The historical landscape is littered with examples of man's inhumanity to his fellow man and the level of hatred, torture and persecution he is capable of perpetrating. One does not have to reach to far back in time to reference such examples of cruelty. The world witnessed the genocide in Rwanda, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, the plight of women at the hands of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the mass atrocities in the Darfur region of Sudan, and the current brutality of Bashar al-Hassad's regime in Syria against his own citizens. These individuals simply yearn for greater democratic freedoms, liberty and justice, and while the world watches in horror it asks itself, "When will the global community act? When will such acts of violence ever end?"
With the evolution of technology and the 24/7 news cycle, images of abuse and atrocities committed by the most unscrupulous among us are broadcast in real-time for the world to see. With such information at our disposal, and the mounting evidence of human rights abuses in various corners of the globe, is there any reason for there to be inaction on these matters? Should the international community, acting in concert, forge a united and cohesive strategy to put an end to such acts? I would hasten to say absolutely and unequivocally, yes! The world does need to act. Fortunately, there are global institutions, such as the United Nations, that have made human rights a centerpiece of their work and have taken the lead in addressing many of the pressing human rights problems of the day. Critics of the global body argue their record in this area is less than stellar. However, the facts show otherwise.
THE UNITED NATIONS' FOUNDERS RECOGNIZED THE NEED FOR RESPECT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Having just witnessed the tragic consequences in the aftermath of World War II, the founders of the U.N. had the foresight and vision to make certain that the central focus of the new Charter would be human rights. When the Charter of the United Nations was signed on June 26, 1945, the Preamble began with these words: "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom, AND FOR THESE ENDS to practice tolerance and live together in peace, to unite our strength to maintain international peace, to ensure that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples."
The founders knew man's capability for evil, and it was important in their minds to incorporate and explicitly address the need for respect of human rights in the Preamble.
WHAT DOES THE UNITED NATIONS DO FOR HUMAN RIGHTS?
The U.N. has achieved success in creating a body of human rights laws and has put in place mechanisms allowing the global body to protect the rights of people around the world. This benefits the entire global population. As reform of the institution progresses, human rights continues to remain at the core of all U.N. work ranging from peacekeeping and development to humanitarian assistance.
HOW HAS THE UNITED NATIONS ADVANCED HUMAN RIGHTS?
The U.N. created the first global Bill of Human Rights, and it included the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and two 1966 International Human Rights Covenants -- one on civil and political rights and the other on economic, social, and cultural rights. Each of these is legally binding on States. In addition, 80 treaties protect political, civil, economic, social, and cultural rights.
The U.N., through its anti-apartheid campaign that included an arms embargo to international conventions, ended one of the great tragedies of our time -- the apartheid regime of racial segregation in South Africa. In 1994, a U.N. observer mission was able to monitor elections in the country and helped in the transition that ultimately put an end to apartheid.
In addition, the U.N. has been instrumental in securing rights for women as well as making certain that all peoples have the right to development.
There are a number of ways the U.N. helps to advance human rights:
- The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, voices her concerns with governments in regards to human rights abuses and investigations, then ensues based on the specific country violations.
- U.N. human rights treaties allow citizens of countries, where violations suspected of being committed, to issue an appeal against the State, so long as they have completed all of their domestic remedies.
- The U.N. plays an active role in monitoring specific human rights abuses by a State and alerts the international community of their findings.
- The Office of the High Commissioner provides assistance to countries that allows them to comply with their human rights responsibilities.
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