75 Years Of Human Rights Where Are We?| MENAFN.COM

Friday, 24 March 2023 12:39 GMT

75 Years Of Human Rights Where Are We?

(MENAFN- Swissinfo)

In December of this year, it will be 75 years since Eleanor Roosevelt presented the fledgling United Nations with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Both the UN, and the Declaration itself, were the product of a global determination not to repeat the horrors of the Second World War.

This content was published on February 7, 2023 - 17:00 February 7, 2023 - 17:00

Imogen Foulkes reports from Geneva for SWI swissinfo.ch as well as the BBC.

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They also represented an understanding that, humans being what they are, we needed to make some promises, and abide by some rules, to ensure that.

Mrs Roosevelt was well aware of the importance of her mission.“We stand today at the threshold of a great event, both in the life of the United Nations and in the life of mankind,” she told member states.

“This Universal Declaration of human rights may well become the international Magna Carta of all men everywhere.”

Seventy-five years on, where are we? A quick look at the news headlines does not inspire optimism: Russia committing war crimes in Ukraine, China's suppression of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province, depressingly frequent killings of young black men by US police officers, the continued enormous disparity between the career and life chances of men versus women.

Losing the essence of the declaration

In Geneva's Palais Wilson, home to UN Human Rights, moves are underway to remind us why, way back in 1948, we thought the Declaration was so important, and why it remains so important today.

Volker Türk, the new United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, wants 2023 to be the year we reaffirm our commitment to the UDHR, and ensure younger generations, who may have little knowledge ofthe Second World War, understand why we need it.



Inside Geneva: challenges for the new UN Human Rights chief

This content was published on Feb 7, 2023 Feb 7, 2023 This week on the Inside Geneva podcast, host Imogen Foulkes has an in-depth conversation with Volker Türk, the new UN Human Rights Commissioner.

“We lose the essence of what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was, and was meant to be in response to cataclysmic events during the Second World War”, Türk told me during an in-depth interview.

“Holocaust, a world war that killed millions of people. We had millions of people either refugees or displaced. We had incredible breakdown of many things, from the economy, the social systems, destruction en masse.”

You can hear that interview in full in this week's edition of Inside Geneva . Türk, now occupying what is sometimes called the UN's toughest job, knows he faces great challenges. He is motivated, he tells me, by“a lifelong commitment to the human rights cause.” His almost 30 years at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) prepared him, he believes, for his new role as UN Human Rights Commissioner.

“I worked with very vulnerable people, refugees, internally displaced, stateless people. And that's a microcosm of the human rights world.”

Big challenges ahead

But while Türk may have set his heart on reviving commitment to the Universal Declaration, there are also immediate, specific, and complex challenges.

First and foremost, in his in tray lies the long-awaited UN report into China's actions in Xinjiang province, where human rights groups have long alleged major violations are taking place.

After months of delay that report was finally published last August, just minutes before his predecessor Michelle Bachelet left office. The report was – perhaps surprisingly after such a long wait, and rumours of the UN bowing to pressure from China – hard hitting. It detailed widespread repression of China's Muslim Uyghur community, including arbitrary detention, forced labour, and sexual violence – all of which, the report concluded, could constitute crimes against humanity.

But five months on, that report is still sitting on the Human Rights Commissioner's desk. Member states of the UN Human Rights Council voted against even debating it, and, short of doing nothing, that's the most unconfrontational action the Council can take.

Now the big annual session of the Council looms (it starts February 27), and human rights groups are waiting to see what the new Commissioner will do.

“It's a very important report that was issued,” Türk told me.“It has raised very serious, very pressing human rights concerns, and it is my duty to follow up on them with the Chinese authorities.”

But how exactly? By refusing to even debate the report, UN member states have in effect refused to show support for UN Human Rights, and in a way told Türk that, when it comes to reminding China of its obligations under the Universal Declaration, he's basically on his own.

“China is a very important country, it is a member of the security council, it has a lot of regional influence. So on the human rights front it will be important to have China as a country with which I can engage,” he says. Türk's strategy with Beijing then, appears to be to try to“engage in dialogue.”

Broader lack of respect

The China example, while immediate and specific, is in fact a good illustration of why Türk is so keen to remind us of the key principles of the Universal Declaration. It was, and remains, a landmark document. 193 member states – the entire UN really – have signed it. It outlines the basic rights and freedoms that all human beings, regardless of their status, or where they are born, are entitled to: dignity, liberty, equality, the right to life, freedom from slavery, freedom of expression and much more.

Member states are mandated to uphold those rights, not just within their own territories, but worldwide. So if China persecutes its Uyghur Muslims, if US police officers kill young black men, if Russian soldiers commit war crimes, or even if increasing numbers of British children live in poverty, it is not just Beijing's or Washington's or Moscow's or London's business, it's all our business.

It's precisely that concept of“universality” that irritates and often divides the UN Human Rights Council. Most national governments don't want what they view as outside interference in their domestic affairs. To hear more about how Türk plans to remind them of their obligations to the UDHR, listen to Inside Geneva. One thing he is convinced of; reviving our commitment to the Universal Declaration, and all its promises, from individual freedoms to economic rights such as the right food and housing, can only be positive for all of us.

“In so many situations around the world there is again this contempt for the other. The contempt for the human being, the contempt for human dignity. There are civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and they cannot be separated into different boxes. They are one and the same, they are one coherent whole.”



listen to our podcast, inside geneva

on inside geneva host imogen foulkes puts big questions facing the world to the experts working to tackle them in international geneva.

Articles in this story

  • inside geneva: challenges for the new un human rights chief
  • listen to our podcast, inside geneva


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