2018 is the 70th anniversary of the promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a document drafted due in large part to the efforts and drive of former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and John Humphrey of Canada. While this truly great document must be considered the backbone of the human rights movement, it is also the document most neglected and ignored by national governments, especially the powerful ones like Russia, China and the U.S.. The principles set forth in the UDHR are an attempt to contain the power of the mighty and to protect individual citizens who may be politically vulnerable.
Great documents and institutions can emerge from times of great conflict. Our own U.S. Constitution was the result of our conflict with and separation from the British. The UDHR is a result of the atrocities and tremendous loss of human life experienced during World War II.
Appropriately, with the turn of the year and the anniversary of the UDHR, it is time to look at how governments are treating their citizens. A serious look at Chinese, Russian and American behavior leaves one bewildered. Millions of prisoners in all three countries. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is an enemy of the United States while he is a hero to the Russians. President Trump seems to only visit serious human rights abusers: President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, King Salman of Saudi Arabia, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt. These countries excel at extra judicial killings, torture and political oppression, but are somehow all favored nations with the U.S. now.
Confusing times for sure. Examine the situation in Yemen. There is a civil war taking place in that country, a fight between religions factions over control of the country. The Saudi government has interceded with airstrikes and a blockade of the seaports in order to support their own faction in the conflict. Placing the U.S. thumb on the scale, the Obama administration agreed to provide ongoing military support and intelligence to Saudi military. The confusing part to this is that Trump wants the Yemenese ports open in order to stem the ongoing starvation and cholera there. Thousands have died already. By continuing to support Saudi airstrikes and providing intelligence, Trump has made the U.S. a partner in this civil war. Why does he not pull out of this war and help to put an end to the killing? Saudis just bomb; they have no “boots on the ground.” The U.S. is fighting ISIS in northern Yemen, but so are the Houthis who, in turn, are being killed by the Saudi and American air forces in southern Yemen. Confusing.
The U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia continues to confound. As the newly appointed envoy to the region, Jared Kushner goes to Saudis on a nebulously defined mission. The following week, all hell breaks out in the Kingdom. King Salman arrests hundreds of people on political grounds, despite being considered a reformer. Confusing, no?
Since 1948, there have been three big issues between the Israelis and Palestinians: ending the occupation of Palestinian territory, right of return and resolving the status of Jerusalem. The recent announcement that the U.S. will move our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem effectively undermines the long-held American position of supporting a two-state solution and has the potential to cause serious violence both in Israel and the world.
Look at the Russian intervention in Ukraine where they have stolen land that they used to own. Confusing. The Russians are in the Ukraine while their media says they are not.
South Sudan recently attained independence to become the most recently formed independent nation, mainly by American power. Ever since, that nation has been under its own siege due to ongoing internal strife. Tens of thousands have died. Starvation is a daily factor in the life of South Sudan – a country that has natural resources including oil. Confusing.
The great liberators of southern Africa are human rights abusers on a massive scale. Zuma, the President of South Africa, and friend of the great Nelson Mandela is knee deep in corruption but is finally leaving office. The recently deposed Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and Zuma have wasted years and years of their respective country’s wealth and power and turned their governments into one-man shows despite being hailed as liberators at one time. Confusing.
OK, enough of the dour reality of some of our world affairs. How do we get back to the principles of the UDHR?
First, every revolution starts within oneself. So, please get yourself a copy of the UDHR. Easy to do in these connected times. Read it. Whatever your values are, see if they connect or contradict the 30 articles of the UDHR.
The UDHR has be taken out of international obscurity and brought out into the light of day. Why not ask our government to print the UDHR in our passports? I believe that this is a good to great idea – if only to make the UDHR a part of our regular discourse and freely available to citizens of the globe, as was initially intended. Imagine being in some international airport and all of us in line reading the principles of the UDHR as we leaf through our passports? It could make the otherwise boring process of going through border control into an exciting and human one. It could spark conversations, on a global scale, of how we should expect to be treated by our governments and one another.
How does one remain positive when faced with the confusion in their own country and the world? A start would be personal generosity: you need to be generous - give to refugee groups, give to human rights groups, volunteer to work at homeless shelters, work for wounded veterans. Through generosity, you will find friends that may be outside of your normal social setting. Surely, a second starting point would be registering to vote. In times like this, how does one find someone worthy of being looked up to in the political realm? It has always been a search for a leading moral leader in America and the same goes for places abroad. You might find yourself at a loss, but don’t worry; it is hard to do these days. Give yourself time and absorb the truth if you cannot find a ready solution to a search for leadership. Sometimes, the absence is a truth in itself. Demand that elected leaders support the anti-war effort and get the U.S. military out of the slaughter in Yemen. Write your Senators and Congressmen and bring it up in election time. Get a copy of our Constitution and read it. Discuss it and the UDHR over your next meals with family and friends.
Remember, a better world starts with each one of us as individuals – the same basic political unit that both the U.S. Constitution and the UDHR were intended to protect. Come to life for liberty.