February 4, 2009

Inalienable Rights

December 10, 1948—sixty+ years ago—the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was born. Promulgated as the smoke of the death camps still lingered, the document was a stunned world’s attempt to enshrine human rights and dignity, to ensure that such “contempt for human rights” would never again “outrage the conscience of mankind.”

As Joseph Loconte observes in the Weekly Standard, human rights aren’t what they used to be:

Sixty years ago, when the United Nations was debating the creation of an international statement on human rights, Eleanor Roosevelt, then serving as head of the Human Rights Commission, delivered a caustic speech at the Sorbonne. “We must not be deluded by the efforts of the forces of reaction to prostitute the great words of our free tradition and thereby to confuse the struggle,” she said. “Democracy, freedom, human rights have come to have a definite meaning to the people of the world, which we must not allow to so change that they are made synonymous with suppression and dictatorship.”

. . . Mrs. Roosevelt’s fear about the perversion of human rights is on full display in the international community. More than half of the 47 members of the Human Rights Council, the principal U.N. body charged with promoting human rights, fail to uphold basic democratic freedoms in their own countries. Using the canards of anti-colonialism and anti-Americanism, they block resolutions that might embarrass them on the world stage. Thus, some of the most egregious offenders of human rights—including China, Cuba, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe—typically evade censure. Last week, for example, the Human Rights Council approved a resolution praising the Kinshasa government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose military stands accused of mass rape and murder. . . .

Where is Jefferson when you need him? When human rights are no longer considered the gift of nature and nature’s God, human dignity is made more vulnerable to assault. When repressive regimes are rewarded with membership and voting privileges in U.N. bodies, the entire human rights project is debased. The political result is that fundamental rights–the right to life, freedom of speech, freedom of religion–become negotiable. In the end, they become disposable.

Rights are at the very heart of this republic that is based on principles of freedom and justice. Society as we know it will not survive long with those rights being continually suppressed and taken away.

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