We are failing at human rights, globally. That’s not a big surprise but the annual Amnesty International Report (Pdf version … big file!) is a good opportunity to remind us all that we need to is a good opportunity to remind us all that we need to do much much more for human rights, at all levels, not just governments.
So what are the highlights of this year’s edition? Seven major themes:
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is 60 years old (and still is one of the, if not THE, most powerful document humans ever wrote)
Stop violence against women (unfortunately, this one never gets old)
Living in dignity (yup, dignity IS a human right)
Counter terror with justice (What? You mean we can’t play Jake Bauer and kick some brown ass?? And no, there is no more powerful value than justice)
Human rights defenders (Because believe it or not, being a human rights defenders is a risky job)
People under fire (War sucks, peace rocks)
Death penalty (like violence against women, this one never goes away either)
As the press release states:
“”The human rights flashpoints in Darfur, Zimbabwe, Gaza, Iraq and Myanmar demand immediate action,” said Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International, launching AI Report 2008: State of the World’s Human Rights.
“Injustice, inequality and impunity are the hallmarks of our world today. Governments must act now to close the yawning gap between promise and performance.”
Amnesty International’s Report 2008, shows that sixty years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations, people are still tortured or ill-treated in at least 81 countries, face unfair trials in at least 54 countries and are not allowed to speak freely in at least 77 countries.
“2007 was characterised by the impotence of Western governments and the ambivalence or reluctance of emerging powers to tackle some of the world’s worst human rights crises, ranging from entrenched conflicts to growing inequalities which are leaving millions of people behind,” said Ms Khan.
Amnesty International cautioned that the biggest threat to the future of human rights is the absence of a shared vision and collective leadership.
“2008 presents an unprecedented opportunity for new leaders coming to power and countries emerging on the world stage to set a new direction and reject the myopic policies and practices that in recent years have made the world a more dangerous and divided place,” said Ms Khan.
Amnesty International challenged governments to set a new paradigm for collective leadership based on the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“The most powerful must lead by example,” said Ms Khan.
- China must live up to the human rights promises it made around the Olympic Games and allow free speech and freedom of the press and end “re-education through labour”.
- The USA must close Guantánamo detention camp and secret detention centres, prosecute the detainees under fair trial standards or release them, and unequivocally reject the use of torture and ill-treatment.
- Russia must show greater tolerance for political dissent, and none for impunity on human rights abuses in Chechnya.
- The EU must investigate the complicity of its member states in “renditions” of terrorist suspects and set the same bar on human rights for its own members as it does for other countries.
Ms Khan warned: “World leaders are in a state of denial but their failure to act has a high cost. As Iraq and Afghanistan show, human rights problems are not isolated tragedies, but are like viruses that can infect and spread rapidly, endangering all of us.”
“Governments today must show the same degree of vision, courage and commitment that led the United Nations to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights sixty years ago.””
Good for amnesty to take on the powerful countries for their general and inexcusable hypocrisy in human rights matters. Torture and renditions have no possible legal or moral justifications. These practices must end. We, Western countries, are in no position to lecture other countries on human rights and due process of law as long as we keep these things in place.
If the United States is to regain any moral leadership with the international community, there is no better way to do this than to endorse Amnesty International’s recommendations. And since this is election time here in the US, now is the time to make such demands on the candidates.