Stop the human rights meltdown: make human rights real

Stop the Human Rights Meltdown: Make Human Rights Real


Message from Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International, on the occasion of International Human Rights Day 2007 (10-12-2007).

As we approach the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we have cause for both celebration and challenge.

We celebrate the impressive development over six decades of international human rights standards, laws and institutions that have improved the lives of many around the world.

The Universal Declaration reflects global values of equality and justice. It inspired the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa, and to promote democracy in Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia. It has led to progress to end the death penalty, to outlaw torture, to promote the equality of women, to protect the rights of children, to turn the tide against impunity.  Above all, it has moved a worldwide community of ordinary men and women to join in the fight for justice and equality for all.

But this is not only a moment for celebration and self-congratulation. It is also a time of challenge – the challenge of making rights real, of closing the gap between the promise of the Universal Declaration and the performance of governments and others.

From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, human rights are being violated, neglected and eroded with audacity and impunity by governments, big business and armed groups. Renewed commitment is needed by governments as well as civil society to convert rhetoric into reality, disillusionment and despair into hope and action.

In Darfur, murder, rape and violence continue unabated. It is not enough for world leaders to wring their hands in horror. We call on them to resource the UN/ AU peacekeeping force properly so that it can protect people effectively.

In Zimbabwe, human rights defenders and political dissidents are being attacked, tortured and thrown into prison without a fair trial. Amnesty International’s recent mission to the country has reinforced our worst fears. We call on governments like South Africa that have influence on President Mugabe to use their influence to bring an end to the violations.

In the Middle East impunity, injustice and human rights abuses are a major obstacle to peace and justice, yet world leaders in Annapolis paid scant attention to them. We call on the international community to put human rights at the centre of the political dialogue.

Today, the International Olympics Committee is meeting to assess progress towards the 2008 Olympics in China. The Committee must not overlook the repression by the Chinese authorities of activists who are protesting forcible evictions to clear land for the Olympics and other projects, or the restrictions on Chinese journalists and internet users. The Olympics Committee must use its influence with the Chinese government to end these practices, which are both contrary to human rights and to the spirit of the Games.

In Myanmar, crimson-robed monks courageously marched to protest the repression and impoverishment of their people but were brutally crushed by the military junta. The neighbouring governments of Myanmar are major trade partners of the military regime. They have power and influence that they must use to pressure the military regime to release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other prisoners of conscience and bring about change.

In Pakistan, dark suited lawyers who took to the streets to demand the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary fared no better than the Burmese monks – because like the Myanmar junta, the Pakistani General too has powerful allies. The allies must prioritize human rights over political expediency and misguided security strategies. The failure to do so risks aggravating both human rights and security problems.

A global strategy of counter-terrorism, led by the world’s most powerful government, has undermined fundamental principles of human rights, while extremists and armed groups have unleashed a downward spiral of violence that has endangered the lives of ordinary people everywhere. Parliaments, courts and civil society must call for respect of human rights and the rule of law as the path to greater security.
More attention and resources must be allocated to tackle the hidden or forgotten human rights scandals that destroy millions of lives and livelihoods. While the atrocities of wars make the newspaper pages, very few people are aware that violence against women causes more casualties than armed conflicts.

While world leaders remind us daily of the threat of weapons of mass destruction, the sale and transfer of small arms and conventional weapons, which kill a thousand people a day continue unchecked. 

While the advantages and opportunities of economic globalization are evident, there is far less understanding of the failure to respect economic, social and cultural rights that is marginalizing and impoverishing millions of people.

In Bali today the international community is debating the dangers of global warming. The human rights meltdown around the world today is no less a threat to the future of humanity, the call to action no less urgent.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights began as an initiative of governments but today it is the common endeavour of people everywhere.

Every human has rights. That is the essence of our humanity. It places on each of us the duty to stand up, not just for our own rights but also for those of others. That is the spirit of international solidarity. That is the true meaning of universal, indivisible human rights.

As citizens of the world:

  • We believe human rights abuses anywhere are the concern of people everywhere.
  • We pledge to harness the power of individuals to galvanize action for justice and equality for all.
  • We are outraged at the betrayal of our leaders, and are determined to hold them to account.
  • We commit ourselves to creating a global culture in which every person can realise their human rights.
  • We will carry the message of hope of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to every region of the world in the 60th anniversary year.