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May 11, 2009 | by  | in Books Opinion |
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While The World Sits Idly By

Article 5: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

A rticle 9: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

A rticle 20: Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Eleanor Roosevelt is rolling in her grave right now, so much so that if she weren’t already dead—God rest her soul—she’d be griping over a severe case of coffin-burn. Her beloved Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted and approved by a United Nations committee under her chairmanship, has been repeatedly gutted—rather, clubbed to death like a baby seal—while the world sat back and watched. In an ironic twist, Eleanor’s own homeland, the United States, is now among the worst offenders. But they’re not alone.

Human rights abusers have become rampant all over the globe There are the big headliners: US torture policies, oppressive Chinese state-censorship, the Israeli occupation, Sri Lanka, Darfur. Not to mention the all the others nobody talks about: The FARC in Columbia, Brazil’s prison population, the Carandiru massacre, hundreds of thousands of South Americans extrajudicially killed, disappeared, tortured, arbitrarily detained by various military governments over the years.

Energy shortages, food shortages, water shortages—the one thing we’re in no short supply of these days is human rights abuses. That and carbon emissions. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, although not a legally binding treaty, laid the foundations for a global society and was hailed as the first step in our long journey towards that lofty and ever distant ideal of world peace—a mantra now only uttered by beauty queens.

This ideal has been abandoned; the world we live in today is fraught with more international conflict and misery than we care to acknowledge.

In 1948, when the Declaration was adopted by the United Nations, the United States used its position to lead our war-shattered world in a direction of peace, prosperity and hope. The socialist systems of Scandinavia, now objects of international envy, stemmed from the spirit of cooperation and social security embodied in this document.

Today the United States is leading the world in a very different direction, one whose end we’ve been trying desperately to avoid at all costs. But the world is still playing follow-the-leader.

The countries of the G7 (or 9 or 12 or 20)—democracies, economically developed, stable, secure—can no longer actively or passively condone this behavior. International engagement has broken down to the point that delegates are walking out of UN speeches, or not showing up at all, at the example of the United States. Criminal behavior has been embraced. The Unites States and its allies are looking ever more like a global good ol’ boys club. And we wonder why religious fundamentalism, extremism and piracy is on the rise.

Given where we are today and how we got here, is this an example the world can afford to follow? Do we have to accept the notion that the United Nations can get nothing accomplished without United States backing? Are no other options available to those of us with the money, power, or even just the voice? What’s going on, world?

The United Nations is a joke. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is long dead; these days, it’s even laughable. Even time-honored international treaties, like the Geneva Conventions, have lost their credence. We’re devolving into violence, war, indifference, demonisation of the other. Our entire state system is breaking down, never mind diplomacy.

We are all passengers on the same plant. Since it’s become clear those driving this ship are hell-bent on steering us into the abyss, why do we still follow?

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About the Author ()

Andrew Mendes is an American studying International Relations and Public Policy at Victoria. He enjoys following politics and reading lots of news.

Comments (1)

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  1. Kerry says:

    mmm .. in a year when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights turns 61, it’s interesting to see how little anyone knows about it.

    Article 1: Everyone is born free and equal in dignity and rights

    See films this week:
    at the Paramount.

    Actually, the UN isn’t dead yet.
    Who do you think runs the War Crimes Tribunals at the Hague?

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