Human Rights, Wrongs,
by David Krieger, 1998
This is the 50th Anniversary year of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, a document of vision and decency,
which was proclaimed as a "common standard" for all
humanity by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10,
1948. At its heart, this is a document about the equal and inalienable
right of every person to live in dignity.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is one
of the great documents of the 20th century. In fact, it is one
of the great documents of all time. It gives voice to the common
aspirations of all humanity to be treated fairly and justly. It
includes civil and political rights, and also economic, social
and cultural rights. It holds high the value and worth of each
Despite the importance of this document, however,
it is not widely known or appreciated throughout much of the world.
Very few Americans are familiar with the document, and fewer still
have read it and know of its contents. This is a failure of our
educational systems. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
should be at least as well known to Americans as our own Bill
of Rights, which it surpasses in its comprehensiveness.
No document, including the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights, can solve the problems of humanity simply by
its existence on paper. Far from it. Set down on paper, the Universal
Declaration represents only the vision and hope of those who proclaimed
it. To give life to the document, each generation must work actively
and diligently to uphold its principles. To bring the Universal
Declaration to life, each of us must work to uphold human rights
and oppose human wrongs.
This is what Mahatma Gandhi did in his nonviolent
protests for an end to colonialism in India. This is what Martin
Luther King, Jr. and the freedom riders and other civil rights
activists did in putting their bodies on the line for equal rights
for all citizens in the United States. This is what the mothers
of the disappeared did in standing in silent protest in Argentina
during its "dirty war." This is what Nelson Mandela
and the African National Congress did in their struggle against
apartheid in South Africa. This is what Bishop Oscar Romero did
in working for justice in El Salvador, and what Rigoberta Menchu
Tum has done in Guatemala. This is what Aung San Suu Kyi and her
followers do in Burma today.
Upholding human rights and opposing human wrongs
is the work of all who seek to provide food and shelter for the
hungry and destitute, for all who seek justice, for all who seek
an end to tyranny and oppression, for all who seek peace and an
end to violence, for all who work to rid the world of nuclear
weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.
Human rights demand human responsibilities. The
worst atrocities of the 20th century were committed by governments,
often against their own people. The Universal Declaration of Human
Rights was a response in part to the genocidal abuses which occurred
during World War II. But genocide has not gone away in the latter
half of this century. We have only to think of Cambodia, Bosnia
It is our responsibility to build an international
community that is strong enough to prevent the commission of genocide
from occurring ever again. A step in this direction was taken
this past summer in Rome when delegates of more than 100 countries
agreed to a treaty to establish an International Criminal Court.
This court would hold accountable perpetrators of the most serious
international crimes — genocide, crimes against humanity,
war crimes, and the crime of aggression. Unfortunately, once again,
as with the Landmines Convention in 1997, the United States was
not among the countries supporting this important step forward.
The Fall 1998 issue of Waging Peace Worldwide includes
comments on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by Richard
Falk, Frank Kelly, and Nelson Mandela. The winning essay in our
Swackhamer Peace Essay Contest discusses "Human Rights and
Responsibilities" is also included in this issue, as well
as a proposal for a United Nations Volunteer Force by Tad Daley,
comments on establishing an International Criminal Court by Kofi
Annan and Benjamin Ferencz, and Senator Douglas Roche’s
inaugural speech in the Canadian Senate.