented.

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