December 10, 1948, in the aftermath of World War II, world came together to perform a historic act: the unanimous passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
Sixty years later, with the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the growing “war on terror”, genocide in Sudan, rape in DRC, and nearly half of the world’s 6.7 billion people living on less than $2 a day, Amnesty International reports that the world’s leaders “owe an apology for failing to deliver on the promise of justice and equality.”
As a reminder, Amnesty teamed up with Link TV: Television Without Borders and 16 outspoken musicians to produce a video message called “The Price of Silence,” urging governments to take the 60th anniversary as an opportunity for action not just celebration.
Among the musicians, several have fled oppressive regimes: Yungchen Lhamo escaped a Chinese labor camp in Tibet; Alicia Partnoy survived Argentina’s secret detention camps; Emmanuel Jal was forced to join a Sudanese rebel army when he was just six years old; Chiwoniso recently fled the political and economic unrest of Zimbabwe.
But while most of us are well versed in the civil and political rights set out in the Declaration and know a violation when we see one, the response is quite different when we talk about economic, social, and cultural rights.
For example, the UDHR also proclaims that:
Article 21 “Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.”
Article 23 “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”
Article 25 “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
Article 26 “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.”
“We can’t ignore the injustice, the inequality, and the impunity that have become the hallmarks of our time. And we need, at this moment, to think of what are the biggest threats to human rights. To my mind, the biggest threat is the threat that the poor face, that their rights are not being recognized, are not being realized, may never be realized, unless we all see both economic and social rights and civil and political rights with equal importance […] It is very important that we focus the implementation, making real the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, precisely on those who have been denied its benefit for the last 60 years.”
With Obama poised to take office next month, his transition team is opening up unprecedented opportunities for citizens to take part in shaping a new U.S. domestic, as well as foreign policy. If we care about human rights, it is imperative that civil society act on this opportunity. This 2009, join Americans for Informed Democracy and our partners in telling Barack Obama to uphold his commitment to global development by creating a cabinet level Department of Development, re-writing a development strategy that is founded in the achievement of the MDGs (the one we have now is from 1961!), and reform the rules of trade to reflect our nation’s respect for civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights worldwide.