Issue of the Week: Human Rights, Hunger, Disease, Economic Opportunity, War, Population, Environment, Personal Growth

Eleanor Roosevelt, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, PBS


Updated: The End Of Civilization As We Knew It, Part Thirteen.

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

–Article One, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted December 10, 1948

“As we here bring to fruition our labors on this Declaration of Human Rights, we must at the same time rededicate ourselves to the unfinished task which lies before us. We can now move on with new courage and inspiration to the completion of an international covenant on human rights and of measures for the implementation of human rights.”

–Eleanor Roosevelt, On the Adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, December 9, 1948

“Unless we fight for everything, we’ll have nothing.”

–Kumi Naidoo, secretary general of Amnesty International, on the 70thanniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, December 2018

Here’s a test to measure the end of civilization as we knew it.

What is the most translated document in history?

It’s the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Who knew? Or knows?

Here’s another test.

What do you know about the Declaration, or do you know about it at all?

For most people, strike two.

And another.

How much was the 70thanniversary of this document on December 10 covered in the media—the most important in the history of humanity on basic rights, needs and the very definition of being human ever written and adopted by the nations of the world?

Three strikes—and we’re all out.

The reasons why have been commented on by us at length, and will continue to be.

The reasons why were articulated eloquently by the person we most owe this historic moment to, Eleanor Roosevelt. She, and all those who worked on the Declaration and the nations that voted for it (all members of the UN at the time with a few abstentions such as the Soviet Union and apartheid South Africa who couldn’t stomach aspects of the Declaration, but politically couldn’t withstand voting against it) had just come out of the worst war and catastrophe in human history. They were as hard-headed as could be. This was no idealistic daydream. This was the only framework possible for a workable future on earth.

Roosevelt reminded the day before adoption: “The realization that the flagrant violation of human rights by Nazi and Fascist countries sowed the seeds of the last world war has supplied the impetus for the work which brings us to the moment of achievement here today.”

(We have run out of superlatives more than once in recommending what should be read, heard or viewed. There are no superlatives to sufficiently recommend watching Ken Burns’ PBS documentary series The Roosevelts. At the very least watch the final episode, A Strong and Active Faith, which covers the final two years of FDR’s presidency, the end of World War Two, the efforts of Eleanor Roosevelt in creating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and her continuing activism. There are arguably no two people who created more progress in history, and certainly in modern history. Seeing this through today’s eyes creates the starkest possible contrast with the moment we are in.)

The reasons why are articulated brilliantly in the Declaration itself, its preamble and thirty articles.

And the reasons why have been re-articulated on this 70thanniversary by Amnesty International’s Kumi Naidoo in his article in Le Monde diplomatique consummately conveying the necessary convergence of all the definitions of rights—of the inseparability of the guarantee of all basic needs and freedoms and the sustainability of the planet itself.

What an irony that Paris, where Roosevelt gave her speech on the Declaration on December 9, 1948, where the Declaration was adopted by the United Nations the next day, has seen the largest protests since 1968, fifty years ago, an ironic ending itself to this 50thanniversary of that year when we went from everything seeming possible to everything falling apart. Rioting over increases in gas costs to decrease climate change, while the next toothless meeting on climate change was held in Poland, where desperate pleas were made to save the planet. What part of this is anyone missing? You can’t do one thing at the expense of the other. Basic economic security for all and civil, cultural, political and social rights for all guaranteed in a sustainable way in every sense of the word, or: The river in flood cuts an oxbow, the overfull dam gives way.

Here’s our Message of the Day ten years ago on December 10, 2008:

“Today is the 60th Anniversary of the adoption by the United Nations, without dissent, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, as has been noted before, may be the most important document in human history to date.

Last year on the Declaration’s anniversary, the following Issue of the Week was posted by World Campaign:

 “On this day, December 10, 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The person acknowledged that day with an ovation at the UN as most responsible for this extraordinary achievement was Eleanor Roosevelt, the former First Lady and wife of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had passed away three years earlier. The Human Rights declaration embodied the values President Roosevelt had espoused as the reasons for fighting the Second World War, the worst conflict in human history, in which over 50 million people died. In August 1941, FDR and Winston Churchill issued a joint declaration on the Atlantic Charter, subsequently adopted by other allies in the war against fascism, as the embodiment of principles envisioned for the post-war world, which was also a precursor for the creation of the United Nations. Elliott Roosevelt, the late son of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, who wrote the forward to a book on media and politics by Keith Blume, founder of Planet Earth Foundation, which created World Campaign, reported that FDR told Churchill at the meeting where the Atlantic Charter was adopted that ‘The structure of the peace demands and will get equality of peoples’. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights embodies basic principles that apply to all the issues addressed by World Campaign, including rights to life, liberty, equality, food, health care, adequate standard of living, education and so on, without discrimination on any basis. The co-founder of World Campaign, Lisa Blume, noted ‘information equals motivation equals action’, as a premise for World Campaign. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the numerous related declarations, resolutions, issues, programs and actions of the United Nations over the nearly six decades since the Declaration can be viewed and researched at

Regardless of your view as to what degree of progress has or has not been made on the issues covered by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, do you believe the Declaration, which provided an agreed and potentially enforceable global code of human rights for the first time in human history, was a critical milestone in creating, in the words of the Declaration’s Preamble, ‘the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family’ as the ‘foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world’?”

The large majority of voters said yes.

One week ago, World Campaign’s Message of the Day noted the countdown to the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights today, and the series in the Guardian newspaper on the “The Declaration at 60” by AC Grayling, professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, as the primary daily writer starting on December 1, joined by other luminaries and commentators.

In today’s anniversary entry, Grayling remarks, “we are, from the long view of history, in the very earliest days of trying to construct a world order, a global sentiment, in which concern for human rights is widespread and operative. Enforcement is the key issue, and here we are in even earlier days: the International Criminal Court, for example, is an infant that does not yet walk. To give up on the idea of human rights now, so soon into the project of trying to remedy the world by its light, would be wrong. Those immediate post-war years in which Eleanor Roosevelt’s committee met and debated–its members drawn from the Far East, the Middle East, Europe and America, its lobbyists fresh from the front lines of human suffering–constitute the interpretative background to the UDHR, and if one has that background in mind as one reads the articles, their import comes vividly and urgently across. When that happens, it is impossible to remain indifferent, or to be defeatist…The utopian despairs if perfection proves unattainable, but the meliorist’ he who seeks to make things better, incrementally, cumulatively, tirelessly ‘ can take new hope from every success, however small: the political prisoner freed, the military junta replaced by democracy, the tyrant brought to book before a court. In the 60 years since the adoption of the UDHR these things have happened, and they have happened because of the new sentiment it introduced to the world: that is the beginning of something not just better, but good.”

As we noted the same year in our essay, “We Are One”, a global structure “built on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights requires some kind of basic democracy in the context of rules between nations, while allowing for the evolution of various forms of democracy within nations, in which basic human rights are respected, basic needs for all are met and individual initiative is reasonably rewarded. It is the balance that nature keeps trying to tell us comprise the rules of the road. No one is being naïve here. It took a civil war and a few other extraordinary hurdles for America to move forward on the promise of its founding principles. There will still be conflict and fights for freedom and dignity and basic needs, both against this global structure we create or further empower out of the reality which requires it, and within it, just as we do within our nations and neighborhoods.” ‘

From a 2018 view, this can be a depressing look back. But there’s a lesson here, too. The sometimes missing emphasis on the basic needs and economic equality aspects of the Declaration are at the core of why we are where we are today.

And AC Grayling commented on these issue too in his writing ten years ago in another piece in “The Declaration at 60” series, titled A provocative aspiration, on December 9, sixty years to the day after Eleanor Roosevelt’s speech to the United Nations in Paris:

For the most ambitious and provocative of the UDHR‘s aspirations – its assertion that every human individual has social, political and economic rights – the mischief that Articles 21 to 27 addressed was vivid in every adult’s experience in 1948. Eleanor Roosevelt’s husband dealt with the consequences of the crash of 1929 and the droughts of the 1930s – unemployment, hunger, homelessness. Jews were deprived of their livelihoods in Nazi Europe. Many among colonised peoples were without education or a vote. Poverty shut out majorities all over the world from full participation in the political and cultural life of the countries they lived in. These articles said that an education, a vote, a decently remunerated job, and access to social goods and opportunities, were rights on a par with rights to life, liberty, privacy and freedom of expression: that is, basic conditions of the possibility of a good life.

The presence of these articles makes it surprising that the UDHR was accepted without dissent by all UN member states. There were grumbles among those who recognised that the articles saying that “everyone has a right to social security … everyone has a right to work … to equal pay for equal work … to join trades unions … to rest” implied that these are things that should be done for people, rather than – as the earlier articles had it – what should not be done topeople, and therefore seemed to place an obligation on governments to organise matters accordingly. The hand of the NGO members who advised the drafters is visible here: these are activist, not politicians’, sentiments, and all the better for it.

What got these tendentious articles through the General Assembly vote, though, was a classic fudge. Eleanor Roosevelt told the General Assembly that the US Government “wholeheartedly supported” the articles – but did not regard them as binding governments “to assure the enjoyment of these rights by direct action”. Thus liberated, governments could vote in favour with a sense of self-righteousness. But Eleanor Roosevelt and her fellow-drafters recognised that once the words were inscribed and subscribed, they would serve as an encouragement and a reproach, the goal for those (the activists again) who sought the realisation of those rights, a reproach to those governments who did nothing beyond voting in favour.

Commentators on the UDHR disagree over whether the social and economic rights should be regarded as rights at all. Political rights are a different and more straightforward matter, and the argument is that a successful exercise of these will ensure the social and economic outcomes that the UDHR inappropriately includes. There is a point to this; but it is not the point that the drafters sought to make. Recall the contemporary experience of exclusion, unemployment, hardship, powerlessness: the recent and contemporary reasons for these were various, but they could only be jointly insured against by making education and employment with decent conditions the norm of expectation.

And that is surely right: for what is a right to life, freedom of expression and privacy if one is starving, ignorant, homeless, jobless, disenfranchised? The drafters of the UDHR saw that the idea of the indivisibility of rights has to be taken seriously, and fully embedded in what makes their possession and exercise meaningful. In the liberal democracies of the west since 1948 the circumstances envisaged by the drafters were largely realised in the lives of most ordinary folk, to an extent that has made them (us) complacent and inattentive. But to those who lack either the protecting rights (to life, liberty and the rest) or the enabling rights (to work, education and the rest), the absence of either kind amounts in practical terms to the absence of all.”

Grayling makes the right broad-stroke points, but as did many, missed the point of inequality in the west that had grown to the stage as disastrous as 1929 (it was just post-crash 2008 when he wrote), but it appeared to take the events of 2016 to fully wake-up many. He was right that in “the liberal democracies of the west since 1948 the circumstances envisaged by the drafters were largely realised in the lives of most ordinary folk”–for over three decades. But then the very policies that achieved this were increasingly abandoned. In any event, the issue of economic inequality has been at the heart of conflict throughout history as we’ve visited often, and our commentary on this history, the present, and the future–if there is one–will continue.

Now, fast forward to today.

Here’s Kumi Naidoo, secretary general of Amnesty International:

Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Unless we fight for everything, we’ll have nothing

By Kumi Naidoo, Le Monde diplomatique, Paris, December 2018 Issue

Fifty-eight countries agreed on 10 December 1948 on how we could live in freedom, equality and dignity. Though there have been advances, economic and social rights are often ignored.

“We have come a long way since the powerful 30 rights and freedoms in the Universal Declaration were agreed in December 1948. Even today, it sets out the most progressive vision of what our world could look like. As we near its 70th anniversary, I should be writing a celebratory piece about how much we have achieved together in these decades — which undoubtedly, we have — in making this vision a reality.

The truth is however that in 2018 we see rising intolerance, extreme inequality and a failure by governments to take desperately needed collective actions to address global threats. We are in exactly the situation that the governments which adopted the Declaration had promised to prevent. Far from being a moment of celebration, I believe we should be using this historic milestone to take stock and refocus the fight to make human rights a reality for everyone.

The second article of the Universal Declaration explains that these rights belong to all of us — whether we are rich or poor, whatever country we live in, whatever sex or whatever colour we are, whatever language we speak or whatever we think or believe.

That universality has not translated into reality and we see that this core principle, which underlies all human rights, is under severe attack. We and other human rights organisations have repeatedly highlighted how narratives of blame, hate and fear have taken on global prominence to a level not seen since the 1930s.

Jair Bolsonaro’s victory at the polls in Brazil at the end of October — despite his openly anti-human rights agenda — vividly illustrates the challenges we face. His election as Brazil’s president poses a huge risk to Indigenous Peoples and quilombolas, traditional rural communities, LGBTI people, black youth, women, activists and civil society organisations, if he is allowed to turn the dehumanising rhetoric he made on the campaign trail into public policy.

Linked and indivisible

We have to ask why we now find ourselves in the exact situation that the Declaration tried to prevent; when human rights are being attacked and rejected as protecting the ‘other’ rather than all of us? The reasons are complex but one thing is clear. At least part of the blame lies in our failure to treat human rights as an inherently linked and indivisible package, which is relevant to everyone.

The Declaration did not distinguish between civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. It did not differentiate between the necessity to realise the right to food and ensure the right to freedom of expression. It recognised the reality that — as we now know well — the two are intrinsically linked. In the decades that followed, governments created the split between the two sets of rights and an imbalance in how they were perceived and protected.

International human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, must also take some responsibility for this imbalance. We are most widely known as an organisation that campaigns for prisoners of conscience — people imprisoned because of who they are or what they believe — and for our work on torture, ending the death penalty and freedom of expression.

We only began to actively monitor and campaign on economic, social and cultural rights in the 2000s. We have since developed a global body of work challenging violations of the rights to adequate housing, health and education. We know that much more needs to be done.

The starkest example of why this is so important as a human rights issue is the long-burning aftermath of the global financial crisis. The experience of many European countries has shown just how vulnerable or practically non-existent our basic social protections are. To make the situation worse, legal protections for economic and social rights are often limited in these countries, meaning people are not able to mount a legal challenge even if their rights are violated.

In several countries, governments have chosen to respond to financial crises by introducing austerity programmes. These programmes have had devastating human costs and have undermined people’s access to basic necessities, including healthcare, housing and food.

Spain is a prominent example of this, given that the government reduced public spending, including on healthcare, following the financial crisis. This led to quality healthcare becoming less accessible and more expensive. It has had particularly negative impacts on people with lower incomes, especially those with chronic health conditions, on people with disabilities, and on mental healthcare.

‘I cannot live with the pain’

One man we interviewed for our report on the issue told us that he was forced to choose between buying food or buying medicine, because healthcare had become so expensive: ‘I cannot live with the pain, I need to take my medicines. Either I take my medicines, or I kill myself [because of the pain] … so if I have to starve myself, I do it, because I must buy medicines’ (1: ‘Wrong prescription: the impact of austerity measures on the right to health in Spain’, Amnesty International, London, 24 April 2018.)

How governments have chosen to respond to public mobilisation against austerity measures also proves the indivisibility of civil and political and economic, andsocial and cultural rights — you cannot have one without the other. In Chad, we know that austerity measures implemented by the authorities were pushing people into deeper poverty. They undermined access to necessary healthcare and put education beyond most people’s reach.

There have been widespread protests and strikes across Chad in response to the impact of the government’s austerity measures. Instead of listening to the public, the government chose instead to respond by shutting down any dissent. It used excessive force against protestors and arrested them, thereby undermining their right to peaceful assembly.

While the global financial crisis may seem like it is firmly behind us, we are still dealing with the social and economic ramifications years later. People’s experiences of inequality, corruption, unemployment and economic stagnation have proven a ripe breeding ground for divisive leaders to spread their message of division and hate. This has had explosive consequences.

French president Emmanuel Macron has tried to position himself against the rise of this breed of divisive politics that is taking root. ‘Europe is tipping almost everywhere toward extremes and again is giving way to nationalism, we need all our energy to succeed. I have confidence in us,’ said Macron in a public address in October.

Yet in France, people are raising serious concerns regarding Macron’s policies on labour rights, pensions and access to university. Amnesty International has previously documented how the French authorities curtailed people’s right to protest under the cover of the state of emergency laws. As a result, we have seen environmentalists, labour rights campaigners and others unjustifiably banned from taking part in protests. In 2018 protests calling for laws that respect economic, social and cultural rights are at best ignored by the French president, or at worst repressed violently by the police.

It is a pattern that we see all over the world. We urgently need to make governments accountable for their failure to implement their obligations in relation to all rights, no matter how they are categorised. If we are going to succeed in making this a reality, we must go beyond campaigning purely for people’s right to speak out and protest, we must also look at why they are speaking out in the first place.

Take Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi Arabian journalist who was brutally murdered in October in the Saudi consulate in Turkey. Like many human rights defenders in the kingdom, he was targeted by the state because he chose to exercise his freedom of expression — to say publicly what he thinks. In his final article for the Washington Post,he wrote about how his fellow Arabs are unable to openly discuss the issues affecting their day-to-day lives, because of a clampdown on freedom of expression: ‘We suffer from poverty, mismanagement and poor education. Through the creation of an independent international forum, isolated from the influence of nationalist governments spreading hate through propaganda, ordinary people in the Arab world would be able to address the structural problems their societies face’ (2: Jamal Khashoggi, ‘What the Arab world needs most is free expression’, The Washington Post, 17 October 2018.)

Human rights are all or nothing

Khashoggi perfectly captured exactly why human rights are a package. Free speech is essential because it enables us to demand our other rights — but having freedom of expression alone is not enough. That is exactly why during the Arab Spring in 2011, people came out under the banner ‘bread, freedom and justice’.

What we still fail to appreciate today is something that was so painfully obvious for the people standing in Tahrir Square in Egypt seven years ago — that human rights truly are all or nothing. You are either able to exercise all of your rights, or you have nothing. What needs to happen next if we are to make a breakthrough in making human rights a reality for everyone then is obvious and urgent.

As a human rights movement, we not only have to continue standing up for the rights of people to speak freely and protest, but we must connect the dots between the economic and financial decisions our governments make and their impact on human rights. We need to collaborate with partner organisations to demand accountability for where the money is going, to challenge corruption, illicit financial flows and weak global tax structures. As Khashoggi said, we have to challenge the structural issues our societies are facing.

This is an enormous undertaking, and only possible if we all join hands and build coalitions with friends and partners across movements — human rights activists, lawyers, trade unions, social movements, economists and faith leaders. And with our friends across regions, we must ensure that the voices of those who need to be heard are loudest and amplified. Only through solidarity can we realise a world without inequality and injustice and which lives up to the commitments made in the Declaration.”

. . .

The United Nations has numerous presentations on this 70thanniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s important to recognize the enormous progress that’s been made through various additions to international law based on the Declaration, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as one example. And the building of consensus on the connection between the Declaration and a sustainable future. Just as it’s critical to never forget that every instant of backsliding and anything less than full implementation of the Declaration risks everything.

70 years of progress on Human Rights is a particularly compelling presentation, with connected stories and videos on each of the 30 articles of the Declaration, and related current and historical issues.

Here’s the introduction. Don’t miss the rest:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. This simple yet radical idea is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Human rights are at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as in the absence of human dignity we cannot drive sustainable development. A human right is clean water and food (SDG 6, SDG 2), it is health (SDG 3) and the opportunity to lead a peaceful life (SDG 16); It is life on land (SDG 15) and walking the Earth among its many beings (SDG 13, SDG 14). Human Rights are driven by progress on all SDGs, and the SDGs are driven by advancements on human rights.

Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948.

December 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the Declaration. Over the next year, we’re exploring how this seminal document has impacted history and changed lives around the globe. 

The human rights movement has made great strides in the past seven decades, but abuses still occur with saddening regularity. The anniversary of the Declaration is an opportunity to celebrate successes and recommit ourselves to the principles outlined in the Declaration’s 30 Articles.

As stated in the preamble, “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” The Declaration empowers all of us to stand up for our own human rights and those of others.

Eleanor Roosevelt said in her speech on the adoption of the Declaration: “This Universal Declaration of Human Rights may well become the international Magna Carta.”

As the saying goes, mark our words, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will be, in essence, the set of principles on which global governance will be legally implemented, or humanity and life on earth will perish.

. . .

To be continued.