Of all the wonderful things, we can and should say about the 67th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the image of the United Nations’ Geneva, Switzerland, Palais de l’Europe guarded by security men with sub-machine guns describes just how much work is ahead of us in promoting universal human rights. But I know how we got to this sorry state of affairs. It began with deciding that we could compromise again and again on defending our Universal Human Rights.
Much of the world has been in active war for the past 14 years. But we saw the violence of war within nations and the regional wars dramatically overflow across their borders on September 11, 2001. The “answer” to the September 11 attacks was focused on tactics only of security measures and war. The tactics of security measures resulted in an ever increasing net of security, until people could no longer tolerate it. The tactics of war, unfortunately, was primarily more war and violence, with the predictable result of escalating violence, with occasional changes in the war fronts.
But while the world war has ebbed and flowed, we have made little progress on the human rights challenges of defying extremism. Highly educated and powerful people decided that they would not learn the lessons of human rights from history, but decided instead to make their own rules by trying to stop the violence of extremists by appeasing them. However, the idea of “appeasing” extremists NEVER WORKS. NEVER. We know it. We have seen it through history; we have countless examples of this. But as the years went by, the argument for appeasement just became too popular, and the view that we should struggle to challenge anti-human rights views became just too much work for many. It was easier just to find a way to “get along” with anti-human rights forces, no matter who or where they were persecuting others.
If you think about it, it is understandable to some extent. Most people don’t want to be in a state of conflict. It is exhausting. It is painful. It is expensive. Then people ask themselves, what do they really have to show for all of the effort? Perhaps it is better just to be a little blind and deaf, and just “get along” already. After all, some will tell us, that “we can’t change the world.”
But weariness and weakness only fuels the resolve of extremists, who believe (rightly for some) that if they only persevere, the champions of human rights and equality will get tired and give up. Too many powerful individuals simply decided that giving up wasn’t such a bad idea, and that we should pretend that we don’t know that appeasement is wrong.
This failure was clearly obvious to me in 2008, when I was daily assisting counterterrorism professionals, who believed the answer to terrorism was to empower “non-violent” extremists. They thought we could “tolerate” extremism, as long as we could keep it from getting “violent.” In 2008, I declared to counterterrorism and foreign policy professionals that such an idea that we could make “deals” with extremists was absurd. Some believed we could use diplomatic strategies of (ironically called) “smart power” to “engage” with extremists, and somehow by tolerating (and legitimizing) their cause, we could “talk them out” of extremism, or at least make them less violent – to US anyways. Some “professionals” didn’t like that I found appeasement to be absurd. Some in the British government were unhappy with me. Some in the U.S. government were unhappy. But they were then, and they are today – WRONG. Appeasement of extremists always fails. We know this. We have seen this again and again in history.
But the view that we could appease extremists was viewed as a solution to violence and war. The so-called “solution” was that extremists could come up with their own ideas of “democracy” and their own views on “human rights,” because after all if we urged extremists to accept standard views on “democracy” and “human rights,” that would mean we were “cultural imperialists.”
It is simply nonsense. We know it, too.
Now, the foreign policy and counterterrorism professionals don’t want to hear this. They want to say it is perfectly fine for everyone to have their own version of democracy, or human rights, or freedom. They believe that “equality” is a dirty word. Instead of equality, we need to believe in RELATIVISM. So if someone has a version of democracy, that is un-democratic, well, that should be fine, because democracy is not really one type of democracy, it should be relative to every person, every group, every extremist view, and every culture, so no one is offended. The same holds for “human rights.”
The results of relativism are that you have (incredibly) nations like the Communist Chinese Party (CCP) stating that they are great supporters of “human rights,” when they put political prisoners in concentration camps, force women to have abortions (while one major U.S. political candidate actually claimed they provide better maternity care), deny democracy, and deny religious freedom. But that won’t stop people talking about the CCP’s commitment to “human rights.” Because after all, the “professionals” argue, we can’t OFFEND the Communist Chinese government!
But the “professionals” really like “relativism” because you can’t measure it. They can use relativism to twist words like “human rights” into any politically convenient argument they want, and never be wrong. Most of all, they can never be accountable, and certainly NEVER be RESPONSIBLE.
That is WHY is, in 2009 I founded “Responsible for Equality And Liberty.” Because our commitment to universal human rights cannot be left to the “professionals” who are only worried about no one actually being held “responsible” for anything. Political powers find the idea of real “responsibility” repugnant – they would argue if we hold nations, groups, and people “responsible,” then maybe we would have to also be “responsible,” and they believe we can’t do that. To the “professionals,” being responsible is a “bad” thing. “Responsibility” threatens their power, their political influence, and their careers.
Furthermore, the professionals will tell us, if we are not “relativists” on human rights, maybe we are secretly “bigots,” or “racists,” or some other foul accusation. After all, how “dare” we ask people to stop torturing, murdering, persecuting, or oppressing others?
The professionals would then ask, what gives us the RIGHT to question the actions of others?
The answer is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed by the nations of the world on December 10, 1948.
THAT is what gives us the RIGHT.
On December 10, 1948, in the shadow of the Holocaust and the Axis powers’ mass murders, organized terrorism, concentration camps, persecution, and world war, the people of world decided we aren’t going to take this insanity and depravity anymore.
On December 10, the United Nations of the world decided we would create a code of UNIVERSAL human rights that every person of every identity group in every nation of the world has – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). It uses the words “ALL,” it demands “EQUAL RIGHTS,” and it calls for such universal human rights for “all peoples and all nations” – including “equal rights of men and women.” It speaks in detail to all of the UNIVERSAL human rights that we have: for freedom of speech, for freedom of religion and conscience, for life, for liberty, for the right to vote, for security, for dignity, for asylum, for freedom of movement, for justice, for education, for peaceful assembly, and for general welfare in a democratic society.
You won’t see the words: “but,” “except,” “not for,” or “relativism” – anywhere in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Please look. Be certain for yourself. You need understand for yourself the human rights, the liberty, and yes, the EQUALITY, that the powers of the politically elite and the oppressors of the world don’t want us all to have around the world.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights – gives us the “right” to demand such universal rights, security, and dignity for ALL PEOPLE. Not some people. Not for those people when it is convenient. Not relative to the views of extremists or those we are afraid of offending. Not just for people we like or people like us. No, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is for ALL PEOPLE.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights gives us the authority and the responsibility not just to ask, but also to demand, that every one of our brothers and sisters in human is given the same human rights everywhere in the world, no matter what extremist group, not matter what tyranny, not matter what political force of oppression or denial may claim. We have the code of the nations of the world which we can demand a basic standard and consistent level of human rights for all people – no matter the anti-human rights forces might claim.
Among its most important statements, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
— “Whereas 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,”
— “Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,”
— “Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,”
— “Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,”
— “Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,”
— “Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,”
— “Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,”
“Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.”
But the political powers of the world have decided they only support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, when it is convenient, or when no one will actually hold them RESPONSIBLE for it.
That has to change. Because when we give up on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we end up with violence, death, and oppression, running out of control around the world, and we can’t even begin to stop it. Because there will never be enough law enforcement, enough security measures, enough weapons of war and soldiers, until WE AGREE that EVERYONE DESERVES and is RESPONSIBLE for defending our universal human rights.
We can’t stop extremism when we teach our children that human rights only matter to people we like, or when it is convenient. Our children are looking for leadership, and our political leaders are giving them weak and cowardly relativist excuses. Our children see right through such nonsense. They are looking for answers. We have answers, but our political leaders have decided it would be too much trouble to actually be RESPONSIBLE for the truths that we hold self-evident.
Our political leaders have decided that it would be too difficult to actually work to acknowledge and defend our international code of universal human rights for ALL people.
So we, the people, have to DO something else. We are not going to get out of this mess with the leadership of our politicians, who base their lives and their view of the world on meaningless relativism.
We, the people of the world, in our different nations, need to take a stand – TOGETHER. We need to decide and make a commitment that we will be united in standing by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for ALL people.
We, the people of the world, in our different nations, need to take a stand that we will work together to defend these universal human rights, and defy the forces of extremism and anti-human rights, no matter when, how, or where, they appear.
We must be CONSISTENT on our universal human rights for ALL. We cannot believe they only apply to some people. The relativist politicians will argue that only certain rights matter for some people, but we have tell our fellow human beings that this is wrong.
If the enemies of human rights can work together, build coalitions, spread violence, attack and kill people the world over, why can’t the defenders of human rights work together around the world, build our own coalitions, spread peace, reject extremist views, and call for equality of human rights and dignity the world over?
We can. We must. Our unity in universal human rights is the best hope we have today. We CAN change the world, just like the United States of America and so many other nations have changed. We can make change for all of our brothers and sisters in humanity.
We do not have to surrender to relativism. We do not have to give in to defeat and despair.
We can make another CHOICE.
On this Human Rights Day, and every day, we can CHOOSE to be Responsible for Equality and Liberty.