Today marks the sixtieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDR) by the United Nations General Assembly.

December 10, known worldwide as Human Rights Day, celebrates the achievement of a nearly universal text promoting a wide range of civil, political, social and economic rights for all humankind. While not legally binding, owing to Cold War disagreements, the document has become one of the most influential legal texts in history.

The rights afforded to all persons under the UDHR include equality (Art. 1), lack of distinction based on race or color (Art. 2), the prohibition of slavery and the slave trade, “in all their forms” (Art. 4), and equal protection and non-discrimination (Art. 7). These provisions have been used in a variety of ways. For instance, in the 1960s and 1970s, the United Nations employed some of the provisions mentioned above to draw attention to the racial discrimination taking place in South Africa and Rhodesia.

Of course, there are limits to the success of the Declaration. Nations are not bound by the document’s provisions, and are free to disagree with particular principles or simply to ignore those which are inconvenient. However, the very genius of the Declaration is that it has promoted the belief that these rights are fundamental and universal, which often puts significant pressure on nations to conform to the UDHR’s standards. More troubling is the fact that the document, written in an earlier era, is focused almost exclusively on the behavior of nations, which shifts attention from abuses by non-state actors and social movements. Enforcement of the Declaration can also be highly problematic, even when nations pay lip service to its provisions. The prohibition on slavery, for instance, does not prevent the enslavement to this day of roughly 27 million persons around the world.

To mark the sixtieth anniversary, former president and Nobel laureate Jimmy Carter has an op-ed in the Washington Post, arguing that the United States under Barack Obama must restore faith in international human rights by rolling back several practices of the Bush administration. He urges an end to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and to torture, indefinite detention, and to the denial of due process for terrorism suspects. He also calls for a thorough review of U.S. practices in these and related areas, so that the U.S. can acknowledge mistakes and thereby “embolden others abroad who want higher moral standards for their own societies,” including Pakistan, Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, and the Middle East.

In China, the anniversary was observed with the detention of Chinese dissidents and protestors, including Liu Xiaobo and others who signed a public letter for the 60th anniversary of the UDHR. The letter bluntly calls for Chinese authorities to grant political, legal, and constitutional reforms in line with the principles of the Declaration and evolving global standards.

11 Responses to “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”

  1. jen elslager says:

    I find it amazing and appalling that a man so anti-Jew would have the audacity to write that op-ed. I guess everyone but the Jews deserves human rights.

  2. James says:

    Jen, I think it's important to distinguish antisemitism from opposition to Israeli government policies.

    I'm not aware of any antisemitic statements made by President Carter. Certainly, the former president has taken positions on the conflict in the Middle East, and on Israeli government policies, which are opposed by some supporters of Israel. This was particularly true in his 2006 book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, and you may be referring to this book in particular.

    Many Israelis, however, make similar criticisms of their government, and this does not make them "anti-Jew."

  3. jen elslager says:

    In no way is Carter an adequate spokesman for human rights, with his history of supporting tyrants. Read this article and its linked articles for a more in depth look at the truth.

  4. James says:

    Jen, I can't accept your new claim, that Carter has supported tyrants and is therefore an inappropriate person to promote human rights, on the basis of the blog post you link to.

    That post only offers one example of Carter allegedly supporting a tyrant, that of Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. However, while one could perhaps argue that Carter has not always been as firm about Mugabe as he could have been, he has also been one of the leading voices against Mugabe's rule.

    Just last month, Carter and other members of the "Elders" were denied permission to enter Zimbabwe by Mugabe's government, as they attempted to engage in a highly public humanitarian visit which would have embarrassed Mugabe's regime.

    Then, just two days ago, Carter described conditions in Zimbabwe as "horrifying," and declared that Mugabe's government is "so corrupt" that only food and other materials goods, not money, should be sent in response.

    The blog post you mention also links to a post on another blog, which argues that Carter's presidency and his peacemaking efforts have involved him with some of the world's worst tyrants. This is surely true, but it's a matter for debate whether it is wrong to deal with dictators and strongmen in order to negotiate diplomatic solutions to dangerous situations. For instance, the post argues that Carter brokered settlements between Sudan and its neighbors, despite Sudan's record of genocide. I cannot agree that the atrocities committed by Sudan and its leadership require that diplomats and peacemakers avoid settling regional conflicts which involve Sudan, or be forever condemned as unfit to speak about human rights issues.

  5. jen elslager says:

    It's hardly a new claim. You're certainly entitled to your opinion, but as a Christian, I am pro-Israel. Our country has been pushing them to give up their land to the Palestinians for years. The Palestinians wish to push Israel into the sea. The mainstream media vilifies Israel and neglects to mention the abuses perpetrated against them. They have every right to protect their land and their lives, and when a President does not support them, and instead pressures them toward unfair concessions, then I lose all respect for him.

    Sorry, James, there's just too much information out there about Carter's rogue views.

  6. James says:

    Jen, I'm Christian and strongly pro-Israel. I'm not sure why you think that the one follows from the other, or that either identity is relevant to evaluating Carter's role in diplomatic overtures involving tyrants.

    By "your new claim," I didn't mean that your position was new in the world. I simply meant that you'd claimed Carter was antisemitic, and when I questioned this claim, you immediately shifted to an entirely different argument about tyrants.

    I'd appreciate hearing more about what you call "Carter's rogue views," since you haven't mentioned any views of his which I would consider remotely "rogue."

    At this point, though, it sounds to me as though your real objection to Carter is that he supports an approach to the Middle East that doesn't match your own policy preferences. That, as you say, is an opinion you're certainly entitled to. But it's not the same as saying that Carter is in league with tyrants elsewhere in the world, or that he's "anti-Jew" (again, many Israelis, and many Jews, support his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so it's certainly not an antisemitic position).

  7. jen elslager says:

    As I stated, the article I linked to and the articles they linked to state my views pretty clearly. I'm hardly the only one to hold these views about this President.

    Also, I don't think that my argument really shifted. I made the comment about his being anti-Jew last night, simply because I have been thinking even more about the Jews in recent days because of policy changes in our government. Then the article I linked you to came out today, mentioning other cases of Carter's ineptitude. It's all the same subject, but just with different people groups not being protected.

  8. James says:

    Jen, I responded in detail to the arguments you linked to in that blog post, and the blog post that it linked to. You may not be the only one to hold these views about Carter, but I don't believe they hold any water, even on a casual inspection, and I explained why in some detail above.

    I'd also suggest that accusing a former president, and Nobel prize winner, of "ineptitude" is a very different matter from asserting that he supports tyrants and is unworthy of even speaking on the topic of human rights. Personally, I fail to see why Carter's actions haven't been, for the most part, entirely appropriate and wise, but he could be inept and still speak and act from the heart in ways that make him a fitting voice for global human rights.

  9. jen elslager says:

    I think the statements do "hold water". Clearly, we hold different views and are at an impasse.

    It's been nice talking to you again. 🙂

  10. nasir says:

    please send me carter of universal declaration on human right

  11. James says:

    Nasir, you can find the full text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights here.

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