10 December 2014

Peace and Good Will—We Should Be So Lucky



T
oday is Human Rights Day, commemorating the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN General Assembly on this day in 1948. And how appropriate it is to the season. Consider 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.
Damn right. In a way it’s sad that the remaining twenty-nine articles have to exist at all, spelling out that people should not be tortured (Article 4) or enslaved (Article 5), or deprived of employment (Article 23) or leisure (Article 24) or education (Article 26). Shouldn’t this all go without saying? Apparently not; when the nation that prides itself on being the city on the hill and the beacon of hope for the world descends to torture and degradation of human beings for political ends all bets are off.
The release of the heavily-censored report on torture in the United States comes to us during this joyous season, thanks to the vagaries of politics and our President’s lame-duck attempt to kill it altogether. And this on top of the spate of random police officers killing unarmed civilians over minor crimes or perceived threats. Not that the rest of the world has that much to boast of, with Pakistan orchestrating lynchings over the purely imaginary crime of blasphemy, Russia and Uganda persecuting gay people and anybody who so much as says such persecution is wrong, Ireland and Saudi Arabia engaging in the worst kind of religious oppression, India’s promotion of rape… All, all are guilty.
On the whole a noble document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights favors good things—equality before the law (7), equal pay for equal work (23), the right to privacy (12), freedom of thought (18), freedom of opinion and expression (19), freedom of movement (13), the right to an adequate standard of living (25), the right to enjoy and arts and share in scientific advancement (27), and so on. It lies squarely in the tradition represented by classic US documents like The Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.
If there’s a single document that spells out the meaning of the season in practical terms, this is it. It was supported in 1948 by states as disparate as Afghanistan and Mexico, Egypt and Thailand, Syria and the United States, Iceland and Turkey. No one voted against it, though a handful of states (including unsurprisingly Saudi Arabia, the Soviet Union, and the then-segregated Union of South Africa) abstained from voting.
Too bad we can’t live up to it.

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