THE ACHIEVEMENTS and failures of 60 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are documented in a comprehensive report by Amnesty International, the human-rights group. Its verdict is that there has been a good start, but that the situation could be much better.
One of the main concerns of the report is that widespread violence against women and children continues on every continent and is often not investigated. State violence also goes unchallenged, it says.
The Amnesty report makes clear how high were the aspirations of those who introduced the Declaration in 1948. “The drafters of the declaration were convinced that only a multilateral system of global values, based on equality, justice and the rule of law, could stand up to the challenges ahead. . .
“They recognised that the universality of human rights — every person is born free and equal — and their indivisibility — all rights, whether economic, social, civil, political, or cultural, must be fulfilled with equal commitment — is the basis for our collective security as well as our common humanity.”
But the early vision ran up against the realities of the Cold War, in which human rights became part of the ideological struggle between the superpowers, the report says. Since 9/11, human rights have again been diverted, this time into “a divisive and destructive debate between ‘Western’ and ‘non-Western’, restricting liberties, fuelling suspicion, fear, discrimination and prejudice amongst governments and peoples”.
The United States comes in for stern criticism for its use of the death penalty, its torture of detainees, and for the thousands of people it is said to hold in secret camps.
The report says that in Africa there has been “a deplorable lack of political will to address the human-rights violations that generally lie at the roots of political tensions and hostilities”. But, on the good side, many countries have banned the death sentence.
In Latin America, decades of military dictatorships have held back progress. Techniques used to suppress political dissent are now used against those who challenge social injustices.
In the UK, the Government has undermined the ban on torture by deporting people whom it deems a threat to countries where “they could face a real risk of grave human-rights abuse on the strength of unenforceable ‘diplomatic assurances’.” It has tried to persuade other European states to do the same, the report says.
Amnesty International Report 2008 is downloadable from www.amnesty.org