freedom of expression
un declaration of human
This year, 2018, is an iconic one - the centenary of the end of World War One, the 15th anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War, and the 70th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
In a year when the world more than ever needs recognition of human rights, a year when millions are migrating or embroiled in war or stranded in the poverty of refugee camps, Dove Tales calls for the rich nations of the world, including our own, to stand by the Declaration and start putting its principles into practice.
In September we held an event at the Wigtown Book Festival to explore it. Below two of our members offer their responses.
THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
On the 10th December, 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year is the 70th anniversary of that event – the creation of one of the most important documents the world has seen. UDHR is not a treaty, so it does not directly create legal obligations for countries. However, it is an expression of the fundamental values which are shared by all members of the international community. And it has had a profound influence on the development of international human rights law. The rights it upholds in its 30 Articles are extremely relevant to the aims of Dove Tales.
UDHR was drawn up in an attempt to ensure that the horrors, atrocities and human rights abuses of World War Two never happened again. President Roosevelt summed up the spirit of the document when he referred to the four pillars of the Declaration: Dignity, Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood. And Article 1, by way of introducing the other 29 Articles, states: ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’ UDHR is universal. The word all in Article I is hugely significant. To quote Martin Luther King:
‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.’
Each time an injustice occurs and we look the other way, when we do nothing, it becomes easier for it to happen again. The standard we have set for ourselves has slipped. A human right has been eroded. Despite the fact that all members of the United Nations must be signatories to UDHR, the Articles to which they have agreed are violated and disregarded on a daily basis by governments the world over, including the British Government.
Dove Tales aims to challenge the place of war in our society and in our philosophy, and to advocate dialogue and humanitarian action instead of military action. A high proportion of the violations of human rights that take place are either a result of war – loss of life, rape, executions without trial, torture, to name but a few; or they are the cause of war – for example, when subjugated groups fight for their freedom, when injustices become so intolerable that victims rise up in protest, when silenced people turn to violence as the only way left to make their point. It is encouraging to know that, when Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, was UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, she said, ‘If human rights are respected, conflict, terrorism and war can be prevented.’
Article 3 is of particular interest to Dove Tales members and supporters:
‘Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.’
Clearly, at times of conflict, all three rights mentioned here are lost, are snatched away. It is not only armed combatants who are killed and injured. In World War One 10% of those who died were civilians. In World War Two just under half of those who died were civilians. In the Korean War that figure had risen to 83%; and in the Vietnam War a tragic and horrifying 95% of all those who died were civilians and many more injured. Since then there have been many acts of terrorism where 100 % of the casualties have been innocent civilians.
This year alone, the number of men, women and children fleeing conflict zones such as Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq (again, to name but a few) is vast. They have no security of person. Neither do millions of human beings have security of person due to poverty. They lack the basic means of survival –food, shelter, clean water, adequate sanitation or medical facilities.
Poverty at this level is a form of violence; and almost always the cause is not lack of wealth, the cause is lack of justice and equality. The so-called Democratic Republic of Congo, for instance, is a country fantastically rich in diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, zinc and coltan (used in mobile phones). It should be one of the richest nations in the world and yet it is just the opposite. This vast country has hardly any roads or railways, while the health and education systems lie in ruins. Instead the natural riches have attracted rapacious adventurers, unscrupulous corporations, vicious warlords and corrupt governments, and divided the population between competing, armed ethnic groups.
UDHR is not a perfect document. No such wide-ranging and ambitious document could be. It is a product of the time and the society in which it was written. If the Declaration was rewritten for the 21st century, it would surely have more to say about women’s rights, children’s rights, GBLTQ rights and the protection of the environment.
I think it quite likely that, another 70 years from now, those studying the Declaration will be amazed that people could have drawn up a document about rights and not included the rights of all living things on this planet. Several of the Articles are conflicting, or at least seem to allow or justify the violation of other Articles. In the name of security we allow loss of privacy, censorship and torture. There are those who would use the right to freedom of religion and cultural expression to justify female genital mutilation, the subjugation of women, or persecution of gay people. The right to liberty and freedom of movement raises huge practical difficulties in handling the sheer number of refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants.
Furthermore, UDHR does not have much to say about the obligations and duties which accompany our rights. As President Obama reminded us, a freedom that is worth having includes commitment to others, love, charity and duty.
Our understanding of human rights and how to implement them is still evolving. Hardly more than 200 hundred years ago those regarded as moral, upright citizens believed in slavery. We have made progress, but we still have a long way to go. UDHR is not a perfect instrument, but it is the best we have.
What can ordinary people do to protect and uphold the rights laid out in UDHR? It is easy to feel powerless as individuals, to think that our puny efforts will make no difference, our tiny voices remain unheard. But united voices are heard, concerted campaigns do work, solidarity is effective, discussion does influence minds. By joining organisations such as Dove Tales, Amnesty International and PEN International, we demonstrate our belief in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and stand up for freedom, justice, equality and peace in the world.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is – I believe – the most important document there has ever been. The document itself is wonderful. I used to run a youth group for human rights in the last School I worked in and made a poetic version to get the pupils more interested in the document. The points are so powerful and obvious that it is hard to believe that anyone can disagree with the points. My poem only deals with the first twenty points-so that the poem is not too long for listeners (or readers) to cope with. The poem is accurate and the UN said it was, 'Beautiful.'
The document set the standard for International human rights laws. Many documents since are based on this Declaration. Because of its effect throughout the world it has saved millions of lives. As an animal rights person and an environmentalist I believe that we could do with a similar document to protect our earth and the hundreds of millions of sentient creatures we humans harm every day.
tHe un declarAtion in poetic form
All humans born free, and equal in rights
So people can love, and people not fight
Let there be, no discrimination, throughout the human nation
Equal, so elation, and not cruel domination
No person or state, with gun or knife
Can take away your freedom, take away your life
Let no one be cursed by all of the pains
That come from Slavery, and are worn with its chains
Torture must never be used as a tool
For it is, inhuman, degrading and cruel
6, 7, 8
To each of you, I tell you true
That the Law must stand tall, beside each of you
No state should try to use might
To arrest or detain, without any right
All accused, every one and everywhere
Are entitled to a hearing, that is public and fair
All must be presumed innocent and clean
Until, by public trial, their guilt is plainly seen
Each letter you read, each word that you write,
Should all be kept private, for that is your right
In your own country, you can always stay
Or choose another, if that is your way
You can flee from violence, flee from hate
And find safe Asylum in another state
Your nationality is yours, forever to treasure
Or change it for another, as is your pleasure
Whatever your religion, marriage is your choice
Equal in rights, you both can rejoice
To own your property, that is quite fair
And if you have a partner, with them you can share
Your religion, your beliefs, are for you to decide
Your comfort and solace, a deep source of pride
No one can hold dominion
Over your freedom of opinion
In peaceful assembly you all may gather
Or stay apart, if you would rather
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Pastor Martin Niemoller