Human Rights

 

Human Rights: The Basic Structure of the World Society

Rene Wadlow

            "All human rights are universal, indivisible and
interdependent and interrelated.  The international community must treat
human rights globally in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing
and with the same emphasis.  While the significance of national and
regional peculiarities and various historical, cultural and religious
backgrounds must be born in mind, it is the duty of Steats, regardless
of their political, economic and cultural systems to promote and protect
all human rights and fundamental freedoms."

                        Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (1993)

            World Citizens have always seen the need to structure the
world society in such a way that the human rights and basic needs of
all the world's people can be met.  In an early statement of our aims,
Stringfellow Barr wrote in Citizens of the World (New York: Doubleday, 1952)
"I am grateful that I live in a time of crisis, a time when real
decisions can be made because real issues have emerged that the human
mind can grasp, and real problems have been located that human will and
human reason can solve."

            We live in a world society bound through communications
and economy to a common destiny.  Thus, there is a need for a
universalistic ethic, one that encompasses all of humanity.  A
foundation of this universalistic ethic is the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, proclaimed by the UN General Assembly meeting in Paris,
December 1948.

            Within the framework of the rights set out in the
Universal Declaration, there has been a steady growth of world law with
human rights conventions and treaty bodies that monitor their
application.  Among the most important of these conventions are the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the
International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, the International
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

            In order to affirm these human rights, there has been a
dynamic growth of the activities of non-governmental organizations such
as the Association of World Citizens with their activities of
investigation and reporting, lobbying national governments and the
United Nations, helping in conflict resolution efforts, and coming to
the defense of individuals when dealing with courts or intergovernmental
bodies.

            Non-governmental organizations are rising in status and
influence, respected voices of the future within the United Nations. Now
is the time for world citizen efforts to provide momentum for
world-wide efforts for the protection of all human rights.

Enhancing Human Rights Globally: The Role of NGOs in the UN



Rene Wadlow*



Our age which has often been so cruel, can now pride itself on having
witnessed the birth of a universal human rights movement. In all walks
of life brave individuals are standing up for their brothers who have
been reduced to silence by oppression or poverty. Their struggle has
transcended all frontiers, and their weapon is knowledge...Defending human
rights today means above all bringing the most secret crimes to light.
It means trying to find out and daring to speak out with complete
objectivity, something which requires courage and occasionally, even
heroism... The United Nations is cognizant that, for human rights to be
more fully recognized and respected, the awareness and support of all
are required. Javier Perez de Cuellar ,then Secretary General of the
United Nations





As we mark each 10 December the anniversary of the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights - marking the day in 1948 when the Declaration was
adopted in Paris- it is inevitable that we look at the large gap between
the aims of the Declaration and the practice of States.. It is easy to
grow cynical at governmental double standards, politically selective
hypocrisy and tactical alliances. Yet success in the human rights field
depends on a continuing commitment to outwit those who have a vested
interest in keeping the UN weak and unable to act effectively. It is
important to note the landmarks of progress. These are some of the
victories where intense effort and creative cooperation among
representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), UN
Secretariat, independent experts, and a few representatives of
progressive governments created awareness, worked to get resolutions
adopted, and built structures for follow up. Each case would merit a
fuller analysis and character sketches of some of the players, but that
would be a book rather than an article.



I list 10 victories which seem to me to be real advances. Others would
no doubt make different lists, but as an NGO representative to the UN in
Geneva, I had participated in each of these advances and knew the key
players. Governments, who alone have the ability to vote UN resolutions
in the end, happily take credit for advances. Yet in these cases,
progress was made by ideas coming from NGO representatives, helped by UN
Secretariat civil servants who must keep a "low profile", and the
representatives of some governments where an issue touched them
personally - and did not go against their government's policy.



1) Awareness of the rights and conditions of indigenous and tribal
populations. When this issue was first raised in the early 1980s
"indigenous" were considered to be only the Indians of North America who
had come in force to present their case in Geneva. Some governments
finally went along thinking that such analysis would be a subtle
criticism of the USA without costing them anything. However, the
International Labour Organization Convention N° 109 on indigenous
peoples, the only UN treaty on the matter, speaks of "indigenous and
tribal". Thus, it was possible to raise issues of tribal groups in
south-east Asia such as the Chakma of Bangladesh, who are not
"indigenous" having migrated from south China over the last 1000 years
but have a tribal society. Much of the advances in the field are due to
the skills and dedication of Ms Erica Daes who for many years chaired
the Working Group on Indigenous Populations. Now, the indigenous and
tribal issues cover a wide number of countries and have moved to center
stage.



2) Torture. When the use of torture was first raised in 1973, torture
was thought to be a rare practice limited to a small number of
countries. It turns out that it is, in fact, widely used by a large
number of countries. Getting torture to be a recognized issue and having
the Commission on Human Rights create the post of Special Rapporteur on
Torture owes much to Sean MacBride (1904-1988) at the time chairman of
the Amnesty International Executive Committee (1961-1974) and Nobel
Peace Prise laureate (1974). MacBride had been the Foreign Minister of
Ireland (1948-1951) and knew how governments work. He had also been a
long-time member of the Irish Republican Army (1917-1936) and knew well
how police as well as insurgencies work having spent time in prison.
MacBride called torture an 'epidemic' perpetrated by regimes 'to control
dissent and maintain power.' The well-organized campaign against
torture brought together numerous NGOs to pressure governments in the UN
General Assembly to take action.



3) Death Penalty. The efforts for the abolition of the death penalty
also owe much to Amnesty International and its long-time
Secretary-General the late Martin Ennals. His role, often in the
background but always on key issues, is an example of how NGO impact can
be made.



4) Conscientious objection to military service. Conscientious objection
as a human rights was a long but successful fight on the part of a small
number of NGOs such as the Quakers, the Fellowship of Reconciliation
and the International Peace Bureau. It was led by the representatives of
Ireland, Canada and Austria - all of which have armies but whose
representatives went "that extra mile" to overcome opposition and get
the resolution passed.



5) Child Soldiers. The attention now given to the human rights
violations from the existence of child soldiers - both the fact that
children are taken as soldiers and the human rights violations that they
are forced to commit was brought to the attention of the Commission on
Human Rights by the Quakers and the NGO Defense for Children. This led
to the creation of a Special Representative on Children in Conflict as
well as attention at the UN Security Council and the International
Criminal Court.



6) The Right to Housing. The right to housing and especially the
destruction of houses in the process of slum clearing, often done
without re-housing, owes its place on the human rights agenda to a small
number of NGOs but who had dramatic examples of abuses. There is now an
active Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing.



7) Freedom of Religion and Belief. It was a 20-year effort to get the
adoption in 1981 of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of
Intolerance Based on Religion or Belief. It was an effort kept alive by a
small number of States and NGOs. It is not sure that as far-reaching
and complete a Declaration could be drafted today. The Declaration
serves as a guideline for the right to belief in many of the current
religious-based tensions.



8) The Rights of Women. It is always strange how difficult it is to get
proper attention to the rights and condition of women since they are
half and probably more of humanity. Nevertheless, it has been a long
effort largely carried by NGOs. It is a multifaceted effort and was
helped by a series of UN-sponsored conferences on women. Geneva-based
NGOs such as the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom have
played key roles. The concept that women exist and thus have rights has
brought together NGOs who are often divided on other issues.



9) Systematic rape. The awareness of systematic rape as a crime against
humanity has grown as part of the broader effort on the equality of
women mentioned in point 8. Many of the NGOs concerned with equality of
women have been concerned with domestic violence as well. Thus, they
reacted strongly to reports of systematic rape during the conflicts in
former Yugoslavia. This issue has also been raised concerning the
conflict in Darfur, Sudan, and in the eastern provinces of the
Democratic Republic of Congo.



10) Human Rights Defenders. I leave for last our auto-defense: the
efforts to protect human rights defenders on the front lines. Raising
human rights issues in a good number of countries can get you into
trouble. Even writing to Amnesty International is not a danger-free
practice in some places. The killing in Moscow of Anna Politkovskaia, in
2006, a journalist critical of the conflict in Chechena, is there as a
symbol of all those on the front lines of human rights efforts. Thanks
to NGO efforts, the UN has created a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights
Defenders - a constant reminder to governments and in some cases
non-governmental militias that they are being watched





All these victories are fragile, and there are governments who would
want them reversed or forgotten. But on Human Rights Day, we can welcome
these advances, remember those whose drive, skills and determination
helped bring forward these issues which many would have left in the
dark. We need to prepare for the next battles which are not far away.



*Rene Wadlow, President and representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens

Prepare to defend human rights in Turkey

 July 17, 2016

By Rene Wadlow

It is difficult to know now or even later the nature of the failed
military coup in Turkey during 15-16 July 2016. Confrontation between
factions has been long in the making. There have been successful
military coups with a larger number of the military involved in the past
so that military coups are part of the political culture of Turkey.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has found an easy target to blame in
Fatullah Galen, a leader of a Turkish Islamic order, Hizmet (Service)
influenced, at least in part by the Sufi teacher Said Nursi. Gulen had
once been a supporter of Erdogan but who fell away in 2013. Gulen has
been living since 1999 in self-imposed exile in the United States. Some
Gulen supporters have posts in the government civil service, but there
is little reason for Gulen to call for a coup.

What is clearer, however, is that there will be a large number of
arrests of persons suspected of opposition. The government of President
Erdogan has a constant history of silencing or marginalizing persons
considered to be in opposition: newspaper editors and reporters,
university professors, opposition members of Parliament, Kurds and other
ethnic minorities. People are already being arrested. More are likely
to follow.

Since Turkey is an important player in the armed conflicts in Syria
and Iraq and in the refugee flows to Europe, there will be only muted
calls for moderation and the rule of law from European and NATO 
government leaders.

Thus, the defense of human rights in Turkey is likely to depend
largely on human rights non-governmental organizations, associations of
lawyers, and academics defending academic freedom. It is necessary to
organize as soon as possible to defend the rule of law, fair trials, the
non-use of torture. There is a need to prevent a "guilt by association"
atmosphere which may overtake many, especially members of Gulen's
Islamic order in the same way that the Egyptian military struck against
Muslim Brotherhood members.

In order to inspire corrective efforts by governments, human rights
defenders must demonstrate that their factual statements are true, and
thus constitute a reliable basis for remedial governmental policy.  I
keep with me the words of the heart-felt cry of the Ambassador of Peru
to the 1985 session of the UN Commission on Human Rights at the time
when the government was fighting against the Sendero Luminoso " Those
making allegations before the Commission should first ascertain the
facts!"

Fact finding in the field of human rights has a special importance
and also encounters special difficulties both because of the
subject-mater and because of the importance attached to it by public
opinion.  This is all the more so in the current Turkish case that
President Erdogan has used the term "treason" concerning the actions of
the coup military.

Thus, it is likely that the next few days will be crucial to develop a
network of non-governmental observers, techniques of communication,
ways of checking on information, and way of raising concerns with the
Turkish authorities.

Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens


10 October: Abolition of the Death Penalty

Rene Wadlow

"I shall die, but that is all that I
shall do for Death. I am not on his pay-roll. I will not tell him the
whereabouts of my friends nor of my enemies either."
Edna St Vincent Millay

10 October is the International Day Against the
Death Penalty, set by the United Nations General Assembly. Since the end
of World War II, there has been a gradual abolition of the death
penalty with the rather obvious recognition that death is not justice.
In some countries, executions have been suspended in practice but laws
allowing executions remain; in other cases there has been a legal
abolition.

The clear words of the American poet Kenneth
Patchen (1911-1972) have been a credo for those of us who have opposed
executions on moral grounds:

This is a man

He is a poor creature

You are not to kill him

This is a man

He has a hard time

Upon the earth

You are not to kill him.

There are also those who oppose the death
penalty on the practical grounds that it has little impact on the rate
of killing in society.

10 October can also be a day to oppose all
organized killings. In addition to State-sponsored official executions,
often carried out publicly or at least with official observers, a good
number of countries have state-sponsored "death squads" - persons
affiliated to the police or intelligence agencies who kill "in the dark
of the night" - unofficially. These deaths avoid a trial which might
attract attention or even a "not guilty" decision. A shot in the back of
the head is faster. The number of "targeted killings" has grown. In
many cases, the bodies of those killed are destroyed and so death is
supposed but not proved. This is what the United Nations called
"enforced or involuntary disappearances." Attacks by drones are also a
form of State-organized executions without trial or the possibility of
appeal.

There is also a growth in non-governmental targeted
killings. Attention has focused recently on the drug-trade-related
death of Mexico's "drug lords". These groups of organized crime have
many of the negative attributes of States. Their opponents are
designated for killing and executed by those on the pay-roll of death.
These groups are not limited to Mexico. In addition, there are a good
number of countries where non-governmental militia groups exist and
carry out executions.


Jan Christian Smuts: What Rises Converges
  by Rene Wadlow

It has been my lot to have passed many of the years of my life amid the conflicts of men, in their wars and in their Council Chambers. Everywhere I have seen men search and struggle for the Good with grim determination and earnestness, and with a sincerity of purpose which added to the poignancy of their fratricidal strife.

Jan Christian Smuts (1870 - 1950 )

Jan Christian Smuts, whose birth anniversary we mark on 24 May, was the Prime Minister of South Africa from 1919 to 1924 and again from 1939 to 1948 as well as having served in the South African government in other posts, having started at the young age of 28 as the Minister of Justice of Transvaal. There would be much to analyze in the South African political career of Smuts, representative of an Afrikaner mentality but educated at Cambridge University and so a link to the English-speaking community in South Africa and to politics in England.

However, it is Smuts as an original thinker, author of Holism and Evolution and a major contributer to the structure of the League of Nations and to the Preamble of the UN Charter that I would like to highlight.

Smuts was by nature timid and reserved. He was a poor public speaker and did not like the sort of social occasions at which political figures need to be seen. As a poor speaker, although a UK-trained lawyer, he gave up quickly working in court cases to take up writing on serious topics in newspapers. He had fought on the Boer side in the 1899 Second Boers War and was given the title of "General". He was widely respected in South Africa if not particularly liked as a political figure.

His reflections on the motors of history he published in 1926 as Holism and Evolution, but he had been making notes for a long time. (1) In 1924, for a 10-year period, he left active political life and so focused on the publication of Holism. In the preface he wrote "The old concepts and formulas are no longer adequate to express our modern outlook. The old bottles will no longer hold the new wine. The spiritual temple of the future will require new and ampler foundations in the light of the immense extension of our intellectual horizons."

Evolution with a goal was for Smuts the motor of history. "The groaning and travailing of the universe is never aimless or result less. Its profound labours mean new creation, the slow painful birth of wholes of newer and higher wholes, and the slow but steady realization of the Good which all the wholes of the universe in their various grades dimly yearn and strive for − and slowly but in ever-increasing measure, to attain − wholeness, fullness, blessedness. The real defeat would be to ease the pain by a cessation of effort, to cease from striving toward the Good."

To this driving force behind the evolutionary process, he gave the name holism − a great unifying creative tendency that operates through Nature, life and mind, which organizes them from the humblest inorganic beginnings to the most exalted ideas. To Smuts, creative evolution meant the emergence of ever more complex and organized wholes synthesizing new entities from the parts and then transcending them. The wholes are viewed not as aggregates of their parts, but in terms of dynamic synthesis and a rising hierarchy of ever more perfecting wholes.

Although the writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin were only published after Teilhard's death in the 1950s, at the same time that Smuts was publishing Holism Teilhard was independently developing the same views on the direction of evolution and the ways that parts become wholes on a higher level of organization − a concept that Teilhard de Chardin expressed as "All that rises converges." For a contemporary development of parts and wholes (which he calls holons) see the writings of Ken Wilber.(2)

For Smuts, the League of Nations and then the United Nations were examples of the ways parts - that is separate States- converge into a greater whole. Smuts' draft for the League of Nations was incorporated into the British proposals for the structure of the League. As in all international political negotiations, the Covenant of the League is a compromise among different proposals, but Smuts' draft was a major element. Smuts' proposal for a system of League of Nations mandates for the German and Ottoman colonies was used almost as Smuts had proposed.

As one of the few "fathers" of the League of Nations still active in 1945, Smuts was asked to express the values and aims of the United Nations which would serve as the Preamble to the Charter. The structure of the United Nations had been largely designed in 1944, well before the 1945 San Francisco Conference, but there needed to be an inspire ring Preamble that would set out clearly the goals and values of the organization.

For Smuts, although the League of Nations had not lived up to his hopes, the League had been an important step in the evolution of humanity. For Smuts the aims of the United Nations were not to be separate goals but rather parts coming together in a larger coordinated whole. Thus the aims set out in the Preamble − peace, human rights, a higher standard of living in greater freedom and the development of international law − were not separate aims but a convergence into a higher whole.

The contribution of Jan Christian Smuts to wholistic thinking in many different fields is often overlooked by the world-wide reaction to South Africa's racial policies. We can not separate his domestic political actions from his philosophy, but Holism and Evolution merits an important place in the main currents of modern thought.

****************************************

Notes

1) J.C. Smuts. Holism and Evolution (First published in 1926 in Cape Town and London. Republished in 1987 by N & S Press, Cape Town)

2) See in particular Ken Wilber. Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. The Spirit of Evolution (Boston: Shambhala, 1995)

****************************************
  Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens




New challenges for global citizens

          
                 

By Rene Wadlow


                 

The Global Citizenship Commission (GCC) under the
                    leadership of the former UK Prime Minister Gordon
                    Brown presented its report The Universal
                      Declaration of Human Rights in the 21
st
                      Century
to the United Nations on 18 April
                    2016.[1]


                 

The Global Citizenship Commission was created "to
                    illuminate the ideal of global citizenship. What
                    does it mean for each of us to be members of the
                    global society?"[2] Human rights are the foundation
                    of the global society.  The principal aim of the
                    1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
                    was to create a framework for a world society that
                    was in need of universal codes based on mutual
                    consent in order to function. The early years of the
                    United Nations was characterized by the division
                    between the Western and Communist conceptions of
                    human rights, although neither side called into
                    question the concept of universality.  The debate
                    centered on which rights, political, economic and
                    social were to be included.


                 

In the 1960s with the entry into the UN of a large
                    number of African States which had not been present
                    when the UDHR was proclaimed in 1948, there were
                    discussions as to whether new States were bound by
                    the UDHR values adopted before they were
                    independent.  By and large, consensus was reached on
                    the universality of all the human rights set out in
                    the UDHR.  This universality was clearly reaffirmed
                    in the 1993 Vienna Declaration of the World
                    Conference on Human Rights in which nearly all UN
                    Member States took part.


                 

In 1948, the members of the UN Commission on Human
                    Rights saw the human rights process as a three-step
                    effort.  First was the proclamation of the general
                    principles which was the UDHR.  The second step was
                    to be the codification of these principles into laws
                    both at the world and at national levels.  The third
                    step was to be some form of implementation through
                    reports and observation, possible complaints
                    procedures and ultimately some form of enforcement
                    or sanctions.  In 1948, it was not clear how the
                    second and third steps should be carried out.


                 

In practice, through the leadership of UN
                    Secretariat members of the UN Centre for Human
                    Rights and active representatives of
                    non-governmental organizations (NGOs), there has
                    developed a rich texture of human rights conventions
                    with 10 "treaty bodies" which receive reports on the
                    application by governments of the human rights
                    treaties they have ratified.


                 

The Commission on Human Rights has now been
                    transformed but largely unchanged into the Human
                    Rights Council.  The Commission began the practice,
                    continued by the Council, of naming "Special
                    Rapporteurs" on specific issues such as "States of
                    Emergency" or on specific country situations where
                    there was broad agreement that there were persistent
                    human rights violations.


                 

Largely through the efforts of NGO representatives
                    helped by UN Secretariat members but who must keep a
                    "low profile", there has been progress made both on
                    issues and on bringing attention to vulnerable
                    people.  The Global Citizenship Commission
                    highlights these advances, but as only one member of
                    the Commission came from the NGO world, the NGO
                    representatives role is somewhat lost in the vague
                    terminology of "civil society".


                 

I would stress seven areas which have become part
                    of ongoing UN human rights work that owe their
                    existence to NGO efforts in the Commission on Human
                    Rights:


                 

1) Awareness of the rights and conditions of
                    indigenous and tribal populations;


                 

2) Torture;


                 

3) Death penalty;


                 

4) Conscientious objection to military service;


                 

5) Child soldiers;


                 

6) Systematic rape in armed conflicts;


                 

7) The Right to Religion and Belief.


                 

Beyond the UN human rights bodies, other parts of
                    the UN system have played an important role: the
                    International Labour Organization on the abusive
                    work of children and youth, UNICEF on the rights of
                    children.  As the Global Citizenship report
                    stressed, it would be good to have more cooperation
                    within the UN system. This is a repeated theme of
                    all reports on the functioning of the UN, but then,
                    it could be said of national governments as well.


                 

Much of the Global Citizenship report is devoted to
                    the analysis of the way the UN has met past
                    challenges and is a good overview for those who have
                    not participated directly. The report calls in a
                    general way for improvements. "The international
                    community needs a toolkit of governmental and
                    multilateral responses to rights violations that is
                    more legitimate and sophisticated than what we have
                    today and which relies on mechanisms other than the
                    use of force."


                 

The GCC report highlights two new challenges:


                 

1) discrimination due to sexual orientation;


                 

2) migration-refugee flows due to both short-term
                    armed conflict and longer-term consequences of
                    climate change.


                 

On the first issue of discrimination due to sexual
                    orientation, representatives of NGOs have already
                    been active.  There has been real progress from the
                    mid-1980s when the issue had been first raised and
                    then "swept under the rug" due to strong opposition
                    from a number of States.  Now, UN Secretariat
                    members have taken the lead.  There is still much to
                    be done, especially in changing attitudes at the
                    individual and local levels, but I think that the
                    direction toward inclusiveness has been set.


                 

Issues of migration and refugees go beyond what
                    NGOs can do alone, although NGOs have been active on
                    both refugee and climate change questions.  On 19
                    September, at the start of the UN General Assembly,
                    there will be a one-day Summit on migration issues
                    at the UN in New York.  NGOs should be able to make
                    migration-policy suggestions in advance and to raise
                    the issue of "statelessness" which is increasingly a
                    result of migration.


                 

The Global Citizenship Commission with its
                    secretariat at New York University Global Institute
                    for Advanced Study has set out a clear overview of
                    the past and has highlighted some of the new
                    challenges − a useful alert for those of us working
                    on global issues and a call for an increased number
                    of co-workers.


                 

Notes


                 

                       
  1. The study is available in print from the UK firm
                          Open Book Publishers (www. Openbookpublishers.com)
                          and can be downloaded in pdf at no cost.

  2.                    
  3. The Global Citizenship Commission follows the
                          pattern of earlier independent commissions often
                          best remembered by the individuals who headed
                          them: Pearson, Brandt, Palme, Brundtland,
                          Carlson/Ramphal. See Ramesh Thakur, Andrew Cooper,
                          John English (Eds). International Commissions
                            and the Power of Ideas
    (Tokyo: United
                          Nations University Press, 2005, 317pp)

  4.                      

                 

Rene Wadlow is the President of the Association of World
                    Citizens, an international peace organization with
                    consultative status with ECOSOC, the United Nations
                    organ facilitating international cooperation on and
                    problem-solving in economic and social issues.


               

             


Burundi: Storm Warning
by Rene Wadlow
2015-07-06 11:03:53

The United Nations Human Rights Council ended its session on Friday, 3 July, and called attention to two new country situations which require strong efforts to limit violence and on-going violations of human rights: South Sudan and Burundi.

The UN human rights bodies had been concerned with Burundi before at the time of large scale killings, and the UN had helped to develop the 2005 Arusha Peace Agreement creating a new and more inclusive structure of government for Burundi.  The Arusha compromises led to some years of relative peace.  The Peace Agreement was in part based on an agreement on "term limits" − the president of the country would be limited to two terms.  However, being in power can become a habit, and the current President Pierre Nkurunziza has decided to run for re-election to a third term claiming that for the first term he had not been elected by popular vote but chosen by the Parliament − thus he could be elected twice by popular vote.

The legalistic reasoning was lost on most people who only saw a third term coming up.  Thus the decision led to violent protests in the capital Bujumbura, to a failed military coup on 13 May, to repression by the military loyal to the President, and to a large refugee flow to Rwanda and the Congo by people fearing that the worst is to come.

The administration of President Nkurunziza, while providing relative stability and lack of violence, has done little for the socio-economic development of the country. Many people would welcome change.  However, Nkurunziza has prevented the development of a well-organized political opposition.  There are currently 17 groupings calling themselves "political parties". Most have called for a boycott of the elections.  These opposition parties have been unable to mount a campaign of debates on issues or to present candidates with a country-wide following.

The election is to be held on 15 July, and all points to a re-election of Nkurunziza. The danger is that the post-election period will be filled with protests and street violence.  The weak administration may turn to the military to keep "order".  The best one can hope for is continued stagnation of socio-economic development in relative calm.  However storm warning flags must be posted.  The danger of violence is real, and relatively few people are working for what could be a reasonable compromise: the President leaving power but with someone from his inner circle replacing him. A situation to watch.

 **************************************************************************

Rene Wadlow, President and a representative to the United Nations, Geneva, Association of World Citizens.


UN Human Rights Council Reaffirms the Safeguards for Civilians in Times of War

    René Wadlow

"Accountability for breaches of international humanitarian law and for human rights violations, as well as respect for human rights, are not obstacles to peace, but rather the preconditions on which trust and, ultimately, a durable peace can be built."

- Navanethem Pillay, then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2009.

On July 3, 2015, the concluding day of its summer session, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council welcomed the report of the "Gaza Conflict Commission of Inquiry" which indicated that the Israeli military and Palestinian armed groups may have committed war crimes during the Israeli "Operation Protective Edge" campaign. 47 member States of the Human Rights Council voted in favor of the resolution, 5 States abstained: Kenya, Ethiopia, Macedonia, India and Paraguay; the USA was the only Member State to vote against the resolution.

The Gaza Conflict Commission of Inquiry was led by the New York Judge Mary McGowan Davis with Doudou Diène of Senegal, the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism (2002-2008), as the other ranking member. The Commission was to study the legal implications of an earlier UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict. The Commission was not established to evaluate the results of the Fact-Finding Mission which had largely confirmed the death tolls provided by the Gaza Hamas administration, some 2,250 Palestinians killed of which 1,462 civilians. Rather the Commission had the task of setting out the world law applications of the facts collected earlier.

Thus the focus of the Commission was the "Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War" of August 12, 1949. The Geneva Conventions, for which the International Committee of the Red Cross is responsible, grew out of deliberations started in 1947 in the shadow of the abuses of the Second World War. By 1949, the negotiations among governments led to the 1949 Red Cross Conventions. The emphasis was on the principles of protection and not on the punishment of wrong doers. The International Committee of the Red Cross is not an international court. It bases its protection efforts on the belief that all sides in a conflict have an interest to follow the laws of war as its soldiers or civilians could meet the same fate. If there is to be any action on trials and punishment, such trials should be done in national courts.

From 1974 to 1977, as a result of the war in Vietnam, there were subsequent laws of war negotiated to cover "civil wars" − wars within a State where the parties involved may not be States. (1)

Today, however, there is the International Criminal Court which can investigate as well as having the mandate to hold court trials and pass judgment. Investigations and trials can also be carried out at the national level. The Israeli argument has always been that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) can and does carry out investigations and that there is a functioning national court system. The Hamas-led administration of Gaza makes the same argument.

Unfortunately, both Israel and Hamas have dismal records of investigating their own forces. I am unaware of any case where a Hamas fighter was punished for deliberately shooting a rocket into a civilian area of Israel − on the contrary, some Hamas leaders repeatedly praise such acts. While Israel has carried out investigations into alleged violations by its forces, the emphasis has been on the unauthorized actions of individual soldiers, not on policy makers. Yet the Gaza Conflict Commission stressed that "military tactics are reflective of a broader policy approved at least tacitly by decision-makers at the highest levels of the Israeli government."

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) active in UN human rights bodies, including the Association of World Citizens, have long stressed the importance of fact-finding carried out by the UN, intergovernmental bodies such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and NGOs themselves. (2)

There are now two follow-up steps set out by the Human Rights Council resolution:

1) A request is made that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (and thus the Secretariat) prepare a report on implementation measures;

2) A recommendation that the UN General Assembly take up the matter "until it is satisfied that appropriate action is taken to implement its recommendations."

The Israeli government has replied angrily to the resolution, the Israeli Ambassador to the UN in Geneva calling it an "anti-Israeli manifesto" and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying "the UN Human Rights Council cares little about the facts and less still about human rights."

Rather, I would say that the resolution is an important procedural advancement in the respect of world law in times of conflict. In the past, there have been UN-authorized fact-finding missions with the reports going directly to discussion in the UN Commission on Human Rights (as it was then) and then to the UN General Assembly. With the Gaza Conflict Commission of Inquiry we have a useful intermediary step. First there is a fact-finding effort as close in time to the events as possible to interview victims, to see the physical damage and to interview the military and other combatants. Such fact-finding is done, as it were "in the heat of the action".

Then there is a calm, legal review of the fact-finding reports. In the past when I have been present at debates on fact-finding reports in the Commission on Human Rights, the debates were anything except calm and legal. They were political exchanges which reflected the evaluations of the original conflict. In this case of the Gaza Commission, we have an orderly presentation of facts, avenues to strengthen protection, and suggestions on the role of the International Criminal Court. There is no guarantee that the discussions in the next UN General Assembly will be calm and focused on legal procedures, but at least there will have been this useful intermediary step.

As things now stand, world law is not created by the decisions of a world parliament. World law is basically the "common law of mankind"' based on small advances. Usually the first step is to set out the basic values in widely agreed-upon texts such as the Red Cross Geneva Conventions. This is followed by a recognition that there are repeated violations of these values in the practice of war, the torture of individuals, massive aggression against minorities. After repeated violations, there is the very slow realization that such violations are not acceptable and if nothing is done, the values themselves will be permanently undermined.

We are now at this last stage as concerns Gaza. The repeated bombings of the Gaza Strip do not bring peace, security or socioeconomic development. In fact, each bombing campaign creates a more difficult situation. It is not a function of world law to say what socioeconomic-political measures should be taken, though as NGO representatives we can and have made suggestions. The function of world law is to set out clearly the value basis of the law, to set out fair procedures to deal with possible violations and ultimately to see if there can be sanctions or punishment for wrong doers.

I believe that we still have many miles to go on the path for the respect of world law, but I believe that the direction is now set.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Notes

1)      See Hilaire McCoubrey and Nigel White, International Law and Armed Conflict (1992)

2)      See B. G. Ramcharan (ed), International Law and Fact-Finding in the Field of Human Rights (1983)

For NGO Fact-finding, see Hans Tholen and B. Verstappen, Fact-Finding Practice of Non-Governmental Organizations (1986)


The Continuing Humanitarian Crisis and Violations of Human Rights in ISIS-held Areas in Iraq and Syria
                                    Rene Wadlow*

    In a 25 August 2014 Statement, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned the "appalling, widespread, and systematic violations of human rights" by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The violations mentioned included targeted killings, forced conversions, abductions, trafficking of women, slavery, sexual abuse, destruction of religious and cultural sites of significance and the besieging of entire communities because of ethnic, religious and sectarian affiliation. Among those directly targeted have been the religious communities of Christians, Yezidi (also written Yazidi) and Sabeans (also called Sabean-Mandaeans) In addition to the violation of human rights, the High Commissioner cited other UN reports stressing the humanitarian crisis and the severe shortages of food, water and the lack of medical services.

    One year later, the situation remains much the same, but with an increased number of people uprooted as internally displaced persons and refugees. The political situation has grown more complex, with Turkey playing an increasing if unclear role. Efforts at mediation by the United Nations of the Syrian aspects of the conflict have not given visible results. Russian diplomats have been meeting with some Syrian factions as well as with the Syrian government, but there seem to be no advances toward broader negotiations. The political and military actions of ISIS have effectively linked Iraq and Syria so that each conflict is linked to the other. A global approach for conflict resolution is needed.

    The conflict has increased religious sectarian attitudes. It is hard for an outsider to know to what extent religious differences are deeply felt or if religion is used as a "cover" for ethnic, tribal, and economic interests. It is certain that ISIS has tried to give a religious coloring to its policies, with forced conversions and destruction of non-Islamic communities which refused conversion. Therefore, there needs to be an emphasis on freedom of religion or belief as set out by the United Nations. One of the major UN declarations confirming a deep sense of inherent dignity is the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, adopted by the General Assembly on 25 November 1981 after a number of years of study and discussion in which the Association of World Citizens took an active part. The Declaration states "that it is essential to promote understanding, tolerance and respect in matters relating to freedom of religion and belief and to ensure that the use of religion or belief for ends inconsistent with the Charter, other relevant instruments of the United Nations and the purposes and principles of the present Declaration is inadmissible."

    Article One states clearly that "No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have a religion or belief of his choice."

    World law as developed by the United Nations applies not only to the governments of Member States but also to individuals and non-governmental organizations. The ISIS has not been recognized as a State and is not a member of the United Nations. Nevertheless, the Association of World Citizens is convinced that the terms of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief applies to the ISIS and that the actions of the ISIS are, in the terms of the Declaration "inadmissible.

    Life in the emerging world society requires world law and certain common values among all the States and peoples of the world.  The challenges which face us all require inclusive ethical values based on a sense of responsibility for both present and future generations.  Such values are, I am sure, in the heart of many individuals who are now living in areas under the control of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. We must find ways to reach such people with the message that the policies of the ISIS leaders are deliberate violations of world law and ethical standards.  The majority of the world society is not hostile to the people living under ISIS rule and we look forward to the time when human rights standards will be the law of the land. In the meantime, they need to work as best they can for a tolerant and open society.

*Rene Wadlow, President, and a representative to the United Nations, Geneva, of the Association of World Citizens


The Death Penalty and Human Dignity
by Rene Wadlow
2015-10-10

10 October is the International Day Against the Death Penalty.  Since the end of World War II, there has been a gradual abolition of the death penalty due to the rather obvious recognition that putting a person to  death is not justice.  Moreover, on practical grounds, the death penalty has little impact on the rate of crime in a country.  A number of States have a death penalty for those involved in the drug trade.  To the extent that the drug trade can be estimated statistically , the death penalty has no measurable impact on the trade − a trade usually linked to economic or geopolitical factors.

deat01_40010 October can also be a day to oppose all organized killings by State agents.  In addition to State-sponsored official executions, usually carried out publicly or at least with official observers, a good number of countries have State-sponsored "death squads" − persons affiliated to the police or to intelligence agencies who kill "in the dark of the night" − unofficially.   These deaths avoid a trial which might attract attention or even a "not guilty" decision. A shot in the back of the head is faster.  The number of "targeted killings" has grown.  In many cases, the bodies of those killed are destroyed and so death is supposed but not proved, as has been the case of students protesting in Mexico.  US assassinations with drones has also been highlighted both in the United Nations human rights bodies and domestically.  However, the drone "strikes" continue, and there is very little legislative opposition.

A good deal of recent concern has been expressed on the death sentence in Saudi Arabia pronounced against Ali al−Nimr found guilty "of going out to a number of marches, demonstrations, and gatherings against the state and repeating some chants against the state" when he was 15 years old.  He is to die by crucifixion.  There is perhaps some chance of a change of penalty due to more historically-minded Saudis.  The most widely known person crucified is Jesus.   As the Roman count records have been lost, we have only the account written by his friends who stressed that he was innocent of the crimes for which he was condemned.  His crucifixion has taken on cosmic dimensions. "Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?" The Saudis try to avoid some of the Jesus parallel by beheading the person before putting the rest of the body on the cross, but the image of the crucified as innocent is wide spread.

10 October is an occasion for us to stress the importance of human dignity.  Our efforts against executions need to be addressed both to governments and to those state-like non-governmental armed groups such as ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The abolition of executions and the corresponding valuation of human life are necessary steps in developing a just world society.

 ***************************************************************

Rene Wadlow, President, and a representative to the United Nations, Geneva, Association of World Citizen



 

 

Human Rights: The Basic Structure of the World Society
Rene Wadlow
 
            “All human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated.  The international community must treat human rights globally in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing and with the same emphasis.  While the significance of national and regional peculiarities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be born in mind, it is the duty of Steats, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
                        Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (1993)
 
            World Citizens have always seen the need to structure the world society in such a way that the human rights and basic needs of all the world’s people can be met.  In an early statement of our aims, Stringfellow Barr wrote in Citizens of the World (New York: Doubleday, 1952) “I am grateful that I live in a time of crisis, a time when real decisions can be made because real issues have emerged that the human mind can grasp, and real problems have been located that human will and human reason can solve.”
 
            We live in a world society bound through communications and economy to a common destiny.  Thus, there is a need for a universalistic ethic, one that encompasses all of humanity.  A foundation of this universalistic ethic is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed by the UN General Assembly meeting in Paris, December 1948.
 
            Within the framework of the rights set out in the Universal Declaration, there has been a steady growth of world law with human rights conventions and treaty bodies that monitor their application.  Among the most important of these conventions are the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
 
            In order to affirm these human rights, there has been a dynamic growth of the activities of non-governmental organizations such as the Association of World Citizens with their activities of investigation and reporting, lobbying national governments and the United Nations, helping in conflict resolution efforts, and coming to the defense of individuals when dealing with courts or intergovernmental bodies.
 
            Non-governmental organizations are rising in status and influence, respected voices of the future within the United Nations. Now is the time for world citizen efforts to provide momentum for world-wide efforts for the protection of all human rights.
 
 

 

 

World Citizens, strongly opposed to the death penalty, question the Egyptian Government's condemnation to death of 528 persons in a short mass trial.

In a 26 March 2014 message to the acting President of Egypt and to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, René Wadlow, President of the Association of World Citizens, stated that the mass trial of Muslim Brotherhood members accused of the death of a police officer and terrorist acts during the August 2013 protests was an insult to the Spirit of Justice and a violation of the rule of law.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) has repeatedly called upon governments for a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty − a penalty that extensive research has shown has little or no impact on the level of violent crime and too often opens the door to judicial errors and injustice.

The speed of the two-day trial during which defense lawyers were not able to develop their arguments is unprecedented and points to the political motivations of the current military-influenced Government.

There is a possibility to appeal the verdict, but the timing and modalities are unclear. There are some 1,200 Muslim Brotherhood supporters awaiting trial, and this trial in the Minya Criminal Count does not indicate a rule of law but rather of revenge and a desire to inspire fear of possible Government action.

The verdict now goes to Egypt's Grand Mufti, a religious authority, for approval or rejection. It is not clear on what basis religious authorities review and make decisions on what are essentially secular trials. In practice, death sentences in Egypt are often handed down, but few have been carried out in recent years. The aims of the trials and the sentences are political: to show that death is a real possibility if one “steps out of line”.

Such a misuse of the court system undermines trust in the legal order and is in violation of the spirit and provisions of human rights law.

The Association of World Citizens is devoted to the universal application of human rights law which includes fair trials and the right to adequate defense. Therefore, the AWC calls upon the Government of Egypt to revise this court case by a speedy appeal procedure and to see that the subsequent trials concerning Muslim Brotherhood members or supporters of former President Mohammed Mossi are carried out in conformity with established international norms.

 

 

Human Rights: The Basic Structure of the World Society

Rene Wadlow

“All human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated. The international community must treat human rights globally in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing and with the same emphasis. While the significance of national and regional peculiarities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be born in mind, it is the duty of Steats, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (1993)



World Citizens have always seen the need to structure the world society in such a way that the human rights and basic needs of all the world’s people can be met. In an early statement of our aims, Stringfellow Barr wrote in Citizens of the World (New York: Doubleday, 1952) “I am grateful that I live in a time of crisis, a time when real decisions can be made because real issues have emerged that the human mind can grasp, and real problems have been located that human will and human reason can solve.”



We live in a world society bound through communications and economy to a common destiny. Thus, there is a need for a universalistic ethic, one that encompasses all of humanity. A foundation of this universalistic ethic is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed by the UN General Assembly meeting in Paris, December 1948.



Within the framework of the rights set out in the Universal Declaration, there has been a steady growth of world law with human rights conventions and treaty bodies that monitor their application. Among the most important of these conventions are the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.



In order to affirm these human rights, there has been a dynamic growth of the activities of non-governmental organizations such as the Association of World Citizens with their activities of investigation and reporting, lobbying national governments and the United Nations, helping in conflict resolution efforts, and coming to the defense of individuals when dealing with courts or intergovernmental bodies.



Non-governmental organizations are rising in status and influence, respected voices of the future within the United Nations. Now is the time for world citizen efforts to provide momentum for world-wide efforts for the protection of all human rights.

 

 

Enhancing Human Rights Globally: The Role of NGOs in the UN



Rene Wadlow*



Our age which has often been so cruel, can now pride itself on having witnessed the birth of a universal human rights movement. In all walks of life brave individuals are standing up for their brothers who have been reduced to silence by oppression or poverty. Their struggle has transcended all frontiers, and their weapon is knowledge…Defending human rights today means above all bringing the most secret crimes to light. It means trying to find out and daring to speak out with complete objectivity, something which requires courage and occasionally, even heroism… The United Nations is cognizant that, for human rights to be more fully recognized and respected, the awareness and support of all are required. Javier Perez de Cuellar ,then Secretary General of the United Nations





As we mark each 10 December the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — marking the day in 1948 when the Declaration was adopted in Paris— it is inevitable that we look at the large gap between the aims of the Declaration and the practice of States.. It is easy to grow cynical at governmental double standards, politically selective hypocrisy and tactical alliances. Yet success in the human rights field depends on a continuing commitment to outwit those who have a vested interest in keeping the UN weak and unable to act effectively. It is important to note the landmarks of progress. These are some of the victories where intense effort and creative cooperation among representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), UN Secretariat, independent experts, and a few representatives of progressive governments created awareness, worked to get resolutions adopted, and built structures for follow up. Each case would merit a fuller analysis and character sketches of some of the players, but that would be a book rather than an article.



I list 10 victories which seem to me to be real advances. Others would no doubt make different lists, but as an NGO representative to the UN in Geneva, I had participated in each of these advances and knew the key players. Governments, who alone have the ability to vote UN resolutions in the end, happily take credit for advances. Yet in these cases, progress was made by ideas coming from NGO representatives, helped by UN Secretariat civil servants who must keep a “low profile”, and the representatives of some governments where an issue touched them personally — and did not go against their government’s policy.



1) Awareness of the rights and conditions of indigenous and tribal populations. When this issue was first raised in the early 1980s “indigenous” were considered to be only the Indians of North America who had come in force to present their case in Geneva. Some governments finally went along thinking that such analysis would be a subtle criticism of the USA without costing them anything. However, the International Labour Organization Convention N° 109 on indigenous peoples, the only UN treaty on the matter, speaks of “indigenous and tribal”. Thus, it was possible to raise issues of tribal groups in south-east Asia such as the Chakma of Bangladesh, who are not “indigenous” having migrated from south China over the last 1000 years but have a tribal society. Much of the advances in the field are due to the skills and dedication of Ms Erica Daes who for many years chaired the Working Group on Indigenous Populations. Now, the indigenous and tribal issues cover a wide number of countries and have moved to center stage.



2) Torture. When the use of torture was first raised in 1973, torture was thought to be a rare practice limited to a small number of countries. It turns out that it is, in fact, widely used by a large number of countries. Getting torture to be a recognized issue and having the Commission on Human Rights create the post of Special Rapporteur on Torture owes much to Sean MacBride (1904-1988) at the time chairman of the Amnesty International Executive Committee (1961-1974) and Nobel Peace Prise laureate (1974). MacBride had been the Foreign Minister of Ireland (1948-1951) and knew how governments work. He had also been a long-time member of the Irish Republican Army (1917-1936) and knew well how police as well as insurgencies work having spent time in prison. MacBride called torture an ‘epidemic’ perpetrated by regimes ‘to control dissent and maintain power.’ The well-organized campaign against torture brought together numerous NGOs to pressure governments in the UN General Assembly to take action.



3) Death Penalty. The efforts for the abolition of the death penalty also owe much to Amnesty International and its long-time Secretary-General the late Martin Ennals. His role, often in the background but always on key issues, is an example of how NGO impact can be made.



4) Conscientious objection to military service. Conscientious objection as a human rights was a long but successful fight on the part of a small number of NGOs such as the Quakers, the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the International Peace Bureau. It was led by the representatives of Ireland, Canada and Austria — all of which have armies but whose representatives went “that extra mile” to overcome opposition and get the resolution passed.



5) Child Soldiers. The attention now given to the human rights violations from the existence of child soldiers — both the fact that children are taken as soldiers and the human rights violations that they are forced to commit was brought to the attention of the Commission on Human Rights by the Quakers and the NGO Defense for Children. This led to the creation of a Special Representative on Children in Conflict as well as attention at the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court.



6) The Right to Housing. The right to housing and especially the destruction of houses in the process of slum clearing, often done without re-housing, owes its place on the human rights agenda to a small number of NGOs but who had dramatic examples of abuses. There is now an active Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing.



7) Freedom of Religion and Belief. It was a 20-year effort to get the adoption in 1981 of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance Based on Religion or Belief. It was an effort kept alive by a small number of States and NGOs. It is not sure that as far-reaching and complete a Declaration could be drafted today. The Declaration serves as a guideline for the right to belief in many of the current religious-based tensions.



8) The Rights of Women. It is always strange how difficult it is to get proper attention to the rights and condition of women since they are half and probably more of humanity. Nevertheless, it has been a long effort largely carried by NGOs. It is a multifaceted effort and was helped by a series of UN-sponsored conferences on women. Geneva-based NGOs such as the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom have played key roles. The concept that women exist and thus have rights has brought together NGOs who are often divided on other issues.



9) Systematic rape. The awareness of systematic rape as a crime against humanity has grown as part of the broader effort on the equality of women mentioned in point 8. Many of the NGOs concerned with equality of women have been concerned with domestic violence as well. Thus, they reacted strongly to reports of systematic rape during the conflicts in former Yugoslavia. This issue has also been raised concerning the conflict in Darfur, Sudan, and in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo.



10) Human Rights Defenders. I leave for last our auto-defense: the efforts to protect human rights defenders on the front lines. Raising human rights issues in a good number of countries can get you into trouble. Even writing to Amnesty International is not a danger-free practice in some places. The killing in Moscow of Anna Politkovskaia, in 2006, a journalist critical of the conflict in Chechena, is there as a symbol of all those on the front lines of human rights efforts. Thanks to NGO efforts, the UN has created a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders — a constant reminder to governments and in some cases non-governmental militias that they are being watched





All these victories are fragile, and there are governments who would want them reversed or forgotten. But on Human Rights Day, we can welcome these advances, remember those whose drive, skills and determination helped bring forward these issues which many would have left in the dark. We need to prepare for the next battles which are not far away.



*Rene Wadlow, President and representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens

 

 

Human Rights: The Basic Structure of the World Society
Rene Wadlow
 
            “All human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated.  The international community must treat human rights globally in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing and with the same emphasis.  While the significance of national and regional peculiarities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be born in mind, it is the duty of Steats, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
                        Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (1993)
 
            World Citizens have always seen the need to structure the world society in such a way that the human rights and basic needs of all the world’s people can be met.  In an early statement of our aims, Stringfellow Barr wrote in Citizens of the World (New York: Doubleday, 1952) “I am grateful that I live in a time of crisis, a time when real decisions can be made because real issues have emerged that the human mind can grasp, and real problems have been located that human will and human reason can solve.”
 
            We live in a world society bound through communications and economy to a common destiny.  Thus, there is a need for a universalistic ethic, one that encompasses all of humanity.  A foundation of this universalistic ethic is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed by the UN General Assembly meeting in Paris, December 1948.
 
            Within the framework of the rights set out in the Universal Declaration, there has been a steady growth of world law with human rights conventions and treaty bodies that monitor their application.  Among the most important of these conventions are the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
 
            In order to affirm these human rights, there has been a dynamic growth of the activities of non-governmental organizations such as the Association of World Citizens with their activities of investigation and reporting, lobbying national governments and the United Nations, helping in conflict resolution efforts, and coming to the defense of individuals when dealing with courts or intergovernmental bodies.
 
            Non-governmental organizations are rising in status and influence, respected voices of the future within the United Nations. Now is the time for world citizen efforts to provide momentum for world-wide efforts for the protection of all human rights.