70 years since universal declaration, human rights ‘ignored and abused all over the world’

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Today, 13 of the original 48 signatories to the declaration feature on Open Doors International’s 2018 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian (Photo: Open Doors International)

Ahead of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Monday, 10 December, rights group ADF International has called for “recommitment” to the founding principles, which it says are being “consistently ignored and abused … all over the world”.

Chief among those rights, ADF notes, is the “foundational principle of freedom of religion and belief, together with the related freedoms of opinion, expression, assembly, and association”, which ADF says are being violated in “every region”, with “millions enduring severe limitations on freedom, violence and death in the name of religion or conscience”, while others are “unable to freely to exercise their religious beliefs or rights of conscience, thus seriously jeopardising the human rights project”.

In its campaign, “I’m Human, Right?”, which has garnered over 50,000 signatures from over 170 countries ahead of the 10 December deadline, ADF highlights the cases of Andrew Brunson and Don Ossewaarde, as well as the Dalits of India.

“Millions are enduring severe limitations on freedom, violence, and death in the name of religion or conscience, and others are unable freely to exercise their religious beliefs or rights of conscience, thus seriously jeopardising the human rights project.”

In a video message attached to the campaign, ADF’s Executive Director Paul Coleman asks people to “stand up for Christians and other religious minorities facing persecution around the world” by joining the campaign and calling on “nations and the international community at large to return to the original intentions of the human rights project”.

Article 18 of the declaration states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

Yet today, 13 of the original 48 signatories to the declaration feature on Open Doors International’s 2018 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian: Afghanistan (2nd on the list), Pakistan (5th), Iraq (8th), Iran (10th), India (11th), Syria (15th), Egypt (17th), Myanmar (24th), Ethiopia (29th) Turkey (31st), Mexico (39th), China (43rd) and Colombia (49th).

‘There is so much left to do’

At a 70th anniversary panel discussion at the UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday, 4 December, ADF President and CEO Michael Farris warned: “If we stay on our current course, we may soon arrive in a future where human rights are in danger of becoming discredited and the entire system of international human rights law may be jeopardised.

A panel discussion on ‘The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Its Foundations, Achievements and Violations’, held at the UN headquarters in New York on 4 December (ADF)

“There is so much left to do to protect these rights, to ensure that – to quote the preamble of the declaration – ‘all members of the human family’ enjoy them…

“We must not support actions that undermine the entire framework, but rather we must come together as an international community and work tirelessly for all our brothers and sisters who suffer violations of their human rights in order to secure freedom and justice for all.”

Fellow panellist Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard Law School professor and former ambassador to the Holy See, said the declaration had “successfully challenged the view that sovereignty provided an iron shield behind which states could mistreat their people without outside scrutiny”, which she said was “an achievement of historic proportions”.

“To be sure, great violations of human dignity still occur. Seventy years from now, people not yet born will form their opinions about our stewardship of the framers’ legacy.”

She said “the impressive multinational consensus achieved in 1948 seemed to bear out the framers’ conviction that some things are so terrible in practice that virtually no one will openly approve them, and that some things are so conducive to human flourishing that virtually no one will openly oppose them”.

But she added that the declaration had been “haunted from the beginning by a number of questions that have never been finally resolved. How can human rights be universal in such a politically diverse world? What is to be done when fundamental rights clash with one another?

“The framers understood that universality of human rights does not mean homogeneity in their implementation. The standards of the declaration were made flexible enough to respond to different needs but not so malleable that any right could be completely ignored or subordinated.

“To be sure, great violations of human dignity still occur. Seventy years from now, people not yet born will form their opinions about our stewardship of the framers’ legacy. They will pass judgement on whether we enhanced or squandered the inheritance handed down by Eleanor Roosevelt, Charles Malik, Peng-chun Chang, René Cassin, and all the men and women who strove to bring a standard of right from the ashes of terrible wrongs. How, I wonder, will we measure up?”

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